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