Image source: https://www.playstation.com/en-us/explore/project-morpheus/

Virtual Reality – The Future is Here

I believe you definitely would have heard or read about Oculus Rift and virtual reality (VR) in the past few months. Some believe that it is the next big thing, whereas some believe that it is just another passing fad.

Whatever it is, VR has arrived and is here to stay. Do you know what Virtual Reality is and what its future looks like? Worry not, this blog post is your guide to getting started with VR.

VR is a fully immersive computer generated environment that gives the user a feeling of really being in that environment. VR can be experienced by wearing specially designed headsets which generate 3D images, as well as track the movement of your head; so that it can update the images as you turn your head.

This means that the image you are seeing changes as you move and look in different directions. This tricks your brain into feeling that you actually are in that environment instead of the one you really are in. VR has been on the horizons for decades now and there have been many attempts in the past to create VR experiences. But they failed because the computers were not powerful enough to create convincing graphics to make the user believe that they are in a completely different world. But now, times have changed and so has the technology. We have reached a point where technology is capable and easily available to create very convincing VR experiences.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3EIpAcGWZA&w=590&h=315]

The person who reignited peoples’ interest in VR could be said to be Palmer Luckey. In 2011, 18-year-old Luckey was frustrated with the inadequacies of VR headsets and hence ventured on to create his own headset which resulted in early promising prototypes called “Rift”. Impressed after trying on these initial prototypes John Carmack, the legendary game developer of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom & Quake, joined forces with Palmer and the company Oculus VR came into existence soon after. And then their Kickstarter for the VR headset raised a whooping $2.4 million!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhcOMOWRMnA&w=590&h=315]

Later Oculus was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion! The quality of VR experiences produced by the new VR headsets has made the skeptics believe that the future is here. Dan Hurd (Lead Designer, Lucky’s Tale) mentioned to me when I interviewed him few weeks ago that when one plays a VR game he/she would say “I want to go back there!,” and not “I want to play again,” such is the impact of these VR headsets and you have to try it to believe it (read about the full interview here).

This presents huge opportunities in gaming, education, real estate, law, and entertainment, to name a few. But for now the focus of big players seems to be on gaming and storytelling.

Many companies are getting ready to jump in the VR field. Oculus will be releasing its consumer version of Oculus Rift, which is aimed at gamers for now. Oculus in collaboration with Samsung will also bring out the consumer version of Gear VR priced at $99, with which you can use your Galaxy Note as a screen (so far my favorite).

Whereas HTC is bringing out the Vive headsets in collaboration with Steam VR. The main feature of Vive is that once you place laser sensors in your room (which come included with it), you will be able to walk in a virtual world! Enthusiasts will be preferably required to have an empty room to fully enjoy the experience.

Google on the other hand looks like to be focusing on creating the content for VR headsets with Street View and and making VR accessible by the masses through Google Cardboard. If you don’t want to spend big bucks to get your own VR headset there is always an option of getting a Google Cardboard for less than $20, which works surprisingly well for it’s price tag. And, Google’s recent move to put its Search Design Chief in charge of Cardboard VR could be the signs of big things to come!

A uniquely positioned player in the field is Sony. With its PlayStation gaming console being a brand to be recognized already, is also releasing it’s VR headset in 2016.

Here is me trying Tilt Brush on HTC Vive for the first time.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YkdkpHnyL0&w=600&h=315]

With so many VR headsets flooding the market, I think 2016 is going to be a year of VR! But as you might have noticed, the technology is still in its infancy, think back to the first iPhone!

Expect things to change very fast and many new players come into the VR market. I am looking forward most to HTC Vive – which VR headset will you be looking forward to in 2016?

Prasanna Kulkarni

Prasanna Kulkarni is a second year Masters student in Information Management at iSchool. His interests include product management, data analytics, & virtual reality storytelling. He can also be found playing FIFA, hiking or making wraps for his friends. Feel free to reach out to him via email: pkulka02@syr.edu or twitter @ol_PK

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