March 20th, 2017
The Future of Virtual Reality: On the Footsteps of Changing the World or on the Brink of Failure?
An essay by Elizabeth Henning, CGTrader Scholarship winner
Virtual reality is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one's actions partially determine what happens in the environment”. While it is considered a recent phenomenon, the concept has been around for much longer than most people would think, dating back to the 1950s. “Virtual reality” was applied in different ways: flight simulators for the military, special effects in Hollywood blockbusters, and additional products for video game consoles such as Nintendo’s PowerGlove.
In the past year, interest in virtual reality has skyrocketed. Initially, the interest was focused around virtual reality headsets, first seen in the Oculus Rift created by 17-year old Palmer Luckey in 2013 and released to consumers in March of 2016 . The Oculus and other headsets following its success immerse users into a completely 3-dimensional world, where they can walk around an area and interact with items. These headsets are primarily used for virtual gaming experiences, allowing users to experience simulations like Euro Truck Simulator 2, or already popular games like Minecraft in a fully immersed environment . Following the success of the Oculus Rift, other major companies such as Sony and HTC were quick to jump on the trend: Sony’s PlayStation VR headset and HTC’s VIVE were released in October and April of 2016 respectively.
However, these systems are relatively expensive, with all three being priced around $600, and are also not at all cheap to make: “not only does the headset contain a full HD screen, it holds a miniaturized CPU, a gyroscope, an accelerometer, a magnetometer and all of the other required hardware.” As said by Palmer Luckey, CEO of Oculus, “we are not making money on Rift hardware.” Despite the results so far however, Steven Schneider of Tech Times clarifies, “it really doesn't make sense for a company to debut its its [sic] first real piece of high-end tech at a loss” as “there are a ton of different possible applications ... but an actual market has yet to form.” It is also important to consider that “the first run of a video game console is usually sold at a loss, which the company then makes up over the hardware's lifetime”.
Despite the low net income, the feedback for the headsets has been relatively high, with PC Magazine giving the leaders in headsets, such as the Oculus, VIVE, Samsung Gear, and Playstation VR excellent ratings, citing their only downsides as the need for additional accessories such as the Oculus Touch or a powerful PC.
The virtual reality of today, while in its early days, has solidified itself as a new and promising industry. Despite skepticism after the flops of early virtual reality such as Nintendo’s Virtual Boy in 1995, the future of virtual reality gaming is strong. While past individual attempts at virtual reality systems have failed, this “industry-wide effort” will further improve headsets, adding more features, improving accessibility, and broadening the uses. While the headsets focus mainly on gaming, other uses for the headsets are being explored: 3-D movies, surgery simulations for new surgeons, controlling rovers in space, education and many other industries. The prospects of virtual reality are not limited to simply gaming.
As a longtime lover of video games, virtual reality is a topic that I am very well versed in. I have followed the progress in this new subgenre of gaming since the introduction of the Oculus, and have been impressed at the speed by which the virtual reality industry has grown. Over the months since these headsets have been released to consumers, it has been surreal to experience the integration of a sci-fi concept into modern society. From experiencing a virtual reality headset myself to the augmented reality phenomena Pokémon Go, the existence of virtual reality is very real, and its future is sure to only grow stronger into a major industry on par with its parent videogame and computer industries, and will play a significant role in our future lives.
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