In 2014, Meta Platforms, formerly known as Facebook, acquired VR technology pioneer Oculus. Since then, it has helped the company develop and market its VR headsets and software. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, stated in 2017 that he wants 1 billion people to use virtual reality.
The most recent iteration of its flagship product, the Oculus Quest 2, has received overwhelmingly positive reviews and makes entry into virtual reality (VR) even more affordable by reducing its price.
Late in 2021, the company changed its name to Meta Platforms to emphasize its commitment to constructing the infrastructure to support the metaverse. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, stated on the company's fourth-quarter 2021 earnings call, "We are focused on the foundational hardware and software required to build an immersive, embodied internet that enables superior digital social experiences than anything available today."
Meta is a good option for investors interested in the trend because it is the leader in VR technology and its CEO is enthusiastic about its potential.
Sony developed the PlayStation VR, a virtual reality headset compatible with its popular PlayStation consoles. Using the PlayStation 4 (or PS5) to power the headset enables Sony to provide one of the most immersive virtual reality gaming experiences. However, the PlayStation brand and the console's specialized chipset may prevent Sony from developing more widespread VR applications.
Since its release in 2016, the PSVR has been one of the best-selling virtual reality headsets. However, Facebook's Oculus Quest 2 has sold significantly more units since its launch in October 2020, while PlayStation fans await an update.
Sony is developing a new VR device that would be compatible with the PlayStation 5 and represent a significant improvement over the company's current model, which is five years old. Nevertheless, it may be difficult for Sony to separate itself from the gaming industry in VR and realize the full potential of the technology.
Google has spent years developing VR hardware and applications. Since launching the widely mocked Google Glass in 2013, Google's intentions have been crystal clear: to place the internet directly in front of your eyes.
The technology company released Google Cardboard in 2015 so that anyone with a smartphone could experience the potential of virtual reality affordably and easily. A simple piece of folded cardboard served as a VR viewer for your smartphone. Early in 2021, Google discontinued the platform.
Google is more likely to be a key player on the software side of virtual reality. If Android is the operating system of choice for the majority of smartphone manufacturers, it could also be the operating system of choice for VR hardware manufacturers. Google will develop its own applications for existing platforms like Oculus in order to expand the use of virtual reality and maintain its presence on all internet-enabled devices.
Microsoft has taken its VR technology directly to enterprise clients, whereas other hardware and software companies are focused on the consumer market. It describes its HoloLens device as a "detached, self-sufficient holographic device with enterprise-ready applications." The company markets its product to manufacturers, healthcare professionals, and educators. The organization has its own suite of industry-specific applications as well as over 200 partner applications for the device.
Early in 2021, Microsoft signed a $22 billion contract with the U.S. Army. According to the Army, the custom-built HoloLens device "enables the Soldier to Fight, Rehearse, and Train on a Single Platform."
Reportedly, Microsoft is unable to deliver on its promises to the Pentagon due to quality and performance issues. It scrapped plans for a new HoloLens model in early 2022. However, it plans to continue developing VR technology and applications outside of the gaming and entertainment industries. A spokesperson stated, "We remain committed to HoloLens and future HoloLens development."
According to its patent applications, Apple has been working on virtual reality hardware for more than a decade. Additionally, it has acquired multiple VR and AR companies over the years. Still, the company has not yet released a virtual reality product for its rabid fans.
This may alter in the near future. Apple is anticipated to release a headset within the next 12 months, but it could cost as much as $3,000. When Apple enters a market, it is an indication that the product will become popular among consumers (see laptops, smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, smart speakers, etc.). Even when it is not the first to market, Apple typically does a good job of capturing a substantial market share.
Apple has a massive existing market for a virtual reality device due to the presence of more than 1 billion iPhone users. Investors should pay close attention to any VR-related announcements made by Apple, which would not only benefit Apple's shareholders but also the entire VR industry.
Equally important to the companies that manufacture and sell finished goods are those that provide essential technologies to hardware manufacturers. Nvidia is the foremost designer of graphics processing units (GPUs) for personal computers and game consoles.
A PC with a high-end Nvidia graphics card typically does the bulk of the work for more advanced VR applications, as opposed to video games where realism is less important. The chipmaker's GeForce GTX GPUs feature VR-specific designs, and VRWorks is a software developer kit (SDK) for its chips. The SDK enables developers to provide optimal performance, generate the highest-quality images, and maintain low latency (the time it takes for the system to respond to user input).
Due to the graphically intensive nature of virtual reality, Nvidia is poised to benefit regardless of which hardware manufacturer incorporates its chips.
Qualcomm has specialized in system-on-chip designs for mobile devices, integrating all of a computer's necessary computing components onto a single chip, whereas Nvidia has a stranglehold on GPUs in desktop computers. Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform is widely used in mobile devices, and it even appears in Oculus Quest 2 by Meta.
The Snapdragon XR2 platform supports low-latency interactive feedback on standalone devices through its extremely rapid AI processing. It also supports faster internet connections via Wi-Fi or 5G to ensure that content loads quickly and users are able to interact online via the device.
Qualcomm may have a competitive advantage as a chip platform for hardware manufacturers if you believe that standalone VR devices will ultimately be more useful than PC-tethered ones.