A few media watch reports are saying that the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show will help launch Virtual Reality (VR) as a ready item for market. That’s been said last year and the year before, but the wait has been slow. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are two high-profile devices that will finally arrive in retail outlets and the PlayStation VR is to follow. Already out is Samsung Gear VR and it can be ordered through Amazon. But when people are required to strap on a piece of headwear to feel the illusion of being immersed, not everyone will take to this idea right away. One issue that still remains is that does the user have to sit down to experience the environment or can that person walk around until a piece of real world collides, making a dent in the headset he or she is wearing?
Eyeglass wearers are most likely not going to be able to try this out unless the space inside the box is designed to accommodate various eyewear designs.
The big issue with any new technology release is if there’s enough unique software to go with it. The current pieces of simulated environment assumes the person is sitting down instead of moving around. Reality involves the person being able to interact with all the objects in that world, and not everything in the computerized realm is going to be real or handled with the hand, unless handled by a controller or force feedback gloves. Ultimately, the software that’s initially coming with the headwear is simply limited.
To strap on the eye wear to view movies “larger-than life” and be immersed in games is not enough. There’s more to come in other sectors, like medical imaging or getting virtual tours through museums without leaving home, but are those industries ready?
How the technology works is with the gyroscopes and sensors built to determine the position of the wearer’s head and the real-time software to adjust the display to where the person is facing. The video game industry is very interested in this tech and it will definitely kick first person shooter games and simulators (driving and flight) up a notch. Playing those will feel more real when partnered with motion tracking systems like the Kinect or on upright simulators like the VST-2200 by Virtual Simtech. The full-on experience far from perfect when the gamer only has a controller on his or her hand to play with instead of a driver’s wheel, joystick on a jet or complex controls to press (like in to pilot a giant robot).
Unless gamers have deep pockets to spend on hardware used in the movie Pacific Rim, the virtual experience is going be limited. So far, there’s no mention if the headwear includes Dolby ATMOS decoding for a surround sound experience. Who knows, maybe those roller coaster demos that are used to spotlight the Rift can be taken to new levels. Primitive versions of this technology, like Google Cardboard is basically Viewmaster on steroids.
There are practical uses to the hardware to help people with phobias get over the fear of heights, spaces or maybe even flying. With hand-held controls, these patients can learn how to manipulate their environment instead of the opposite. The psychological improvements can be beneficial. At the same time, the impact of illusionary spaces have not been studied. As with any piece of new technology, the idea is not without some risks. True VR should allow the person to run around instead of sitting within a confined space. The holodecks from Star Trek: The Next Generation are not going to materialize overnight and jacking into The Matrix requires manipulating neutrons of the brain to think the world around a person is real.
One untapped aspect to the gear is in how to improve the movie experience. Can filmmakers produce a story where the user is in the centre of the action? A new type of camera has to be developed where the field of view spans 180 degrees. The story is shaped according to the filmmaker but the narrative can shift depending on where the viewer is looking. Instead of focussing on the main action, perhaps the movie-goer is more interested in the action the supporting cast is doing off to the side. This aspect of hypermedia entertainment is largely untapped. To stick the audience in the middle of the action in a war can be fantastic for an immersive experience, but that means directing an entire battalion, from both sides, to play out the fight so every detail is not missed. That can be interesting to observe.
Even though the technology has been perfected well enough for people to try out, the software is far from being ready for mainstream. That’s where VR will fail. The headwear is most likely going to be a fad until a better way of presenting a holographic world is offered.