At a vir­tual re­al­ity expo, VR comes in many di­verse forms

The China Post - - BUSINESS - BY DER­RIK J. LANG

A few cen­time­ters above the floor, a man is sus­pended from a swing­like ap­pa­ra­tus pre­tend­ing he’s fly­ing over a moun­tain. Around the cor­ner, a woman is de­fend­ing her­self against a horde of zom­bies with a make-be­lieve gun. Sev­eral me­ters away, two guys are seem­ingly rac­ing in cars over 160 kph (100 mph) while both sit still.

They’re each, in their own way, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing vir­tual re­al­ity.

At the third an­nual VRLA, a gath­er­ing of VR cre­ators and en­thu­si­asts in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, the im­mer­sive tech­nol­ogy trans­ported more than 2,000 at­ten­dees be­yond the walls of the Los An­ge­les Con­ven­tion Cen­ter to other coun­tries, worlds and di­men­sions.

A few lines to try some of the VR ex­pe­ri­ences at the one-day event re­quired wait times of over an hour in­side the laser-and-smoke-filled con­course hall.

“It re­ally feels like the mo­men­tum has shifted,” VRLA co-founder Cosmo Scharf told the sold-out crowd at the be­gin­ning of the day. “More peo­ple care about VR to­day than ever be­fore.”

Scharf said there are cur­rently 733 VR com­pa­nies in the U.S. and VR star­tups have raised more than US$800 mil­lion in fund­ing since 2010.

While VR on smart­phones is now avail­able with head­sets like Google Card­board, Sam­sung Gear VR and Noon VR, reg­u­lar folks in­ter­ested in higher fi­delity and more in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ences must experiment with them in per­son at events such as VRLA — that is, un­til high­er­pow­ered sys­tems are re­leased to con­sumers over the course of the next year.

Sony and Ocu­lus VR, which is owned by Face­book, plan to launch re­tail edi­tions of their VR head­sets in early 2016, while Valve and HTC are ex­pected to re­lease their Vive sys­tem later this year.

“I re­ally wanted to see what all the com­pa­nies are com­ing up with,” said Seyed Mousavi, a Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia stu­dent who at­tended VRLA. “I heard the HTC Vive is amaz­ing. I haven’t had a chance to try it.”

The irony of gath­er­ing po­ten­tial con­sumers in the real world to ex­pe­ri­ence vir­tual ones isn’t lost on those in the VR busi­ness.

“The big­gest mar­ket­ing chal­lenge fac­ing the whole vir­tual re­al­ity in­dus­try is that you can’t ex­pe­ri­ence VR un­til you ex­pe­ri­ence VR,” said Ivan Blaustein, di­rec­tor of prod­uct in­te­gra­tion at VR­cade. “That’s why an event like this is im­por­tant for us.”

VR­cade, a wire­less mul­ti­player VR sys­tem not in­tended for home use, was the most pop­u­lar ex­hibitor at Satur­day’s event. VRLA at­ten­dees tried out the sys­tem in a 9-by-9 me­ter space. The com­pany is cur­rently test­ing VR­cade at a Dave and Buster’s lo­ca­tion in Mil­pi­tas, Cal­i­for­nia.

AP

In this Jan. 6 file photo, Yas­min Moor­man looks into the Gal­axy Gear VR head­set at the Sam­sung booth dur­ing the In­ter­na­tional CES in Las Ve­gas.

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