The global XR market size is expected to be worth 31 billion U.S. dollars in 2021, rising to close to 300 billion U.S. dollars by 2024, write Ken Hardy, Bryan Clarke, & Stephen Hinds.

This emerging technology is ideal for entertainment and gaming, but it must fulfil a definitive purpose, and it must work seamlessly in action for the AR/VR industry to enable wider adoption. The AR/VR industry still faces huge problems with user retention and mass adoption.

Extended Reality

To understand the XR space, there are key distinctions in the XR family of technologies. Virtual reality is a fully immersive, multi-sensory and simulated experience. You enter a computer-generated environment, may it seem entirely real or be purely imaginative, if done properly, you will feel the suspense of belief.

VR is most widely used for gaming, entertainment and educational purposes. In contrast, augmented reality, retains a firm grasp on reality and imposes virtual AR overlays or projections with digital information in the real world via a phone or wearable technologies such as smart glasses.

The most interesting of all is Mixed reality which allows virtual objects to be seamlessly integrated into the real world and 3D digitally placed content becomes spatially aware, interactive and responsive. MR combines the best of AR/VR and has the potential to become the most used human-machine interface technology.

What does XR include?

Today, Extended Reality (XR) is the new umbrella term for all the immersive technologies (i.e. Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR)) that alter our notion of reality through the combination of real and virtual environments.

The capability of XR is highly uncertain because of the combination of its incompatibility with the pre-existing systems and its potential for ground-breaking impact in both industry and the consumer environment.

For some, XR is just an expensive white elephant for gamers, for others, it is the path forward for real technological change. For example, the use of AR overlay projections in Image-Guided Surgery has the potential for improved instrument navigation and surgeon control.

GE Healthcare, Medtronic, Siemens Healthineers and Koninklijke Philips N.V. are the key market players in Image-Guided Surgery. GE Healthcare is the leader in the image-guided surgery devices market, producing a range of dedicated systems for image-guided surgeries such as Innova and Optima image-guided surgery product series.


In the consumer environment, Specsavers introduced online virtual try-on-glasses which allows consumers to try on their whole collection of designers. It has proven to be quite successful, especially in the times of a pandemic where in-store walk-ins are no longer possible, and masks are compulsory which obscure the face.

One certain game-changer will be the introduction of 5G and super-fast mobile networks which will open new possibilities for VR and AR. With data transfer speeds of up to 3 gigabits per second, VR and AR data can be streamed from the cloud on low-powered mobile devices.

It will remove all the long cables and wiring, and expensive onboard hardware as viewing devices will just offload this heavy processing and rendering to some datacentre somewhere and still somehow it will be in real-time.

Combined with cheaper headsets, 5G could be a key enabler of everyday XR devices with more realistic simulations. When Charles Wheatstone described stereopsis in 1838, little did he know that he had discovered the underlying principle that makes virtual reality possible.

The research demonstrated that the brain combines two photographs (one eye viewing each) of the same object taken from different points to make the image appear to have a sense of depth and immersion, a 3-dimensional experience.

However, it was not until 2014 when Facebook bought the Oculus VR company for $2 billion that VR gained momentum. The following year a virtual reality film titled ‘Clouds Over Sidra’, made in partnership with the UN, presented users with a view of a Syrian migrant camp from a child’s perspective and soon afterwards Oculus released a 360-video featuring Barack Obama in Yosemite National Park allowing viewers to take in every angle of the incredible surroundings.

These events captured the public’s imagination. This mature, yet still emerging technology, will be expected to see significant growth in the next ten years. Gartner notes, “Businesses already experiment with VR but hesitate to fully commit. On the other hand, customers are fascinated by the new entertainment possibilities but do not want to invest in head-mounted displays (HMDs) as long as the offering is so small. This is going to change during the next five years.” There is large scope for research in the VR sector to have real impact.

A version of this article is also published in Irish Tech News.

Get in touch

For further information on innovation incentives in Ireland, contact Ken Hardy, Stephen Hinds & Bryan Clarke of our R&D tax credits practice.