Making the business case for virtual reality

27 Jan 2017

Image: Dragon Images/Shutterstock

David Clevinger from IBM Cloud Video presents how the next evolution of video could have clear benefits for businesses.

We’ve all seen the headsets and many of us have experienced them by now. Virtual reality (VR) has been one of the most talked-about technologies of the past year, with new consumer product launches and everyone from The New York Times to the NBA launching VR offerings.

A major question, though, remains. Is VR for real? Is the technology ready to move from trade-show novelty to full-fledged market reality?

‘Is VR ready to move from trade-show novelty to full-fledged market reality?’

The coming year will be a telling time for VR, and one key driver pushing VR towards reality will likely come from an unexpected area. Media and entertainment uses of VR are grabbing the early attention, but enterprise applications also have a promising outlook and could make VR an exciting area of innovation, powered by the cloud. Video content and insights can be combined in the cloud to create new experiences with tangible benefits to businesses.

Opportunities for enterprise

To understand why enterprise applications could lead the way, let’s take a look at the technology and market. Virtual reality is often used to describe any video of a simulated environment, but it helps to think of the next evolution of video in three categories: 360-degree video that gives a full view of a real environment, virtual reality that makes an imagined environment seem real, and augmented reality (AR), which combines the two to enhance a real environment with additional visuals.

All three of these categories have clear benefits to businesses. Imagine potential investors around the world using 360-degree video to take tours of company sites and facilities to see the operations they’re supporting. Now imagine giving this same tour before a new facility even goes up.

Layer the two together – 360-degree and virtual reality – and you get even more options with augmented reality. Workers could be trained on new manufacturing processes and equipment before they get to a job site. Medical professionals could remotely watch a new surgery with augmented cues highlighting new techniques and devices.

Technology challenges

Some technology hurdles must be overcome to make these applications happen. On the content-creation side, high bandwidth is needed to transfer the video. A typical VR or 360-degree video might be six times the size of a 2D video, although that technology is also improving rapidly. New cloud technologies have been developed to help transfer these massive data files.

The right data and insights also are needed to layer additional information and cues. The cloud is helping to make this a reality by providing ways to combine video collected at one site with computing resources at another site to produce rich content.

On the viewing end, for streaming this kind of content, you need high bandwidth and headsets to view the video, and this is where enterprises have an advantage. In the media and entertainment field, we’re still in a ‘chicken or egg’ phase. Is the content created first and then people buy the headsets? Or do consumers buy the headsets and content providers invest in new video?

A new reality

Ultimately, this early adoption phase will play out, and new forms of video will gain traction. In the meantime, businesses can move forward and address the challenge on both ends. They can create the content and give their employees or clients the headsets.

In the next year, look for more activity from businesses using VR, AR or 360-degree video to add new value and efficiencies to their operations. A movie or sporting event in one of these new formats will undoubtedly be a thrilling experience. A business application, though, could save money, improve training and speed up decision-making – all good reasons to give this new technology a closer look.

By David Clevinger

David Clevinger, IBM Cloud Video

David Clevinger. Image: David Clevinger/LinkedIn

David Clevinger is senior director of product management and strategy at IBM Cloud Video. With more than 15 years’ experience in product management and digital media strategy, Clevinger specialises in streaming video solutions for OTT and TV Everywhere, digital content strategy, mobile, and audience development. At IBM Cloud Video, he oversees cognitive video solutions, video workflow, content and metadata management, livestreaming, and emerging tech products for multiple verticals in international markets._______________________________________________