Virtual Reality has lived somewhere between science fiction and a parlor trick for years. It has offered the tantalizing promise of complete immersion into a fictional world. It never really caught on in the past because we as a society haven’t had the technology to make it work well. Rendering images that are of a high enough resolution so that they feel “real” takes a lot of computing power. However, with the new innovations in technology, these limitations are all coming to an end this year. Many technology companies have announced the impending release of several consumer products that purport to deliver a fully immersive experience.
How does it work exactly?
At the end of the day ,VR is a combination of a pair of really fancy monitors, a powerful computer, and a headset with motion tracking. The basic principle is that the headset holds those high resolution monitors close enough to your eyes that your brain will perceive the images as “real.” The motion tracking in the headset allows the computer to change the view on the monitor to match your movements. This technology is what will allow a virtual pilot look around their cockpit, or a driver look into the turn they are taking.
What can we do with it?
The short answer: all kinds of stuff. There are hundreds of companies developing VR software for a number of different purposes. VR can be used in endeavors such as virtual tourism, educational programs, fully immersive video games and more… ahem… adult… forms of entertainment. VR has a lot of potential to create new and interesting experiences. Right now though? There isn’t much out there. A lot of what is currently available comes in the form of tech demos that show what VR is capable of, but don’t really do much else. This will obviously change as companies try to find ways to be the first to really capitalize on VR’s potential.
How much will it cost?
There are three headsets that are expected to come to market either this year or next: The Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and the HTC Vive. Of those three, the only company to announce a price so far is the Oculus Rift. Their headset will cost $599. The other two companies should be following suit with price announcements sooner rather than later, but they have been tight lipped so far.
That is just the headset though. The Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive will both require pretty beefy computers to run them. They don’t do anything by themselves. A computer powerful enough to make these headsets work will likely be around $1,000 at this point. (The PlayStation VR has an advantage here because it will run on the wildly popular PlayStation 4 which costs significantly less than the required PC.)
Are our kids going to be asking for one?
We know that kids will ask for anything that looks cool and these certainly do, but there is no game or experience that is a must own right now (or even on the horizon). It is also worth noting that these devices are not designed for use by young and developing eyes just yet.
I think it is safe to say that we should keep our eyes on VR because it is interesting and could very well be a big part of gaming in the future. But, most of us won’t be buying one of these devices any time soon.