Virtual reality is a reality
Why it’s time to take new technology seriously
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.