It’s supposed to be the ‘next big thing’ but that’s all wrong when you refer to virtual reality. It isn’t the next big thing, it IS the big thing.
Unlike some other over-hyped consumer tech gadgets in recent years (I’m looking at you 3D TV) virtual reality or VR has taken over the playing field by almost every company who’s making things to sell to consumers.
At CES in January I saw more companies and more crowds around virtual reality than even drones and big screen televisions. I saw shoes to wear when playing a VR game, a chair/table/hammock thing you can sit or lie down on that will follow your head movements so that your body goes there too.
Samsung’s Gear VR display had 2 rollercoaster simulators where people were strapped into what appeared to be one section of a coaster that was attached to a controlling arm. They were all wearing Samsung VR headsets and were being flipped, twisted and thrown forward just like they would be if they were on a ride at a theme park.
Instead of flying high above the park though, these thrill seekers were only moving 10 feet or so; it was the visual experience that made it seem real.
Virtual reality was everywhere!
The trouble is, no matter what I write, no matter what anyone says, no matter what wild commercials these companies can produce there is no way to experience virtual reality without putting on a headset. It’s a very personal experience.
But let’s try anyway.
Oculus, which is owned by Facebook now, and HTC Vive are the grandmasters of the VR experience. These operating systems run on computers and come with a headset and at least 1 sensor that you place in the room.
You can add accessories such as hand-held controls and earphones. Of course the more accessories you have the better the experience. Content creation for virtual reality is a huge business now as companies are pushing out new games and experiences for these systems.
“Basically you put on a headset, you get transported to another place,” explained J.B. McCree of HTC Vive. “Hopefully it’s realistic enough that you buy into the illusion of being real. You allow yourself to actually let go and interact with objects, pick things up, playing games, exploring places. You can go to foreign places, you can listen to music, you can do all kinds of different things,” he said.
HTC Vive took me to one of its play stations, a simulated gameroom with blue walls and lots of light. First I tried a game that took me to the top of a skyscraper, opened the elevator door and there I was standing on a wooden plank high above New York City.
I did stand on a board that was placed in the room but when I looked down it appeared to be a rough and bouncy wooden board held up with just a few nails or screws.
As I walked to the end of the plank I truly felt that I was dozens of stories up in the clouds and that if I were to fall off the board it was a sure death by faceplant. I found it to be more difficult thinking I was not about to die than thinking it was just a game.
Next I grabbed a wooden baseball bat that was fitted with a VR sensor. I stepped in to face a major league pitcher. When I swung the bat (and missed) it was almost like I could feel the breeze from a 95mph fastball.
Gamers are upgrading their computers or buying new ones, clearing room in their house or garage and logging on to play shooter games with friends. I can totally see why too.
While a Samsung Gear VR will set you back about $100 it only works with late model Samsung phones. The Oculus or HTC Vive costs under $1,000 but you’ll probably need to upgrade your computer or, more likely, buy one that’s VR ready with fast enough processor and video card.
On the low end is the Google Daydream Viewer that works with its Pixel phone and a couple of others (I use my Motorola Z Droid). The Daydream comes with a hand-held controller and it’s pretty good, but nowhere near the realism of the Gear VR though it costs $79.
I wish I could take you all to a VR game room so you could experience virtual reality for yourself. Then I think you’d agree that virtual reality is not only the next big thing, but it’s going to be around for a long while.