Today is a Historic Day for Virtual Reality!Claude Harrington 03.28.2016
After years of appearing in sci-fi books, movies and fantasies about the world of tomorrow, virtual reality is finally here and ready to bring into our homes. Earlier today, Oculus started shipping the Rift, their groundbreaking consumer VR headset.
For those unfamiliar with Oculus, the company first started making headlines in August 2012, following an enormously successful Kickstarter campaign. After raising $2,437,429 on Kickstarter (from 9,522 backers), Oculus once again made a public splash when they were acquired by Facebook for $2 billion March 2014. Why did Facebook pay such a steep price for a relatively unknown company? The following is an excerpt from Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement post:
“Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming and we have a chance to build it together.” -Mark Zuckerberg
So…you’re probably wondering: okay, what could/would/should I do with virtual reality?
Amazingly, there is already tons of content, as well as some that’s just on the horizon. Below are some of the major categories:
1. Videogames: Among the Rift’s many virtues, it provides the “next level” of gaming; a totally immersive and enthralling playing experience. And with the cost of Oculus’ Rift ($599) being comparable to that of a gaming console, it’s safe to say that, for the time being, videogames will likely be the primary use for virtual reality users.
Unlike videogame consoles past, which historically launch with limited release titles (like, say, Nintendo’s N64, which launched with only two games), there are already 30 fully compatible and playable virtual reality games. Of the 30, two games come bundled (at no additional cost) with the Rift:
For those who grew up playing games like Super Mario Bros. and Sonic The Hedgehog, Lucky’s Tale will likely infuse players with a sense of nostalgia while putting them on the precipice of the future.
2. Experiences: Outside of immersion, virtual reality’s greatest feature is it’s ability to transport users anywhere in the world. The fulfill this potential, companies like Jaunt have created and curated all sorts of incredible experiences that are now only a headset away.
Want to visit Machu Pichu right this minute? Spend an afternoon in Nepal? Or maybe you’d like to just relax and attend a Paul McCartney concert?
With virtual reality (and companies like Jaunt) all of that is now possible.
3. Cinema: Unlike books and traditional movies, virtual reality stories are different in that they literally place the viewer in the middle of 360 degrees of action. If that sounds gimmicky, it might have been at first, but one of the best things that’s happened to the virtual reality industry these past few years is that talented, established filmmakers (from Chris Milk to Alfonso Cuarón). In fact, Chris Milk is one of the filmmakers who’s leading the charge with MilkVR, a virtual reality content hub that is kind of like the VR version of Apple’s iTunes Store.
Most of the content in MilkVR is live-action storytelling, but seeing as how we’re an animation provider it’s worth noting that there’s a lot of really moving and intriguing animated pieces out there as well. Two animated VR films that are worth immediately checking out are:
ON THE HORIZON
4. Social Interaction: If you thought programs like Skype or FaceTime were breakthroughs in social interaction, then you’ll be pleased to see how virtual reality will take interactivity to an entirely new level. The incredible connection that can be forged by programs like Oculus Social and AltspaceVR will provide additional insight into why Facebook (with its 1.5 billion users) paid $2 billion to acquire Oculus.
5. Architecture and Design: From training to visualization, virtual reality will become a cost-effective resource for a variety of industries. One sector that’s already begun to make use of VR is architecture and design. With companies like Arch Virtual, which develops and design virtual reality tools, users are able to create (or simulate) in-depth environments; be it a residential condo or a basketball arena.
6. Education and Therapy: Several of the most interesting VR frontiers are those related to cognitive processes where the potential for change is unlike anything we’ve seen before. For example, consider this excerpt from an article in Scientific American, written by Lauren Sippel, a Research Health Science Specialist:
“Although medications and talk therapy can help calm the symptoms of PTSD, the most effective therapies often require confronting the trauma, as with virtual-reality-based treatments. These computer programs, similar to a video game, allow people to feel as if they are in the traumatic scenario.”
With the types of content listed above (which are only a fraction of the uses), this is certainly an exciting time for virtual reality. And with new hardware and software set for release throughout the year it’s only going to get more exciting.
So tomorrow we’ll look at some of the milestones just around the corner. We’ll also take a step back and explore some of the cheaper mobile VR options (which turn your smartphone into a headset), many of which are already available and cost under $100.