Vritual Reality goggles have been a staple of futuristic technology for decades. It’s easy to see why the ability to see an entirely new world through this fancy eyewear is so attractive. As with so many things in the ongoing computer revolution, it looks like the future is arriving early for commercially available Virtual Reality (VR) headsets.
If immersive simulations for the military have historically been the first port of call for VR systems, it’s easy to see some of the other applications: games and movies of course benefit from immersing the audience, but ideas like Google Street View on a VR display could inspire a way of exploring the world from home, and creating a shared space means that talking with friends could become a much richer experience – imagine Skype video calls, but with more depth.
Take Oculus for example. A Kickstarter-backed team now filled with ace developers, promise a new future for gaming. The two billion dollar acquisition of the company last year by Facebook caused a backlash in the funding community who worry that the ownership switch could mean a push away from eye-popping gaming experiences towards creating social experiences. The Rift headset has set the bar for expectations in recent times however. Beyond the sleek surface design, the Oculus Rift features high quality lenses and display, and a fast position tracking system of infrared sensors run on a ‘constellation’ system to keep tabs on the wearer’s movements around a sensor.
Keeping pace with Oculus is the HTC Vive, a collaboration between HTC and game developer Valve, creator of the PC gaming platform Steam. With both companies well recognised for the quality of their products in their respective fields, it’s no stretch to see the Vive as a strong contender for a VR crown. Special features include full motion tracking in a 3D space – while using it, moving around the room you stand in moves you around in the virtual space, a standout feature that makes current demonstrations of the device look both impressive and convincing.
As a counter to these bleeding-edge technologies, Google Cardboard made its debut at Google’s developer conference last year. Acknowledging the cost of the high-end VR systems – one estimate puts the complete Oculus experience at around a thousand pounds – Google Cardboard is a basic alternative made with a pair of lenses and a sheet of cardboard, powered by a smartphone. Intended as a way to build interest in Virtual Reality (and perhaps Augmented Reality, given the similarities to Google Glass), the ease of use and relatively measly price means that Cardboard may well be many people’s first experience with VR, though recent news indicates that Microsoft is set to have their own Cardboard equivalent in the near future.
The hype behind VR development will soon be coming to an end, however, with the imminent release of the Vive this winter, and the Oculus Rift scheduled to follow in the New Year.