We’ve been burned on prom­ises of a VR fu­ture be­fore, but this time it looks like it could ac­tu­ally stick

Emirates Man - - STYLE - BY MIKE PRIEST

Be­ing a mere two weeks old when the orig­i­nal Tron hit cin­e­mas in 1982, I missed out on that par­tic­u­lar decade’s VR hype- train. It wasn’t un­til over a decade later while vis­it­ing London’s Sci­ence Mu­seum that I got to strap on a pair of chunky plas­tic gog­gles and vir­tu­ally com­man­deer the Chun­nel Train from Dover to Calais. Sure, it wasn’t ex­actly a neon land­scape filled with light cy­cles, but for my im­pres­sion­able young mind, it was more than enough. I was sold. That fluro­lu­mi­nated fu­ture surely couldn’t be too far be­hind. Turns out, how­ever, I had been mis­led. The nineties and oughties came and went, and aside from a few botched at­tempts ( Nin­tendo’s Vir­tual Boy I’m glar­ing at you), VR re­mained a vir­tual un­re­al­ity com­pared to the fully re­alised ad­vance­ments in gaming con­soles, mu­sic and the In­ter­net. Films such as Ex­is­tenz and books such as Ready Player One kept a small flame lit with prom­ises of a VR- led fu­ture but it had been rel­e­gated to just that: a prom­ise rather than any­thing re­motely tan­gi­ble. Fi­nally, though, that all looks like it’s about to change. With the ar­rival of Sam­sung’s GEAR VR ( an add- on to its su­perb Galaxy Note 4 ph­ablet) to a charge that is be­ing led by the likes of Ocu­lus VR’s Rift head­set and Sony’s Project Mor­pheus, it’s clear that VR is poised to go main­stream in a big way. And the good news is that this time it’s ready.

So, what’s changed? Well, the an­swer is three­fold. Firstly, pro­cess­ing power and graph­ics have reached a level where not only are we close to bound­ing over the Un­canny Val­ley in terms of fidelity and im­mer­sion but the tech is now small enough that we can slip it into cas­ing that isn’t akin to duct- tap­ing a gen­er­a­tor to one’s face. Se­condly, the cur­rent tech land­scape means there’s a ready- made mar­ket for it. In 2014, nearly two bil­lion peo­ple world­wide use smart­phones ev­ery day and are far more open to em­brac­ing bold new forms of tech­nol­ogy. But most im­por­tantly, we now live in a highly con­nected world. Ser­vices like Skype and FaceTime are al­ready the new norm when it comes to com­mu­ni­cat­ing with friends, col­leagues and rel­a­tives across the globe. Ocu­lus and its ilk are on the cusp of of­fer­ing a brand new way to do this and the dif­fer­ence will be huge. Imag­ine not just see­ing your friends on a screen but be­ing able to vir­tu­ally in­ter­act with them as they show off their new stu­dio apart­ment. Or hold­ing meet­ings where col­leagues on five dif­fer­ent con­ti­nents all sit in the same vir­tual board­room. And that’s not even touch­ing on the po­ten­tial im­pli­ca­tions in the fields of medicine and ed­u­ca­tion.

In March of this year Face­book ponied up a cool US$ 2 bil­lion for Ocu­lus to se­cure it­self a spot in the on­com­ing vir­tual fu­ture – put to­gether, they’re a for­mi­da­ble team with a built- in base of over 1.3 bil­lion users hun­gry for new ways to com­mu­ni­cate. And if Sony and other heavy hit­ters of the tech world are smart, they’ll be think­ing along the same lines. As my 12- year- old self will at­test, once you’ve gone vir­tual, reg­u­lar old re­al­ity just won’t cut it any­more.

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