After months of anticipation, virtual reality movie Ready Player 1 hits the screens tonight.
Based on a book by Ernest Cline regarded by many as the virtual reality (VR) bible, the film tells the story of a future society where people use VR to escape their humdrum existence.
Directed by the Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg, the reviews generally have been favourable, though the film’s many nods to the eighties and nineties may be lost on younger members of the audience.
But it’s not just the film buffs and techies hoping for another Spielberg blockbuster.
Those working in the sector see this as a landmark moment where the full potential of VR is brought front and centre to a mainstream audience.
In spite of much hype and (a lot of) money, VR has yet to reach anywhere near the audience predicted when the earliest headsets were first being unveiled.
Ready Player 1 may be the catalyst to change that, advocates for the sector believe.
And Sci-Fi has proved previously itself adept at predicting the future - remember how revolutionary mobile phones and tablet computers seemed in the early episodes of Star Trek?
He expects the film to give a positive view on the future of VR and make reasonably accurate predictions about where the technology is heading.
Work is already going on in research labs into products such as haptic gloves, motion platforms, feel and even smell sensors.
Many of these feature in the film and like mobile phones, might become mainstream a lot sooner than expected.
“Some of the things predicted you can even get your hands on today,” according to Downes, who believes the film will be ‘fantastic’ for the VR community.
“It will give the broader world an understanding of the power of VR and what can be achieved in educational fields, entertainment and in social environments.”
“It gives people a vision of where VR is going.”
Giving VR a vision for the future
Brokers are already predicting graphics card makers such as US firms Nvidia and AMD will benefit from an upsurge of interest in 3D games and other content.
Jefferies suggested last month RP1 will give a boost to sales of VR headsets, which require high ultra-high performance graphics cards.
But it is not just RP1 that will drive interest. A raft of new products is scheduled to come off the drawing board with some in the next few weeks.
Facebook Inc. subsidiary Oculus, meanwhile, is scheduled to launch its Go headset in May priced at just US$199.
Downes believes that the launch of a wireless headset at that cost will be a defining moment in the VR space.
Mass market product
“That is a mass adoption price,” he said, and will spark a wave of new content.
One of Sure’s investments, VR Education (LON:VRED), recently joined AIM and specialises in the use of VR for education through its Engage platform.
Indeed, it was Downes who gave its founder David Whelan a copy of RP1 to read on a trip to the US.
The first third of the book, and reportedly the best of part of the film, focuses on the hero's VR education.
Whelan says that when he met the potential investors, he showed them the book and said his firm had built a platform that could do all of that.
Its platform offers interactive lectures, virtual meetings with teachers/tutors or classmates plus the option to customise for a particular use.
If that still sounds a little far-fetched, go and see RP1 and it should all become much clearer.