At the time of writing we're standing at what might be a pivotal point in the future of entertainment, learning, and even the way we explore, do business, shop, and create. A point that has a deep precipice on one side, and a steep, rocky climb on the other.
Look closely. First impressions are not always right.
The climb has levels, twists and turns, a sheer rock face here and there. A sharp drop or two. Out of place, signposted off the path. A bouncy castle, a roller coaster, a toy box. At the summit a flag, just visible through a light mist. Any colour you want. You can see the V and R as it flutters proudly.
Slowly you realise that it may take years to reach the top, though it would be great fun trying.
You see signs. Marked 'price drops'...' improvements'...'more content'
The mist clears suddenly and with a start you see there is no visible top. Past the flag lie yet more upward slopes, seemingly stretching to infinity.
A sound from the depths to your left. You peer in. Swirling fog ebbs and flows, revealing discarded headset boxes. The odd sign comes into view. Disillusionment, high cost, nausea, no killer apps.
Occasionally a light breaks through, revealing banners labelled 'alternative solutions'... 'augmented solutions'...'mixed realities'. But the light is faint. The flag is whispering.
You head right and take the first steps upwards.
So Which Way Is Virtual Reality Headed?
We are of course at the junction of two courses for the technology. The ideal future, one we can picture easily, with a further future we can't see but think we know from the promises of science fiction movies.
And the non-VR future where the problems of the early days were not wiped away. Where Facebook were wrong. Where the experts - the champions - of virtual reality were wrong.
So where will it go?
Initial signs are good that the golden future is achievable. The climb has begun, perhaps with the odd foray downwards to merge in the promise of alternative realities - augmented and mixed.
This page on virtualreality101 is perfectly positioned to chart the rise and rise of VR. Or potentially, but almost inconceivably, it's mundane levelling or long drawn out demise.
Here we'll compose a running history that effectively starts from the availability point of high powered consumer headsets, with the Rift and HTC Vive about to enter shipping phase in the early months of 2016.
News In Brief
New Nausea Ratings For VR Experiences
Feeling nauseous during some virtual reality experiences is a known drawback of the technology, and of course it can vary in different types of experiences.
It’s all too new for there to be any published standards, but Oculus are at least taking a first step into tackling the problem with the release of a rating system.
They’ll be labelling experiences as either comfortable, moderate, or intense – with each category taking you through different levels from little or no sickness through to the highest intensity where some feelings of sickness can be expected.
First planned live streamed operation In VR
April 2016 will see the first operation to be streamed to virtual reality viewers, with the subject being a cancer patient at The Royal London Hospital. VR cameras placed above the operating will be used to stream the event for viewing by anyone with a headset and smartphone combination.
Solution under development to avoid buying a high end PC
The requirement for powerful graphics cards and processing power to run VR experiences is well documented. It’s an added cost that consumers can well do without.
Valve are reportedly developing a rendering plugin that helps to display games more efficiently, effectively by focussing on the areas which a viewer will be watching and lowering the quality elsewhere. This should allow efficient display of material using older, less powerful graphics cards.
Sky Broadcasting announce dedicated VR channel
Sky are launching the Sky VR Studio on March 18 2016 to show news, sports, and cultural events in full VR glory, along with the Sky VR app.
Sony Announce October 2016 Release for Playstation VR
In an announcement that’s sure to please makers of other headsets, Sony make October 2016 the release date for their sure-to-be -popular Playstation VR.
VR demos hit UK stores
In the first of what are likely to become standard areas in electronic device stores, the big UK firm Currys announced plans to install VR demo areas where consumers can try out Vive headsets.
The Vive headset will be making test appearances at a number of Curry stores in the UK, including Currys PC World stores in Leeds (Birstall), Reading, and London (Tottenham Court Road). To complete the line up you can also visit Overclockers UK in Newcastle-under-Lyme and Scan Computers in Bolton for more of the same.
First Scheduled Virtual Reality News Show Announced
Coming from USA Today is a plan to air a regular news show in VR named ‘Vrtually There’. The show will feature roundups of news in various standard news topics including politics, sport, money, events, and technology. Report first seen on the Wall Street Journal.
