Virtual reality ("VR") has been hailed as the next big thing before, but following Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of start-up Oculus, known for its Oculus Rift VR headset, industry analysts’ predictions that thirty million headsets per year are expected to ship by 2020 seem rather more grounded in (non-virtual) reality.

The attraction of the experience lies in being transported to a world of your choosing instantaneously; simply put on a headset. It’s a nice idea, of course, but suitable content in the form of software requires investment. Video games, business scenarios and educational apps are funded and in development for VR hardware, the Oculus Rift being among the most notable.

Launching now

VR is possessed of a nifty advantage, namely that its hardware market seems not to require the prohibitively priced kit that normally attaches to the very latest technology trends. Oculus Rift is being launched this month at a price of $599 (£420) and works right out of the box with mobile devices such as Samsung’s smartphones and tablets.

The natural application for the new technology is video games, and Microsoft is working with Oculus to adapt the technology to future Xbox architecture. The world’s most visible technology company is also exercising its media clout with Netflix and content creators/distributors such as 20th Century Fox to bring films and TV shows to the device. Rival Sony is working on comparable hardware in the form of PlayStation VR.

A warning

Notably, Mark Zuckerberg issued a warning to nascent industries sprouting off of the new technology when he compared the ascent of virtual reality to the slow-going arrivals of both the personal computer and the smartphone. In the event that the technology flops, or the hype leads to vastly inflated consumer expectations, the fear is that funding will inevitably dry up as investors become too wary of a technology that peaked before its time.

Looking forward

Having said that, the widespread adoption of VR seems to be a question of when and not if. Industry sentiment is such that the smartest and most innovative players seem to be investing sooner rather than later, as opposed to waiting for a profitable industry to cement itself before jumping in. Where companies are unable to benefit from direct investment, deals are being struck: Oculus has partnered with Alienware, Dell and Asus to ensure hardware compatibility.