Vir­tual re­al­ity is a re­al­ity

Why it’s time to take new tech­nol­ogy se­ri­ously

Tech Advisor - - WELCOME - JIM MARTIN

It’s of­fi­cial: Vir­tual Re­al­ity is the next big thing in consumer tech. I’ve said it many times be­fore, but now I can say it with cer­tainly. How? When we set up the HTC Vive in our office, peo­ple queued up to have a go. They ac­tu­ally queued.

It’s been a long time since a new tech­nol­ogy caused so much ex­cite­ment among so many. The last prod­uct that caused a stir – both in the office and when we were film­ing with it in pub­lic – was Google Glass. But where the re­sponse to Glass was, “That’s in­ter­est­ing but I wouldn’t buy one”, VR elic­its al­to­gether more pos­i­tive re­ac­tions. “Just take my money,” said one tester and an­other, “I’ve got to get me one of these”.

What’s dif­fer­ent about VR com­pared to 3D and aug­mented re­al­ity is that it’s com­pletely im­mer­sive. When you don the Vive head­set and pick up the con­trollers, you re­ally are trans­ported into a dif­fer­ent re­al­ity in which you can in­ter­act with things. That’s the whole point, of course, but the fact that it re­ally works is why it’s got peo­ple so ex­cited.

And as you’ll read re­peat­edly in this issue, these gad­gets are very much first-gen­er­a­tion prod­ucts. Yet a five-minute ex­pe­ri­ence of blast­ing en­emy space­ships out of the sky with a vir­tual gun is enough to make peo­ple want to spend frankly crazy amounts of money.

The Vive (re­viewed on page 78) costs al­most £700, and you’ll have to spend at least that again if you don’t al­ready have a PC that’s VR ready. We’ve re­viewed six PCs de­signed for VR gam­ing on page 66, but it’s pos­si­ble that you’ll only need to up­grade your graph­ics card if your ex­ist­ing PC is oth­er­wise rel­a­tively re­cent and high-spec.

NVidia has just launched a pair of VR-op­ti­mised graph­ics cards – un­for­tu­nately too late to be in­cluded in the PCs here – but you can read all about the awe­some new GTX 1080 on page 41. This, too, costs a crazy amount of money, but we ex­pect the 1070 to be a lot cheaper and by far the most pop­u­lar graph­ics card up­grade this year.

Google has a dif­fer­ent vi­sion for VR, and you can read about its new Day­dream sys­tem on page 96. That still re­quires you to up­grade to a Day­dream Ready An­droid phone, but the over­all cost is much less than an HTC Vive or Ocu­lus Rift-based sys­tem.

But if these first-gen­er­a­tion head­sets can gen­er­ate so much ex­cite­ment, what about the next? Prices will come down, while the qual­ity of the ex­pe­ri­ence will go up. Res­o­lu­tions will in­crease and hope­fully the awk­ward wires teth­er­ing the Vive and Rift to your PC will dis­ap­pear. At the same time, games will be­come more in­ter­ac­tive and there will be a wider choice.

VR isn’t lim­ited to gam­ing, of course. You’ll be able to take vir­tual tours of places you’re un­likely to ever visit (like the sum­mit of Ever­est), view prop­er­ties you’re in­ter­ested in buy­ing and much, much more.

Few peo­ple have yet had the chance to play with a proper VR head­set, but if you get the op­por­tu­nity don’t pass it up: VR is here to stay.

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