VIR­TUAL TECH GETS RE­AL­ITY CHECK

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - TECHNOLOGY -

New VR head­sets could change the way we play, shop and con­nect JEN­NIFER DUD­LEY-NI­CHOL­SON

A screen low­ers over my spec­ta­cles, head­phones are placed over my ears, and I emerge in­side a tra­di­tional Japanese dojo.

Sa­mu­rai swords in each hand, I step for­ward to ac­cept my chal­lenge: to slice fly­ing fruit into pieces while avoid­ing lit ex­plo­sives.

Yes, I’m in­side a Fruit Ninja game but not as we know it. I’m wear­ing an HTC Vive vir­tual re­al­ity head­set – one of the two ad­vanced VR head­sets re­cently launched for con­sumers.

And I’m not merely thrust­ing a fin­ger at fly­ing fruit but lung­ing for­ward, arms and con­trollers raised, hop­ing I don’t run into a wall.

This ad­vanced style of vir­tual re­al­ity has only just ar­rived af­ter years of prom­ises, but in­dus­try an­a­lysts pre­dict big things for ad­vanced in­ter­ac­tive en­ter­tain­ment.

Strat­egy An­a­lyt­ics es­ti­mates we’ll spend $1.15 bil­lion on vir­tual-re­al­ity tech­nol­ogy this year, and Tel­syte pre­dicts Aus­tralians will buy 110,000 VR head­sets. By 2020, that num­ber is ex­pected to ex­ceed half a mil­lion.

While ex­perts and mak­ers alike pre­dict im­mer­sive video games will drive VR’s ini­tial pop­u­lar­ity, vir­tual- re­al­ity ti­tles will quickly ex­pand to en­com­pass ev­ery­thing from home movies to ve­hi­cle test-drives.

Phone maker HTC paired with game firm Valve to cre­ate its Vive VR head­set, avail­able on­line if you can spare $1150. HTC Aus­tralia man­ager Ben Hodg­son says the tech­nol­ogy will launch in stores soon. Its com­pe­ti­tion is the Face­book-owned Ocu­lus Rift, which will set you back about $770.

Both must be con­nected to a pow­er­ful PC, how­ever, mean­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence could cost you about $2000.

Even so, a Tel­syte sur­vey of 1075 Aus­tralians found one in five was will­ing to spend more than $400 on a head­set, in­di­cat­ing “pent-up de­mand from early adopters”, ac­cord­ing to Tel­syte manag­ing di­rec­tor Foad Fadaghi. Game mak­ers are also sup­port­ing the new tech­nol­ogy early, with more than 120 ti­tles for HTC Vive now avail­able, rang­ing from Fruit

Ninja to first-per­son shoot­ers and un­der­wa­ter ad­ven­tures.

Plus, fur­ni­ture gi­ant Ikea has launched a VR ex­pe­ri­ence for the Vive, let­ting users de­sign a kitchen in­side the head­set, chang­ing cabinet colours and even al­ter­ing their own height, so they can ex­plore the kitchen from a child’s per­spec­tive or that of a 1.95cm tall per­son.

“Vir­tual re­al­ity is de­vel­op­ing fast, and in five to 10 years it will be an in­te­grated part of peo­ple’s lives,” Ikea manag­ing di­rec­tor Jesper Brodin says.

Strat­egy An­a­lyt­ics pre­dicts most VR pur­chases will be much cheaper than those from HTC and Ocu­lus. For ex­am­ple, Sam­sung’s Gear VR ($159) can be used with one of their newer smart­phones, and Google Card­board of­fers a taste of basic vir­tual re­al­ity.

Sam­sung re­cently added ac­cess to 360-de­gree videos from Face­book in­side its VR head­set, fore­shad­ow­ing a day when you’ll watch im­mer­sive movies from your friends and fam­ily.

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