Every single person that I’ve witnessed give virtual reality a try has been floored by the experience – especially the ones that didn’t see it coming. Even those who knew what it’s all about came back with amazed expressions once they took off the HMD (head mounted display) for the first time. I placed my bets on the fact that virtual reality is going to skyrocket faster than most people expect it to.
The rather expensive hardware required will definitely make some customers think twice. However, there already are plenty of gamers out there who own powerful hardware. They will be joined by early adopters who will make sure that they can properly run most of the VR experiences. They will show these programs to relatives and friends, which will feed the wave of excitement. And so, a new technological revolution will begin.
The next step in the evolution of entertainment
Virtual reality is more than most people expect it to be. This is why, when referring to VR content, I write about “experiences” or “programs”. Whoever thinks that this about games or movies couldn’t be further from the truth.
What we have here is a whole new dimension for experiencing art, one which wraps a world around us rather than showing it to us through a small rectangular window. Indeed, for now, the field of view of most HMDs is quite narrow (110 degrees), but 2nd generation devices such as StarVR^, with its 210 degrees of coverage, will bring large improvements in that regard.
Expect the 2nd generation to show up in 2017, probably along with the 1st generation HoloLens – Microsoft’s augmented reality HMD. When exactly in 2017? That, remains to be determined by the level of hysteria to be reached during the 2016 holiday season once people realize the amount of fun they can have with these things.
The first generation of HMDs faces other limitations too. One of the worst is the requirement to be plugged into the PC – with the exception of smartphone-powered HMDs, which are not nearly as convincing in terms of graphical quality as their PC-powered cousins. I expect plenty inventive solutions to address such problems in the next couple of years.
Despite any limitations, I continue to believe that VR and AR will take off faster than expected. Almost everybody that I’ve discussed with is perfectly happy to tolerate a few temporary problems, given what they’ll be getting in return. It’s hard to understand the potential of VR without experiencing it, but let’s just say that it’s a step forward at least as big as from paper to radio or from radio to TV.
Impressive potential for innovation
Today, there’s a very important difference compared to when the newspaper, radio or TV appeared. That difference is called “technology proficiency”. In this age, there are millions of people able to create digital art. And then there’s this thing called “the Internet”, which means that we are all but a few clicks away from enjoying the work of some talented young team toiling away in a garage across the ocean.
The reason why VR & AR will spread faster than expected is that the emergence of a new medium for expressing our creativity will usher in a staggering amount of innovation and original art. The transition from 2D to 3D graphics will seem like a baby step in comparison. There’s an army of engineers and content creators out there, the likes of which this Earth has never seen before.
They’ve made gloves^ that can not only allow the precise tracking of hand movements in VR, but also showcase our first try at feeling objects in the imaginary world. There’s even a suit^ with temperature controls! There’s eye tracking^. There’s spatial awareness^. There’s mobility^. And all this happened in less than three years. Such a density of innovation completely dwarfs anything we’ve seen during previous technological leaps.
By now, a lot of companies have realized what’s at stake. They are investing a lot of money into making this technological revolution happen, because if it does, it will fuel demand for entertainment and the hardware to power it. Manufacturers of video cards are especially ecstatic about this area, but pretty much all companies involved in producing PC components should probably get their champagnes ready.
Should we line ourselves up for pre-orders?
Despite my obvious enthusiasm towards this technology, the answer to this question is a definite NO. I’ve found an article that does an excellent job of explaining why. There is only one matter that the author hasn’t emphasized enough: the amount of high quality VR content is still quite low. I would recommend waiting at least until the 2016 holiday season before jumping in. By then, a lot of bugs will be worked out and more content will be available.
Don’t pre-order any HMD:
We’re less than two months away before tens of thousands of customers will receive their Oculus Rifts, the HMD most likely to reach retail availability first. Very soon after, the Vive Pre will follow. These first representatives of the high-end VR experience will open the door for many others. Personally, I’m probably going to order my HMD after November 2016. I haven’t made up my mind regarding the brand. I’ll be patient and read a few dozens of reviews before parting with my money.