Recently, Panasonic unveiled their new “VR” glasses at CES 2020, which made a ruckus on social media. With their steampunk vibe and their cleaner form factor, they are certainly the most “stylish” glasses around. (Though I use stylish loosely; it will not be for everyone).
While they look goofy, Panasonic has a smart business direction which has mass-market potential. The glasses are not for consumers; they are commercial, for significant sports events and virtual travel opportunities. Style sells, and building for sports and travel is a considerable market segment to target. For these reasons; it is challenging to compare Panasonic to the likes of Oculus and HTC; they are playing a different game.
Are Panasonic’s VR glasses actually virtual reality?
But first, let’s talk about the VR glasses. Panasonic’s product is rudimentary in that they have limited interactability when compared to the Oculus, Valve, and HTC VR headsets. Yes, they have micro OLED screens, are capable of HDR, and have realistic sound, but no word on the actual specifications of the device. We only know that it is good enough for images.
For sure, they do not have immersive controls where people can interact with the environment. Nor do they have the processing power to handle complex experiences, like the upcoming Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond. Panasonic made no mention of its power, only that it is lightweight and can provide “realistic” images. At best, they can view 360 videos with some depth.
This is why I am hesitant to call them VR glasses. Without sounding elitist, they do not provide the same experiences as its competitors; because that was not the purpose of its design. Panasonic wanted to make comfortable glasses that look less dumb, to appeal to people who wish to watch immersive content. But it is not for more in-depth interactive games and the like.
But realism is not Panasonic’s focus. The technology company wanted to create hardware for viewing events and travel and designed it for that purpose. So in a way, comparing Oculus, Valve, and HTC to Panasonic feels wrong.
What is the purpose of Panasonic’s product?
So let’s instead talk about Panasonic’s new focus. The company is focusing on “VR sports viewing and engaging virtualtravel experiences”. The target areas would be in homes, perhaps surrounded by friends and family, watching significant sports events or taking a look at a new country.
We already know that Oculus Venues is already targeting the area, as well as MelodyVR. Imagine working in partnership with a major sports organisation like the Premier League, and selling virtual tickets to people who can’t sit on the seats of the stadium. So they can instead feel like they are via immersive content. Panasonic could make some decent money from this opportunity, so they want to offer a new solution.
In a way, it’s a design-led approach for the glasses. They are light, without being too heavy on the face. Reports said that they are comfortable as well, so people can wear them for a long time without being weighed down.
But most importantly, they do not look as bad as current VR headsets. A stigma still exists about the blocks strapped to people’s heads, like an alien strapped to them. Having glasses that have a sense of style – even minor- is better than nothing.
So Panasonic developed for a different market from its competitors. It is not for enterprise training, where a large chunk of the money is currently; not is it for consumers who want the latest VR games to try. No, it is for travellers or sports enthusiasts who can’t pay the price for tickets and travel.
Panasonic’s role in the future of immersive technology
For now, we will see whether Panasonic develops the VR glasses more, with a releasable version in the future. But they have dropped enough hints to show where their focus is; not with the big players in one area, but in a separate area for now.
Panasonic will likely be quiet for the next few weeks and months as they burrow back to their development. But if they provide a new range with corporate partners, I could see these glasses appearing here and there over the next few years. If Apple and Fitbit have taught us anything with their wearables, style sells.
Will they manage to work with the major sports providers or travel companies? Time will tell.