Ready Player One to Kickstart VR Headset Sales?

By | March 23, 2018

One of the biggest blockbusters of the year is set to be released next week (23rd March) – Ready Steady One – and it’s all bout virtual reality. It has all the ingredients to be a massive hit, directed by noneother than Steven Spielberg and based upon a very recent cult sci-fi book of the same name. A number of investment analysts have predicted that the movie could finally kickstart the sluggish growth of VR headset sales. This would be good news for graphic chip makers in particular, above all Intell and AMD.

The latest Hollywood blockbuster from filmmaker Steven Spielberg — a science-fiction action-adventure movie called “Ready Player One” — could provide a lift to adoption of virtual reality headsets and thus sales of the graphics chips used to power them.

That’s the assessment of Jefferies analyst Mark Lipacis. In a report Monday, Lipacis said “Ready Player One,” scheduled for release on March 29, could be a catalyst for graphics chipmakers Nvidia (NVDA) and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

“The movie depicts a future dystopian society where everyone either lives or escapes into a virtual world called the Oasis,” he said. “We believe that the movie will drive sales of VR headsets that require high-performance GPUs (graphics processing units) from Nvidia and AMD.”..

..Sony’s PlayStation VR uses a semi-custom processor from AMD, while HTC Vive and Oculus Rift call for the use of Nvidia and AMD GPUs, Lipacis said.

However, Paul Tassi, a tech writer at Forbes, published a critique of these expectations, making the following points :

n ‘electronics-game savvy audience’ is likely already familiar with the current VR offerings, and has either already chosen to accept or reject them. A VR themed movie should have pretty much no sway over this crowd.
VR’s primary problem is not that people don’t think VR is fun or cool. It’s that it costs a lot of money, and that the tech in its current form is far more cumbersome than what’s featured in a movie like Ready Player One, a world where VR headsets are little more than ski goggles with screens. While wireless VR headsets are finally starting to be made, for the most part right now they’re a jumble of cords and sensors right now that can prove nightmarish to set up and maintain.
The vision of VR that Ready Player One projects, a shared, totally immersive, limitless world, is not even close to the reality of current VR.

So who is right here, the VR bulls or the bears, or does the truth lie somewhere in the middle? Well Tassi does make some interesting points each of which do have some validty, but counterarguments can be made against all of them. Firstly, Tassi underestimates the power of a blockbuster movie to influence a consumer market. Avatar almost single-handedly created the 3D TV consumer boom, even if it was short-lived. The ‘current tech savvy audience’ is a vague demographic, and certainly smaller than the anticipated audience of Ready Player One. Yes, the early adopter tech heads decided to go right into VR or not from the start, but the vast majority of young males, most of which could be termed these days somewhat ‘tech savvy’ are still on the fence, waiting for VR headsets to improve and get cheaper, and to have some kind of experience that will push them into deciding they need a headset. One of the problems with VR is that unlike smartphones, or a smartphone app like Instagram, the experience of using a virtual reality headset is difficult to share and consequently build momentum. The next best thing is exactly what Ready Player One represents. A shared experience of the amazing potential of VR.

Tassi also seems ignorant of the fact that not only are headsets coming down in price rapidly, improving in specifications with equal rapidity, but that there is going to be a mass market stand alone VR headset released by Facebook (through Oculus) in the next couple of months and it will sell for under $200. This could transform VR headset sales overnight, particularly with a blockbuster such as this movie fresh in the minds of millions. The Oculus Go, likely to go on sale at the start of May, will be completely untetethered – no cables and sensors needed – and not even require the insertion of a smartphone.

It’s true that current VR is a long, long way from the vision of virtual reality depicted in the movie, but a ‘tech savvy’ audience isn’t going to have any illusions about that. It’s still exciting, however, to be part of the early steps on the road to that final point of completely immersive VR technology. As (appropriately enough) the site Road To VR points out :

Despite the gap between film and reality, fiction can still be a powerful motivator in driving public behavior though, and presenting the viewer with a place or activity can be just as powerful as flashing a well-positioned can of Coke on the screen.

Compelling movie-goers out of their seats and into a specific location, activity, lifestyle doesn’t appear to have a fool-proof recipe, although it’s clear that a fantasy-based, 2 hour-long advert has done the trick for a few very successful films. And in that vein, Ready Player One is an advert for VR.

Case in point: Hobbits don’t exist. Cheery old Hobbiton, although maintained as a tourist destination today at a family run farm five miles west of Hinuera, New Zealand, isn’t a ‘real’ place either. Just the same, New Zealand’s Tourism Board continues to capitalize on the success of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogy by essentially advertising it as the ‘Land of the Middle Earth’ thanks to the country’s role in serving as the main filming location. New Zealand’s International Visitor survey found that 16 percent of international tourists cited The Hobbit Trilogy as the initial reason they considered a trip to the country in 2015. You could call it The Lord of the Rings Effect. You could also equally call it The Top Gun Effect, or The A River Runs Through It Effect.

I think it’s reasonable to believe that the combination of Ready Player One and the imminant release of the potentially game changing Oculus Go standalone VR headset could radically transform the current sluggish VR headset sales. Of course, investing in stocks such as chip making giants Intel and AMD aren’t the only way you can invest in VR. For example, you can buy VR domain names, such as the names listed in my own portfolio :