The availability of Samsung Gear VR's and the planned debut Oculus Rift and HTC over the next two months is helping make virtual reality one of the hottest topics at this year’s South by Southwest.
Interest at the annual interactive, film, and music conference is showing that the technology has a much wider potential reach than the current focus on the video game industry. Companies from a variety of industries are scheduled to discuss ideas for using virtual reality, which has been long in development, but is only now emerging as a business.
Music companies, for instance, will explore the possibilities of the role VR can play in live music by giving fans who are unable to attend concerts a virtual front row seat–or perhaps onstage access. Also on tap: A look at the technology’s potential to innovate on music videos and how artists can potentially share and make money from their music in new ways.
The adult entertainment industry, meanwhile, has been taking an active role in advancing virtual reality as a potential new revenue stream that it hopes can avoid piracy. Producers from VR porn companies will discuss the potential impact on the industry and review current offerings. (Naughty America, one of the larger producers of original online adult films, will even host a party for attendees.)
Even professional athletes see potential in VR. Officials from the PGA will discuss how VR will let duffers at home learn from being up close to the pros, watching them interact with the caddy, and picking up tips from their swings. And former Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III will take part in a talk about whether VR is good for serious sports training–and its ability to help players improve on the field.
Several panels will look at the advertising and marketing potential VR for everything from retail to fashion to tourism. By wearing headsets, the theory goes, consumers at home will get a better sense for a store, clothing, or location and decide if it’s something they want in the real world.
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Of course, video game developers will also be on hand to show off upcoming titles during SXSW Gaming, which is open to the public.
While it may surprise some attendees that most of the VR focus isn’t on gaming, analysts say it’s non-gaming fields where the technology is likely to really take off.
“We firmly believe that every industry on the planet will be impacted by VR/AR,” says Ben Schachter of Macquarie Securities. “Among the likely early movers will be gaming, entertainment, design, social, communications, retail, media, real estate, travel, health care, and education.”