The thing that will ultimately make virtual reality headsets must-have hardware is not one killer app, but a "killer experience," the director of Sony PlayStation's Magic Lab said on Friday.
Consumers will buy into virtual reality when it offers convincing "presence," a sense of being in another place, said Richard Marks, who is involved in developing Sony's Project Morpheus headset.
"It could be anywhere. It could be a virtual space, or a real place that's here on Earth. Everyone would like to visit somewhere else, whether it be Mars or Hogwarts, and just feeling like you're standing in a place like that is really the killer experience," Marks told CNBC's "Squawk Alley."
Technology companies have improved presence, said Marks, ticking off a list of upgrades to Project Morpheus: LED screens swapped out for OLED, wider field of vision and reduced latency (the lag that a user experiences as a result of insufficient computing power).
Hardware makers have sought to reduce latency above all else because users can experience nausea if the images broadcast on VR screens lag as they move their heads.
Rumors have also swirled over whether Apple will enter the space after patent filings and job listings related to VR bearing the company's name cropped up.
The appeal of virtual reality extends beyond the gaming industry, Marks said. Hollywood studios are interested in telling stories in immersive worlds, and sports promoters want to put customers in the center of the action.
Asked whether VR goggles will be a hot holiday gift in 2016, Marks said he believes Project Morpheus will draw crowds when it launches in the first quarter of next year. He said attendees at a recent conference waited up to four hours to try the hardware—and Sony had to turn some of them away.
As for when the technology will go mainstream, he said, "It won't maybe happen immediately, but I think once people get to try it and see how compelling it is, that's when it will really take off."