From Virtuality to reality: How virtual reality will change everything in 2016

From Virtuality to reality: How virtual reality will change everything in 2016

Virtual reality and why games come first

Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR are all targeted at gamers, because gamers are the most visible market for VR. This is both a blessing and a curse for a technology that wants to take over, or replace, the world. “I expect VR to be huge hit with PC gamers, but that’s a niche,” said Page. “Reaching everyone who owns a high-powered PC isn’t going to be seen by some people as a mainstream success. And there are so many other uses for VR in engineering, medical applications, training, experiential marketing and all sorts of fields.”

It may also be harder than some expect to crack the gaming market. Many games are already interactive and in 3D, so the transition looks easy. “That may be naive,” said Gartner’s Blau. “You’re taking a keyboard and mouse and changing to some other kind of controller, and we don’t even know what that controller is yet. The UI was made for 2D, even though the game worlds are 3D, and that may not make the leap either. If it’s not a good experience, people aren’t going to buy: it doesn’t matter how good the hardware is.”

As Dan Page said, the problem isn’t creating a virtual reality experience, it’s creating a good virtual reality experience. That was something Virtuality and others learned in the early 90s: you can blow people’s socks off with a short demo, but it’s much harder to develop a game they’ll want to play every day.


Image: YouTube

Unfortunately, even with all the technical improvements, VR still has limitations. One is the feeling of nausea or motion sickness caused by what AMD’s LiquidVR spokesperson calls “motion-to-photon latency”. This is caused by a delay between you moving your head and the scene updating. You may also feel disorientated if the scene changes rapidly but you haven’t moved your body. “A roller-coaster simulation can make you feel terrible because you’re sitting still,” said Starship’s Hollywood. “You need something like a cockpit to give you a reference point so you can have movement going on around you.”

These are the sorts of things VR game developers have to worry about – they don’t want to make too many people sick.

Virtual reality’s real problem: Reaching the wider audience

“We want gamers to drive it, because they’ll buy big numbers and normalise VR for a wider market.”

Developers in other areas are hoping gamers will popularise VR, and thus make headsets widely available. For example, Plextek Consulting’s Collette Johnson is working on a medical training system for the UK’s Ministry of Defence, which has specified Oculus Rift for training soldiers on a virtual battlefield. “The gamers will drive [adoption],” she said. “We want them to drive it, because they’ll buy big numbers and normalise VR for a wider market.”

Hugo Pickford-Wardle, chief innovation officer at Matter, takes a similar view. He sees gamers as early adopters of cutting-edge technologies. When they buy headsets, “it makes VR available to the rest of the family, where people can use it as a Skype alternative or for shopping in a virtual mall,” he said. “It’s almost a trojan horse.”

In the short term, the Samsung Gear VR may turn out to be an effective trojan horse. “You can take it down to the pub, pass it around and show very high-resolution, very low-latency VR to people without having to lug a big PC around,” said Opposable Games’ Dan Page. “The 360-degree movie content is a really easy way to show people just how special VR can be.”

Samsung Gear VR review: The Gear VR offers an amazing experience, but it does make you look like a fool

Samsung is certainly trying to bring Gear VR experiences to a wider (and more upmarket) audience. For example, in a three-month trial with Qantas, Samsung provided headsets in first class lounges in Sydney and Melbourne airports and “in the first class cabins on select A380 services”. Passengers were able to watch movies on the headsets, and enjoy “VR experiences”. Expect more companies to try this sort of thing while it still has PR value.

Samsung also used Gear VR headsets at the World Economic Forum in Davos to show “more than 130 global leaders and dignitaries” a UN-backed film directed by Chris Milk about a 12-year-old girl living in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Milk showed clips from the film in a TED talk titled “How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine”. In it, he said: “We’re just [starting] to scratch the surface of the true power of virtual reality. It’s not a video game peripheral. It connects humans to humans in a way I’ve never seen before.”

“virtual reality can take you somewhere you never thought possible”

Simon Sparks, co-founder of immersive video producers Yoovi, thinks that 360-degree VR movies could become really popular “because they can take you somewhere you never thought possible”, whether that’s on stage at a concert, the bottom of the ocean or the surface of the moon. “They’re filmed with rigs covered in GoPro cameras – they seem to be the weapon of choice – then stitched together,” he said.

But as an AMD spokesperson reminded us, capturing an immersive audiovisual experience is just the start. To achieve “full presence” in another environment, we also need “touch and other stimuli such as temperature, kinaesthetic sense and balance”. But since VR headsets have yet to take off, it may be too soon to start thinking about VR body suits.

Now read how Lytro plans on changing the VR industry forever with its mind-boggling Immerge imaging technology.

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