Virtual reality is an idea that has been around since early science fiction, but this year, consumers will finally be able to get their hands on this cutting edge technology.
When people hear the term “virtual reality”, they often think of cheesy 90’s movies, Keanu Reeves and CGI. Today, technology has finally progressed to the point where virtual reality devices are no longer constrained to the world of fiction. Virtual reality devices like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive will be coming out in early 2016. VR developers are focusing heavily on video games at the moment, but there will be many other applications down the road, like VR movies and VR travel.
These virtual reality systems are made up of three parts. The first component is called HMDs or Head Mounted Devices, which look like bigger, bulkier ski-goggles with screens. The HMD devices grant users 360 degrees of visibility to experience computer-generated worlds. The headsets contains two lenses and two screens, one for each eye, which creates a three-dimensional effect that gives the world around you a realistic depth.
These devices use a combination of an accelerometer and gyroscope to record head movement. The movements are then translated onto the screens to create a life-like experience. With this technology, a user could bob and weave around incoming punches in a boxing game or spin around 180 degrees to see a monster lurking behind them in a horror game.
To allow for interaction with , you need to be able to interact with the world around you. For this, controllers for each hand will allow you to reach out, point, grab or pick up objects with your hands. This allows anything from throwing a Frisbee to a virtual pet T-Rex to catching a missile fired at you in mid-air and sending it back at your opponent.
The last part of the system is a mounted sensor that monitors movements and virtually defines the physical boundaries of your real-life environment. With this data, when a user walks from one side of their living room to the other, that would be translated into a video game character walking through the cabin of a spaceship or moving through a jungle in the Amazon.
The two virtual reality systems that will be on shelves in early 2016 are the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. The Oculus Rift is $599 and is currently available to consumers for pre-order. The HTC Vive will not release the price until pre-ordering starts in February.
Since these devices require a lot of computational power to operate, they will run only on high-end PCs. The developers of the Oculus Rift suggest running the device on PC’s above $900.
These two products have similar specifications; both running 2160×1200 screens with 90Hz refresh rates. This means that the screens will have a large amount of very dense pixels to make them look as realistic as possible, as well as a high refresh rate to ensure that movement is fluid.
The biggest difference to consider when choosing between the two products is the type of VR experience the user is looking for. Oculus Rift will be focused on stationary experiences—sitting or standing while the user mainly move their hands, arms and head. The HTC Vive will focus more on incorporating body movement into the games.
The other major virtual reality developer at the moment is Sony. Sony’s Playstation VR is currently in development and they confirmed a release for 2016. The Playstation VR will be priced lower than the other systems due to the fact that it has to run on the Playstation 4. Although no official price has been released, this VR headset will provide an option for those who do not have $900 plus gaming PCs and are not willing to buy one.
There are many possibilities for this technology outside the realm of videogames. Virtual travel is another possible function of the VR. Once technology advances to this stage it will enable the user to visit the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Majal from the comfort of their own home. Sporting events, like courtside seats could be done with VR as well.
VR also has the potential to benefit the medical sciences. Albert Rizzo, a professor at the University of Southern California has used virtual reality to treat anxiety disorders like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with his program, Virtual Iraq. Another application is that of social media. Facebook is one of the biggest investors in the Oculus Rift and Mark Zuckerberg has future plans for connecting people in digital worlds.
As this technology progresses and the use of virtual reality headsets becomes more popular, prices are projected to drop and eventually make virtual reality available to broader audiences and enable them to utilize it for a wide variety of purposes.