【英语财经】虚拟现实将开辟巨大市场 Virtual reality is waiting for its killer app

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2016-3-16 23:53

小艾摘要: So, there I was shuffling along a rickety plank spanning two tower blocks when the well-meaning Stanford professor urged me to jump. Like a fool, I did so and felt myself plummeting to the ground. I b ...
Virtual reality is waiting for its killer app
So, there I was shuffling along a rickety plank spanning two tower blocks when the well-meaning Stanford professor urged me to jump. Like a fool, I did so and felt myself plummeting to the ground. I braced for the impact, but there was none.

Virtual reality may be great at tricking the senses but it cannot rewrite the laws of physics. I was still standing in the middle of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab with a VR headset strapped to my face.

“VR is not a media experience. It is an experience,” says Jeremy Bailenson, who runs the lab. At that point, as my thumping heart rate returned to normal, I understood just what he meant.

There is no doubt that the latest VR technology can generate stunning experiences. We are only beginning to grasp its full potential. But there is a lot more dispute about VR’s broader social and financial impact. Will VR be the next great computer platform for connecting people? Or will it be another passing technology fad that never really takes off, just as it flared once before in the 1990s?

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, has staked his reputation on the belief that VR is going to become a “very big mainstream thing” over the next decade. In March 2104, a few weeks after visiting Stanford’s lab, Mr Zuckerberg spent $2bn buying Oculus Rift, one of the leading VR developers. Facebook engineers have since been working on VR and it is shortly launching its $599 gaming and video package.

Last week, Mr Zuckerberg appeared at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona to argue that VR was poised to transform the way we live, work, and communicate. “VR is the next platform, where anyone can create and experience anything that they want,” he told the audience.

Something of an arms race has broken out among leading tech companies as they speed their products to the market this year. Samsung, HTC, and Sony have all invested heavily in virtual reality, while Microsoft is making a big play on augmented reality with its HoloLens product. AR overlays images for the viewer rather than fully immersing them in an alternative visual world.

Google has already distributed 5m Google Cardboard head-mounted displays since June 2014 giving viewers an early — if primitive — taste of VR using their smartphones. It is also working on far more sophisticated products.

Goldman Sachs recently calculated that venture capital companies had sunk a combined $3.5bn into 225 VR/AR investments over the past two years. The bank’s analysts suggest that VR could possibly be as big a game changer as the PC. Others agree about VR’s potential impact. The Gartner Hype Cycle For Emerging Technologies, which the consultancy uses to track the progress of new products, suggests VR is moving from the “trough of disillusionment” to the “slope of enlightenment” and is ready for mass adoption over the next five to 10 years.

Enthusiasts say VR’s most immediate impact will be to transform the games and entertainment market. Developers have already invented applications to follow live events and for use in the retail, real estate, education, healthcare and engineering sectors, while the US military has long adopted it for training.

The one other industry — not covered by analysts’ reports — most likely to be transformed by VR is pornography. Developers say it will be a particular boost to the teledildonics sector (yes, it is pretty much as it sounds and, no, it is not a good idea to Google that one at work).

Depending on the rate of adoption, Goldman Sachs estimates the size of the overall VR/AR market for hardware and software could be between $23bn and $182bn by 2025. The wide variation in its forecasts highlights how much remains to be done before VR goes mainstream. Few PCs currently have the capacity to support full VR, the costs remain high, and immersive computing can isolate people as much as bring them together. Some commentators noted the irony of Mr Zuckerberg walking through the audience at Barcelona unnoticed because everyone was wearing a VR headset.

Perhaps the biggest impediment to the rapid take-off of VR, though, will be the lack of truly compelling content. As with any new technology, developers have to reimagine how content can work in radically new ways rather than reusing old concepts from existing formats. Facebook says it already has 200,000 developers registered to create games on its VR platform.

The final destination seems clear but the route map remains fuzzy. What will be the killer app?

