The virtual reality headset — gear that completely immerses the player in a virtual environment — has been the relative Holy Grail of the video game industry for ages. Nintendo (NTDOY) took a crack at VR back in 1995 with the Virtual Boy, a clunky contraption with oodles of flaws. More recently, Oculus Rift has been a Kickstarter success story and CES favorite — but it’s been in development for what feels like forever.
The Project Morpheus VR headset revealed by Sony is plenty tangible. It includes a 1080p display, 90-degree field of view and uses the PlayStation Eye camera and PlayStation Move controller to place the player within a virtual environment they see and interact with. Sony has a long list of developers working on bringing titles to Project Morpheus, so while it’s not in production yet, the virtual reality headset has the potential to goose PlayStation 4 sales when it’s released. Not to mention, it’s likely to usher in a bigger change to the video game industry than the original Wii’s motion controller did.
But perhaps more exciting is the potential for virtual reality outside of gaming. Project Morpheus marks the mass market arrival of compact, effective, (reasonably) affordable VR gear, and the effects of this development could soon be felt everywhere.
Here are five industries VR is set to revolutionize:
Virtual Reality in … Healthcare
One of the most promising applications for virtual realty is in the healthcare field. Robotic surgery led by doctors situated thousands of miles from the operating room becomes much more effective with a VR headset that lets the doctor see everything that’s happening in high definition while simultaneously interacting with instruments, attending staff and the patient.
There are also applications such as using virtual reality to help treat stress and anxiety.
As virtual reality becomes more familiar to consumers and the hardware shrinks in size and cost compared to current medical offerings, expect it to change healthcare as we know it.
Virtual Reality in … Defense
Military applications include training, the use of remote-controlled weapons (such as drones and eventually ground-based units), telepresence of senior officers in high risk operations and the ability for surgeons to remotely participate in field-level surgeries (there’s the healthcare link again).
Many of the military applications of virtual reality are also applicable to law enforcement, which further widens the potential spread of VR technology.
Virtual Reality in … Movies
Video games have already surpassed movies as the new blockbusters, and games like Take-Two Interactive’s (TTWO) Grand Theft Auto series provide open worlds where players can easily spend a year or more playing. For a one-time price of $60, no less.
If you can imagine a game like a GTA title developed for PlayStation 4 using Project Morpheus … well, you can imagine that the movie industry is going to need to jump in the fray to keep pace with the entertainment value of VR video games. Otherwise, how else will it continue justifying that $10 ticket (plus driving, parking and popcorn)?
James Cameron kick-started the 3D movie trend with Avatar as studios tried to convince the public that movies could offer something extra. Well, VR could be the next big thing for video.
Expect to see a move to producing movies written and shot specifically for viewers wearing virtual reality gear. They won’t be viewed at a theater, but at home where gear like Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus will immerse viewers in the action instead of passively watching.
The first VR movies –using specially developed 360-degree cameras– have already been released for the Oculus Rift, and with a consumer electronics and entertainment powerhouse like Sony driving VR, expect to see more of them.
Virtual Reality in … TV
But virtual reality technology like Project Morpheus seems destined to revolutionize the way we view content.
Forget just movies. Any programming that’s VR-optimized is going to require an individual headset, which means those big-screen TVs will be turned off. Also worrisome for TV manufacturers is the fact that a VR headset with a high-definition display filling the entire view and surround sound delivered directly to headphones is going to make for a pretty nice way to watch traditional video content.
Virtual reality headsets are not going to replace the TV altogether, but a PS4 with Project Morpheus VR headsets is a ticking time bomb that has real potential to cut into TV sales.
Virtual Reality in … Product Design
A big part of manufacturing is the design phase, the lengthy process that takes place before a product is finalized. CAD (computer-aided design) software first revolutionized the design phase, then 3D printers from companies like 3D Systems (DDD) revolutionized it again with the ability to rapidly print prototype components.
With VR, the future of design is set to be revolutionized yet again. Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk has been showing off his take on the virtual reality workspace — where designers manipulate components in real time — using consumer-level gear including an Oculus Rift prototype.
On a larger scale, this has enormous potential. It’s not just about manipulating components as part of the design process. It’s also interacting with virtual models of finished products. For example, think about the ability of architects to walk customers through a VR model of a building to catch issues before construction begins.
As VR technology like Project Morpheus becomes commercially available, expect virtual reality to revolutionize product design.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.