Social Virtual Reality Arrives
In the first step towards the social revolution of VR, Facebook & Oculus announced new features that from Thursday 10th March will let users build personal profiles, run friend searches, and rank apps in the Oculus store. In addition Facebook accounts can be connected with Oculus Video to create 360 degree video feeds.
In one foul swoop Amazon have shown the world that they have intentions to ‘get into virtual reality’, courtesy of a job advert which suggests they’re looking for someone with some high level qualifications who can lead the company into the VR space as part of a dedicated team. Sounds like the first step towards a VR shopping experience.
First dedicated VR cinema opens in Amsterdam
Named The Virtual Reality Cinema, film-goers get their first chance to enjoy movies in full virtual reality. Seated in full circle swivel chairs, you can spin round while wearing a Samsung Gear VR paired with a Galaxy S6 smartphone, along with a set of Sennheiser HD 201 headphones.
VR sees over $1biilion of project funding in first 6 months of 2016
It’s not hard to gauge the level of interest in the technology when you see figures like this. This article at USAToday explores in some depth.
Six Flags and Samsung in theme park rollercoaster partnership
As if some of the roller coasters aren’t thrill soaked enough. Six Flags and Samsung have joined forces to create virtual reality roller coaster rides which are already built and will be seen in theme parks this spring. Riders get to wear Samsung Gear headsets taking them on space rides, through superman inspired city scenes, and into virtual shoot-em-up worlds.
Release of the first of a series of headset buying guides
Wired.com’s headset buyers guide is one of the early versions of what are likely to be a whole raft of similar advisory articles. In fact, VirtualReality101 beat them to it with the buying guide I prepared in mid Feb 2016.
Dell’s XPS8900 Special Edition VR Ready PC goes on sale for $999
But only if purchased with an Oculus Rift at the same time. The PC offers the minimum possible specs and is likely to become outdated as games and experiences become more complex. Upgrade options seem OK though.
HTC reportedly take 15,000 pre-orders for the HTC Vive in the first 10 minutes
On the first day for pre-orders there were a reported 15000 sales. They’ll start to be delivered towards the end of March. The figure looks to be a good indicator of the clamour from early adopters to get their hands on a high performance headset.
BBC announce their first major Virtual Reality documentary – Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel
Filmed from the perspective of Willie McNieve, who originally gave an on the spot account of the Easter time armed insurrection in Ireland over 30 years ago. The BBC report they have other projects under development.
Big brands get in on the VR act
Both McDonalds and Coca Cola announce low end cardboard headsets that can be made from packaging. McDonalds from Happy Meal boxes with a release only in Sweden at the start, and Coca Cola with multi-can packaging from which the cardboard can be folded into smartphone-holding glasses.
New VR category added to the Google Store
With a limited initial product set, the Google Store opened a dedicated page towards the end Feb 2016. Selling three headsets including of course Google’s own cardboard device, this move clearly marks a first step towards a deeper inventory list.
HTC Vive VR Ready test page Introduced
In the wake of a huge number of reported pre-orders for the Vive, HTC announced they’ve put up a dedicated page where you can check if your PC (and you) are up to the job. Complete four short duration games that test reactions such as speed, agility, stamina, and courage. ARE YOU VIVE READY?
Microsoft out of the VR headset running – and into the killer VR game battle
Early March saw a reported announcement from none other than the head of Microsoft Xbox that the gaming giant would not be pitching into battle with other headset manufacturers, though if they saw a gap that an Xbox device could fill in future they might reconsider.
Microsoft do of course already have a potential augmented reality headset in the offing – the Hololens – so maybe it’s not surprising they don’t see the need to go down the VR headset route.
But they do have a possible killer game on their hands – the well known Minecraft. Microsoft bought Minecraft in 2014 for a reported $2.5 billion, and have worked with Oculus to bring the VR version to life. Early reports indicate it’s a stunning version which looks set to become one of the virtual reality game greats.