Will VR Impact Video Conferencing?

Will VR Impact Video Conferencing?

Virtual and augmented reality have made most of their headlines in the last year or two as they relate to the gaming industry. That is to say, they’re viewed more as entertainment than communications products. This is only logical when you consider that their emergence and development in gaming has been considerably more predictable than their utility elsewhere.

Some might not remember, but there was a “wacky world of VR” back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, long before anyone knew about devices like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. The gaming industry had tried it before, and it was probably always just a matter of time before it was tried again with better tech and newer ideas. Additionally, the general march of progress in gaming – always to better consoles and more sophisticated designs – essentially guaranteed that high-end VR would come around one of these days. Thus, it’s gaming that drove the delivery of VR to the masses.

Augmented reality was a little bit less predictable, but there were signs in recent years. Things have been trending toward mobile gaming becoming a bigger medium, with the number of smartphone users set to increase by more than 500 million in the next three years. Mobile gaming is overtaking online gaming and even console activity in some regards, and reading those signs one could imagine that there would be a need to innovate. Mobile turned out to be the perfect platform for a form of mixed reality that didn’t actually require a brand new console or headset. It became the default realm of augmented reality, and it happened more or less overnight.

As stated, however, this is where the predictability more or less ended. Beyond the emergence of mixed reality gaming platforms, no one quite knew what to expect from the virtual reality boom, even as it was being predicted by just about every tech site on the web. We read vague predictions that it would impact the healthcare industry (it’s beginning to do so in some ways) or that it might change how we shop (it’s certainly making a dent in the retail industry). But specific predictions were few and far between. We were largely left to wait for a game-changing tech without fully understanding the game.

Now that VR has essentially become mainstream, however, and we have a better grasp of what modern devices are capable of, it seems fair to wonder how they might affect the world of video conferencing and corporate communication in general.

We have written before that video conferencing can prevent critical miscommunications, largely thanks to the fact that so much of our communication is non-verbal. A phone call can generally get the job done for simpler business, but more in-depth conversations are ideally conducted face-to-face, even if technology is needed to make it happen. Virtual reality would seem to have the ability to make video conferencing even more realistic, however, such that participants don’t just feel like they can see and hear each other, but rather feel like they’re actually in the same space.

The technology isn’t quite there yet for this to be ideal. Right now a video conference in VR would probably involve you sitting at a board table looking around at avatars of your colleagues; you would easily be able to tell who’s talking and when, but the non-verbal communication issue wouldn’t necessarily be solved via avatar. That said, mixed reality is progressing quickly toward solving this problem. You need look no further than Apple’s goofy but popular “Animojis” – messaging graphics that imitate users’ expressions – to see the potential for avatars in VR to become far more lifelike.

Should this be perfected in the near future, VR may become an essential component of the modern office or boardroom. And the term “video conference” may take on a new and more realistic meaning.

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