Virtual Reality May Be for Real This Time

Microsoft Windows 10

Microsoft (MSFT) is making a big bet on virtual reality. The world’s largest software company recently introduced HoloLens, a platform that claims to kick off the era of holographic computing.

The video is impressive. Folks strapping on the HoloLens headset suddenly see projections blended into their physical environments. Streaming video pops up against a wall. 3-D video game environments are rendered. However, HoloLens isn’t all fun and games. It opens up the door for everything from collaborative designs to doctors and service technicians that can assist virtually.

HoloLens maps the physical environment, populating available space with the necessary holograms to do everything from serve up a Skype video call to erect virtual landscapes. Spatial sound capabilities make it seem as if the audio is emitting from the area in your environment where the holograms are being rendered.

Virtual reality isn’t just science fiction anymore.

Virtually a Crowd

It’s not just Microsoft getting into the game. Best Buy (BBY) recently began selling Samsung’s Gear VR headsets on its website, paving the way for eventual availability at the chain’s physical stores.

Owners of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 “phablets” can snap the device to these $199 headsets to create virtual reality goggles. This is a big deal. Samsung had only indicated that Gear VR headsets would be limited to hardcore virtual reality enthusiasts and content developers. Gaining distribution through Best Buy makes it a mainstream product in the realm of consumer electronics, even if it’s limited to at the moment.

Even social networking titan Facebook (FB) knows that virtual reality is a platform of the future. It turned heads last year by shelling out $2 billion in cash and Facebook stock to acquire Oculus Rift, a fledgling maker of virtual reality headsets. The head-mounted display has been a magnetic attraction at tech shows, and it’s Oculus that teamed up with Samsung to create Gear VR.

Passing the Creepiness Test

It’s probably merely a coincidence that Microsoft should unveil HoloLens just as Google (GOOG) (GOOGL) is pulling the plug on sales of Google Glass, the high-tech specs that record and project online information.

Google Glass was too expensive and ultimately too creepy and unfashionable. By fashion standards, the HoloLens, Gear VR, and original Oculus Rift are larger and bulkier than Google Glass. However, they might prove to be more useful under the right indoor environments.

We live in changing times. Knocking people who use selfie sticks or are constantly buried in their smartphones is low-hanging fruit, but we’re also years away from self-driving cars and other advances that will allow consumers more time to be distracted by the potential of holograms in edutainment and beyond.

There are too many major tech tastemakers hopping on virtual reality to ignore. The first wave of adopters may come from design professionals and enthusiasts, but it’s a game changer that the public — and investors — can’t afford to ignore.

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