Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sony looks beyond video games with PlayStation VR hit.

Electronics maker isn't alone in envisioning virtual job training and more.

Sony's PlayStation VR virtual reality headset has sold over 1 million units since its October launch, and the Japanese electronics maker is just one of many companies intending to take VR technology beyond video gaming.

Andrew House, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment, said he intends "to continue building on the strengths of the Sony group, which makes content as well as hardware." 

House spoke with The Nikkei ahead of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, a major international video game conference commonly known as E3, which opens June 13 in Los Angeles.

From games to surgical training

The PlayStation VR sells in at least 60 markets globally, and it works in conjunction with Sony's PlayStation 4 video game console. The device initially was difficult to come by, but this year the company boosted production capacity. That scarcity "has nearly disappeared" outside of Japan, House said.

Sales of VR-compatible games have reached 5.25 million, including online distribution. House called the VR game category "lively" but said it currently centers on indie developers -- small or one-person teams not necessarily affiliated with major studios. He hopes major game publishers will "make VR versions of major franchises in the future."

The Sony subsidiary is working on VR applications outside games as well, teaming this spring with the Grammy Award-winning artists The Chainsmokers to create and distribute a VR-exclusive music video. The unit, located in the California city of San Mateo, also will partner with Sony Pictures Television to make a "VR experience" based on the hit series "Breaking Bad."

Sony President and CEO Kazuo Hirai expects to use the group's technologies to build VR into a platform offering all kinds of services. The technology may have started with video games, but he intends to expand it to a broad range of fields including medicine -- such as in surgical training -- and job training.

The PlayStation 4 console, which debuted in November 2013, is expected to top 60 million sales by the end of this month. Though sales for the year ending in March are seen dropping to 18 million units, down 2 million from the previous year, this decline should be "gentle" owing to the recent releases of the VR headset and the PlayStation 4 Pro, an upgraded version of the PS4 console, House said. The company also intends to alleviate the hardware slump by enhancing its software and service offerings, such as its PlayStation Network online service, which has reached 70 million monthly users.

Spreading the virtual magic

Other companies are embracing VR's possibilities as well. Japanese telecom and mobile company KDDI is developing a disaster response simulation for train drivers, while Tokyo-based HoloEyes has devised a system that lets doctors use medical imaging data to virtually inspect the affected area of a patient before surgery. German automaker Audi will use VR technology for sales promotion.

The global market for VR and augmented reality -- computer-created additions layered over real-world vision -- will balloon to $143.3 billion by 2020, U.S. survey company IDC says. As during the smartphone boom, companies that get on board with VR technology quickly can seize an opportunity for growth.

Barriers do exist, however. VR devices are far from ubiquitous, and some interested people may lack the chance to use them, suggesting a need for easy opportunities to try out the technology. Japan's Bandai Namco Entertainment, a unit of Bandai Namco Holdings, will open a large VR entertainment center this summer in Tokyo's busy Shinjuku district. Some karaoke lounges and other establishments have also started offering VR entertainment as well.

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