VIRTUAL TECH GETS REALITY CHECK
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.