Virtual Reality Explosion: Soon You Too Can Punch A Shark in the Face
A few stories come up here and there in the general news media about advances in virtual reality technology, but if you haven’t been paying attention to more specialized tech sources, you probably don’t know about the apparent explosion of new VR ventures currently happening. The recent E3 (Entertainment Electronics Expo) showcased a very strong showing of several gaming companies’ attempts to enter into the new field, and while you may not be interested in video games, this industry has a specific interest in pushing the envelope for VR technology which will soon be adopted in nearly every other industry.
Virtual Reality: A Science Fiction Fantasy?
We’ve been trying to figure out how to make virtual reality a real thing ever since it was a fake thing in science fiction. The idea of simulating the real world through mechanical or otherwise synthetic means is by no means a new concept: flight simulators, driving simulators, and immersive artistic experiences have been around long before the computer, relying on a mix of mechanical and electronic means. One famous example, usually considered the first comprehensive VR machine, was Morton Heilig’s Sensorama, built in 1962.
In fact, there were plenty of past attempts at kick-starting the virtual reality industry predicted by science fiction for years. Famously, Nintendo created a whole console devoted to the idea, but numerous flaws caused it failed utterly, spoiling the video game industry on the idea for decades.
I9 has a great article outlining several failed virtual reality technologies, including those mentioned above.
So why is this such a big deal now? Well, for the first time, the technology is not only viable and effective, but hyped beyond all reason.
The Oculus Rift: The Standard-Bearer of a New Generation of VR
About a year ago, a small engineering firm put up a Kickstarter campaign to build their new VR Head Mounted Display, dubbed the Oculus Rift. I’ve highlighted this one before, but since my last coverage, the company has not only met record-smashing success selling development prototypes alone, but they’ve been acquired by Facebook. People are still a little confused about why exactly the social media titan would want a VR headset, but apparently they want to create the largest virtual reality network in history, planning for 1 Billion simultaneous users. So basically, any anime, game, movie, or tv show you’ve ever seen with a massive VR game world is basically coming, thanks to the big FB.
Needless to say, people are really getting excited about this thing. The Holodeck? Seems to be right around the corner. Speaking of Star Trek, George Takei even got in on the fun during his Youtube segment Takei’s Take, where he played an Oculus Rift game where you punch a shark in the face (skip to 2:46 for the actual Oculus Rift demo. Spoilers: he didn’t do very well):
It’s pretty hard to imagine what using one of these devices is really like, but there are plenty of people raving about them. Here are some impressions people have gotten from trying the Oculus Rift out at E3:
Not surprisingly, lots of people are jumping on this bandwagon right-quick:
Looking to be a major contender, Sony’s really trying to beat Microsoft to the punch and to be the first game console maker with a first-party VR headset. Anyone with a Playstation 4 will be able to hook up a Morpheus and play virtual reality games, which really will pull VR into the mainstream market.
Cmoar Mobile MR Viewer , Vrizzmo
Several companies are catching on to the fact that many people already tote around a small, HD screen with motion sensors and computing power: smartphones! Cmoar is a specialized unit with interchangeable lenses which will let users swap out for different uses, including games, movies, and even Augmented Reality with the front-mounted camera. Vrizzmo, another unit made by De Jet Works, takes a simpler, cheaper route by giving you one set of adjustable lenses to slide your phone into.
These are just a few examples, and there are sure to be many more coming. The future of VR seems to actually be here.
Don’t Want to Wait? Build Your Own!
RoadtoVR.com has been my go-to for VR news of late, but one set of articles I keep coming back to (without yet doing anything with them) are their Do-it-Yourself guides for building your own VR head mounted display for roughly $20. That’s right! You don’t have to wait for consumer models to come to a store near you. With a little elbow-grease and surprisingly little technical know-how, you can make your own lens and phone assembly like those phone-based unites described above. I want to do this for myself (once I get a decent phone, that is!), but until then I’ll be watching the news for more details about the coming VR revolution!