What is virtual reality? VR as it is more often referred to, is an attempt at immersing the participant in an experience that stimulates both visual and auditory senses to bring about a sense of “being there”. Using powerful algorithms, environments are created and then presented to the viewer usually through means of a full encompassing headset that covers the eyes and ears, much like flight simulators used by the military or medical procedure training.
Virtual reality has long been a fascination for people of all ages. Starting off as a pure fantasy in Sci-Fi movies and books, it was only a question of time until engineers all over the world started to address the question. From that movement emerged the Sensorama, developed in 1962 by Morton Heilig, and the Augmented Reality Head-Mounted Display by Ivan Sutherland 1968. Though both very primitive in their execution they helped to lay the groundwork for what has become the explosion of VR seen today.
Over the past year, VR has taken the gaming world by storm; making it very clear that it will be the next generation of entertainment. Education, health care and communication are on the verge of having their own revolution and new leads are emerging everyday. Many companies see it as the next big thing and are investing great amounts to part of the VR movement. With such examples as the PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR and the very popular Oculus Rift it’s becoming clear that everyone wants in. Google has already flooded the market with a multitude of VR-related products, and so did LG.
This brings out the following question: is now the time to start investing in VR? That depends. Despite all the hype that lies around it, VR is still at an early infancy stage, albeit a rapidly growing one. The more confident members of the virtual reality community offer their products for steep prices, with the HTC Vive sitting at $799 and the Oculus Rift for $599. While these two companies also boast a more impressive lineup of VR compatible experiences, both in terms of libraries and graphical fidelity, it’s still a pricey move to make for the average consumer.
Another aspect to consider is that, even though VR has only recently been brought to the world, the community is already sensing some fatigue. Virtual reality is everywhere. Whether advertised on television or the main attraction for a company at an electronics convention, there seems to be no escaping its ever-rising popularity and prominence. Some have voiced concerns that the influx of VR related content has started to distract us from other technological interests.
With the rise of VR comes an abundance of products to start exploring the virtual world. There’s never been a better time to try out the experiences offered. With Google Cardboard sitting just at $15 and the Homido at $50 the consumer already has a couple choices to get a feel for what VR could offer without taking a deeper financial plunge. While the offerings of both Google and Homido may not be as advanced or impressive as the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, they can still offer an exciting glimpse into what virtual reality has to offer for a fraction of the price and pave the way for investments in more high-end gear down the road.
Virtual reality is growing dramatically and chances are that we are still far from seeing its full potential. VR is on everyone’s lips in Silicon Valley and it’s not in vain: given the multitude of VR gears already being sold and the limited number of VR applications to play with, we can expect that this is just the beginning and that the opportunities are countless.