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VR and AR headset shipments to hit 100 million units by 2021

Virtual reality and augmented reality are expected to become more mainstream in the next five years, says a new forecast by IDC.

Shipments of virtual reality headsets are expected to climb to nearly 100 million units by 2021. 
Sarah Tew/CNET

As more people warm up to virtual reality and augmented reality, the two hot trends are expected to get even hotter in the next five years. 

Shipments of VR and AR headsets are set to climb to just under 100 million units worldwide by 2021, according to a forecast by research firm IDC. A little under 10 million headsets shipped last year.

IDC said Monday that so far VR headsets -- especially those powered by smartphones, aka "screenless viewers" -- are most popular.

"The next six to 18 months will further stimulate the VR market as PC vendors, along with Microsoft, introduce tethered headsets and high-end standalone VR headsets also enter the market," said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. Ubrani said lower prices for headsets as well as lower PC hardware requirements will make VR more accessible.

Virtual reality, which virtually transports you to a computer-generated world via a headset like Sony's PlayStation VR or Facebook's Oculus Rift, is expected to remain ahead of AR in headset shipments in the next five years. But that's partly because, IDC said, AR is "harder to achieve." In augmented reality, digital images are laid on top of images in the real world on your phone or a headset. (Think Pokemon Go.)

But the IDC said AR is set to "fundamentally change" industrial jobs in the next five years. Over the same period, it said it expects a little over 80 percent of all AR headsets shipments to be for commercial use.