In Virtual Reality Headsets, Investors Glimpse the Future

In Virtual Reality Headsets, Investors Glimpse the Future

Magic Leap, a secretive company making wearable technology for mixing digital imagery with the real world, is seeking to raise $827 million. Jaunt, maker of a 3-D camera for filming virtual reality video, has nabbed a total of $100 million, including $65 million in September. And 8i, which makes technology that lets people interact with video of humans as though they were in the same room, has raised nearly $15 million.

None of these start-ups is a household name. Few members of the public have had an opportunity to interact with — much less buy — the virtual and augmented reality technology that these companies are developing.

Yet investors and entrepreneurs believe that headsets made to immerse people in digital worlds are the next giant moneymakers in technology, setting off an investor frenzy rarely seen since the early days of the web and mobile markets. Virtual reality start-ups are multiplying, venture capital is pouring into them and the believers are expressing blue-sky thinking about how the new products could reshape entertainment, communications and work.

“Every decade or so there’s a next-generation hardware platform,” said Matt McIlwain, a venture capitalist at Madrona Venture Group. “Our view is the smart headset is going to be the platform of the next decade that changes the way a lot of stuff gets done.”

There are good reasons to be skeptical that virtual reality will change technology the way smartphones did, at least in the near term. While the latest headsets and software can make for dazzling demonstrations, even many fans of virtual reality say they still have not experienced a must-have game or application. The required headsets are expected to cost $300 to $500, in addition to the $1,000 or more it will cost for a powerful PC that some will require. And the virtual worlds inside the headsets have induced motion sickness in some people.

What makes the virtual reality investment craze even more speculative is that few members of the general public actually own or have tried the headsets.

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