就这样,当我正在两栋高楼之间的一块摇摇晃晃的木板上挪着步子时,那位好心的斯坦福大学教授催我跳下去。我像个傻子那样照做了,感觉自己猛然跌向地面。我准备好了迎接撞击,结果并未撞上。

虚拟现实(VR)或许在欺骗感官方面很有效,但它不能改写物理定律。我仍然站在斯坦福大学(Stanford University)虚拟互动实验室(Virtual Human Interaction Lab)的中央,头戴着一部系在脸上的VR头罩。

“虚拟现实不是一种媒介体验,它就是一种体验,”实验室负责人杰里米?拜伦森(Jeremy Bailenson)说。此时,随着怦怦的心率恢复正常,我明白他的意思。

毫无疑问,最新的VR技术可以带来令人惊叹的体验。我们刚刚开始窥见VR的全部潜能。但是,围绕VR的全面社会和金融影响存在很多争议。VR将成为联接众人的下一代伟大的计算机平台吗?或者,VR将像1990年代那样再度昙花一现,成为又一种流行一时、但不会真正成功的短命技术?

Facebook创始人马克?扎克伯格(Mark Zuckerberg)拿自己的声望豪赌一个信念:未来10年,VR将成为一个“非常重要的主流产品”。2014年3月,在访问斯坦福实验室几周后,扎克伯格斥资20亿美元收购了领先的VR开发商之一Oculus Rift。自那以来,Facebook的工程技术人员一直在研究VR,并将在不久之后推出售价599美元的游戏与视频套件产品。

最近,扎克伯格在出席巴塞罗那世界移动大会(Mobile World Congress)时辩称,VR注定会转变我们的生活、工作和沟通信方式。“VR是下一个平台,人们可以用它创造和体验自己想要的任何东西,”他对观众表示。

几家领先的科技公司之间好似爆发了一场军备竞赛,竞相在今年把VR产品推向市场。三星(Samsung)、宏达电(HTC)和索尼(Sony)都向VR领域投入了巨资,而微软(Microsoft)正在全力研发“增强现实”(AR)产品HoloLens。AR把显示内容叠加在真实景象上,而不是让用户完全沉浸于一个替代的视觉世界。

自2014年6月以来,谷歌已售出500万副头戴式Google Cardboard观察镜,让观看者使用智能手机初步领略VR魅力。谷歌也在开发技术含量高得多的产品。

根据高盛(Goldman Sachs)最近的计算,过去2年里,风险资本公司已累计向225个VR/AR项目投入了35亿美元。该行分析师提出,VR可能像个人电脑(PC)那样成为一类改变游戏规则的重要产品。其他人也认同VR的潜在影响。咨询机构高德纳(Gartner)用来追踪新产品的“高德纳新兴技术成熟度曲线”(Gartner Hype Cycle For Emerging Technologies)似乎表明,VR正从“幻觉破灭的谷底”进入“启蒙的斜坡”,有望在未来5至10年大规模普及。

狂热者表示,VR的最直接作用将是改变游戏和娱乐市场。开发人员已发明了很多追踪大型活动实况和用于零售、房地产、教育、医疗与工程行业的应用,而美国军方早就在用VR进行训练了。

另一个最有可能被改变的行业——分析师的报告中没有提到——是色情行业。开发人员表示,VR尤其将给远程性爱行业带来提振(没错,顾名思义吧;不,在上班时搜索这个不是个好主意)。

高盛估计,取决于具体的普及速度,到2025年VR/AR软硬件市场的总规模可能介于230亿美元至1820亿美元。预测范围区间这么宽,凸显出在VR成为主流之前,还有很多工作需要完成。眼下,计算能力强大到足以支持完全VR的个人电脑(PC)很少,价格仍然高昂,而且,沉浸式计算既能让人们聚集在一起,也能让他们陷于孤僻。一些评论人士提到了一件讽刺的事情:扎克伯格在巴塞罗那的会场穿过观众人群时,谁也没有注意到他,因为大家都戴着VR头罩。

不过,VR获得成功的最大障碍,或许将是缺少真正打动人心的内容。正如任何新技术那样,开发人员必须构思如何以全新方式让内容发挥作用,而不是重新使用现有格式的旧概念。Facebook表示,目前在其VR平台上注册、创建游戏的开发者已达到了20万人。

最终目的地似乎清晰可见,但路线图仍然模糊不清。杀手级应用会是什么?

译者/邢嵬

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