Amid the plethora of cloud storage and umpteen IP solutions displayed at NAB, VR and the likelihood (or not) of its eventual adoption by the marketplace dominated the conversations of many attendees. Is VR merely a novelty and technology experiment? Or is it destined for something greater, in the entertainment, technical, and commercial arenas? With the 3D debacle still fresh in our collective rearview memories, many NABers this morning are asking: what are the prospects for VR?

Ultimately, VR technology must meet the consumer’s willingness to utilize that technology. Right now, VR is in its infancy, delivering insufficient resolution to each eye to produce, in my opinion, a truly immersive experience. Even the best 4K headsets, backed by hefty processors, are hard-pressed to deliver more than standard definition to each eye; the viewing area seen at any one time by each eye is only a fraction of the displayed video output. And, unlike big-screen displays typically viewed in the home from about 10 feet, the VR headset display is positioned only a few centimeters from the eye, so any reduction in screen resolution is immediately apparent. That is likely to impact the range of useful applications, especially in the entertainment realm.

Due to a lack of a single point of view, many content creators believe that VR is inherently unable to tell compelling narrative stories. This is true, they say, because viewers are long-accustomed to experiencing film stories through a protagonist’s/movie star’s perspective. My own opinion is that VR stories will find a place primarily in the non-theatrical realm — for example, in the training of medical doctors, or for highway engineers conducting inconvenient, difficult-to-access bridge inspections with the help of a drone. As for narrative storytelling in VR, one can only look to video games, where designers have been telling compelling 360º stories for years.

There are significant unknowns associated with viewing VR content for extended periods. Earlier this week, I spent 30 minutes inside an imaginary tomb-like world, navigating the halls and canyons, opening doors, picking up tools, and cavorting with playful animals. When I emerged from the virtual space, I felt seriously dizzy and disoriented. It took some time to recover.

For susceptible folks, the impact of extended VR viewing may well produce an adverse physiological reaction. Like 3D, VR impacts the back part of the brain that controls our most primitive responses, like fight or flight. The front of our brain understands the VR experience isn’t real and is quite harmless, while the rear of the brain, which we cannot control, reacts reflexively and unpredictably, potentially causing significant discomfort, nausea, and pain.

In the end, the technology required to create high-quality VR output must meet the consumer’s willingness to utilize that technology. Is the current VR technology as shown at this week’s NAB likely to succeed as it is? I don’t think so. Not without major changes. VR will be a long and winding road. And we are just at the beginning.