In its current form, virtual reality (VR) is primarily used for one thing: games. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the most prominent VR headsets on the market, are advertised as the ultimate accessory for gamers who want to spend a portion of their day immersed in virtual worlds, fighting virtual enemies with virtual weapons.
If VR catches on, chances are good that developers will use the platform for other things. Some companies have already experimented with “virtual movies,” and Google Cardboard—the ultra-inexpensive VR headset that uses a smartphone as a screen—gives users the opportunity to experience other realities and even current events through apps such as NYT VR.
One big question on developers’ minds, though, is whether VR will become an effective tool for business. HTC is trying to answer that question in the affirmative, by releasing a Vive Business Edition (BE) with full commercial licensing and a dedicated customer-support line.
Each Vive BE will come with a headset, controllers, base stations, and four “face cushions” for $1,200. Cost-wise, that may be a lot for a business to swallow, especially given the relatively narrow use-case, but some may find the expense worth it. (Just for the record, the consumer version of the HTC Vive is $800 for virtually—haha—the same hardware, not including the cost of the accompanying PC.)
In a press release, HTC framed VR as potentially useful for a range of industries “from automotive to medical to design.”
The HTC Vive BE will compete against augmented-reality headsets such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, which is being aggressively marketed as equally useful for games, productivity, and communication. In contrast to virtual reality, which closes off the user in a fully immersive digital environment, augmented reality layers holograms over the real world. Microsoft already has a Web page up detailing potential commercial uses.
It’s easy to see the potential utility of virtual reality in training scenarios, especially those involving potentially hazardous work. Any company buying a VR headset for the purposes of boosting employees’ skills, however, will have to make sure they don’t end up using it to blast space aliens.