The following is a virtual reality feature given to RPadTV by author Geoff Blough.
Virtual reality (VR) has the potential be as ubiquitous as the television set or smartphone. The technology for these immersive headsets has drastically improved over the last four years, and for the first time, VR is available to the consumer at a price point that does not break the bank. This has led to an explosion of new virtual reality technology that will open the door for VR to be a part of everyday life.
“People are going to stop having guest bedrooms and start having VR rooms,” said quality assurance analyst for Personify and VR expert Hunter Kent.
Statista, an online statistics website, projects significant growth in the VR industry. Projections are set to see an increase in VR hardware and software sales from $90 million in 2014 to $5.2 billion in 2018. Statista also projects that the VR industry will reach 171 million active users by 2018.
The origin of virtual reality can be traced back to the 1950s with the Sensorama, a cabinet similar to an arcade game. The user would sit down and be surrounded by screens. Video, sound, and even smells would be manipulated within the hood of the machine. Fast forward to 2016, many of the same elements are being used to create a sensory experience. The cabinets have now morphed into headsets that can track movement in a three-dimensional environment.
Though games have been the most common application of virtual reality, this is just the tip of the iceberg with regard to what virtual reality can provide. Enterprise applications currently drive most of the profits for VR. With 360-degree cameras, VR can be used to transport a user to famous historical landmarks around the globe. Users can even enjoy a live concert in New York while sitting on a coach in Los Angeles. Wheelchair-bound individuals can now visit places through VR that were impossible in the real world. Additionally, virtual reality now has medical applications. Surgical training has typically been practiced on cadavers, but now a simulator can give a medical student the same experience without access to a cadaver or a real patient.
“I envision the future VR as kind of the way smartphones changed people’s relationship with technology. I think VR/AR (Augmented Reality) will be even quicker to adopt once we hit the critical mass threshold, and will start becoming integrated with many, if not all, areas of people’s lives. There is so much potential in the non-gaming space, that I think we’ll probably see corporate adoption of VR before we see gamers embrace it wholeheartedly,” said Fox Buchele, developer and CEO of Fox Game Studios.
One example of embracing virtual reality in the non-gaming space is TheWave. It’s virtual reality music software that creates an interactive experience for both the performer and the audience. TheWave allows the performer to not only control the music as most DJ software does, but also create light shows that change depending on the frequency, beat, and tone of the music. A performer in TheWave can even take tracker and physically give them to the audience members who are watching the performance in their own virtual reality headsets.
Finn Staber, chief technology officer and co-founder of WaveVR, Inc. said, “We want to avoid ‘gamification’ with TheWave, and allow people to perform in their virtual venue as they would with a musical instrument or DJ interface in a real world venue.”
Gamers are still the target market for virtual reality. Videogames being released specifically for virtual reality are allowing gamers to finally enter the world they could only see on televisions in the past. The Void is a company that is creating a completely new experience. Not only is it creating the world that gamers can interact with a virtual environment, The Void is building real world sets that translate directly to the software. This allows for a completely interactive world that players can feel as well as see.
“This is going to replace laser tag venues,” said Kent.
Job Simulator is a game that not only allows players to interact in a fictional parody of everyday cubicle life, it allows for the player to set up cameras so others can join in the action. This kind of interaction was only dreamed about before virtual reality.
Augmented Reality has the ability to bridge the gap between current technology in smartphones and computers to the world of virtual reality. AR differs from VR as it overlays the real world, instead of creating an immersive world under a headset. Google Glass was an early example of AR technology. Typically, AR is created with glasses that have screens integrated into the design. These devices can provide the user information vital to their day. Google, Microsoft, and Magic Leap are companies currently developing AR technology.
“Imagine what you see in Minority Report, being able to manipulate numerous folders with gestures. What took several monitors now only takes one AR headset,” said Staber.
The most basic virtual reality headset available right now is Google Cardboard, a cardboard box that accepts almost any smartphone, and the Samsung Gear VR which only works with the newer Samsung Galaxy phones. According to economics website The Motley Fool, Google Cardboard has been downloaded from the Google Play store over 10-million times. Samsung recently offered a deal for consumers by giving away free Gear VR headsets to all new pre-orders of the phones. This has allowed Samsung to reach an audience that may not have been excited about the idea of virtual reality in the past.
“I got it for watching movies and TV shows and demoing how far VR tech has come to people who aren’t familiar with it. Whether you have anxiety flying or get motion sick while riding in a car, people are already using Gear VR to deal with these issues. You can zone out on a flight or watch movies, which is what I do,” says Kent.
Recently, two new virtual reality headsets have hit the consumer market. The Oculus Rift was released on March 28 while the HTC Vive went to market on April 5. Both of these headsets require powerful personal computers to work effectively. These headsets provide a completely immersive experience that the smartphone headsets are unable to provide. These headsets have similarities, but differ on how they provide motion tracking.
The Oculus Rift started as a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 as a development kit. The campaign earned $2.5 million in order to produce and ship the development kits to backers. Though mostly purchased by software developers, many VR enthusiasts purchased the development kit as a way to preview the technology. In 2014, Oculus was purchased by Facebook for $2 billion. This gave Oculus the capital to push their consumer level Rift to market.
The Rift includes a VR headset with basic head tracking and integrated speakers for sound, a head tracking camera, wireless remote, and an Xbox One Wireless Controller. The Rift is priced as $599 and is available for purchase on the Oculus website with turnaround time of about three months. On May 6, the Rift will be available at Best Buy for retail purchase. This headset has been popular because users do not need to move around the room in order to experience the immersion of VR.
HTC Vive is the major competitor to the Oculus Rift. The Vive also ships with a headset but this headset also has an external camera so the user can see the outside world while wearing the device. The Vive comes with two wireless controllers with tracking capabilities. Also included with the Vive are two tracking sensors that provide full room tracking. This allows the user to move around and manipulate the three-dimensional world created by the software. The HTC Vive is available on their website for $799 with a similar turnaround time as the Rift.
Sony also has plans to release a virtual reality headset for its PlayStation 4. The PlayStation VR, only works with Sony’s platform and will be released in October 2016. The headset bundle comes with the VR headset, two motion controllers, a tracking camera and a game that showcases the abilities of the platform. The bundle will be available in retail store for $499 and is also available for $399 for just the VR headset.
Developers are excited to work on both of the major platforms. Currently, most are aiming toward the Oculus Rift. Developing software on the Rift is easily ported over to the Vive as the motion tracking are not required in Vive software. The reverse is a bit more difficult because of the tracking not being as capable on the Rift. Because of this, publishers are a bit more apprehensive to develop for the Vive. “Publishers think developing a game specifically for the Vive is much more of a risk right now. Whereas most games developed for the Rift are playable on a normal monitor,” said Kent.
Virtual reality and augmented reality are moving at breakneck speeds. Developers, gamers, and non-gamers alike are excited for the possibilities that VR/AR can bring to the world. As the adoption rate increases, the prices will start to come down allowing for even more people to afford the hardware. VR/AR has potential in the creative and enterprise spaces in ways that have only been seen in science fiction. One day, there may be technology that will rival the holodeck in Star Trek. This kind of innovation drives the human race to places no one has gone before.