How quickly will virtual reality conquer the world? Are we talking about a world such as that depicted in Ernest Cline’s sci-fi novel Ready Player One, in which in 2044 humanity escapes a depressing reality — spending most of its time in the OASIS, a sprawling, virtual utopia, where you can be anything you want to be; living, playing and loving on any one of ten thousand planets.
Or perhaps somewhere more like the ‘mixed reality’ enhanced world seen in Keiichi Matsuda’s Hyper-Reality whereby holograms permanently overlay our natural vision. Even to the point where, when the system suffers a temporary crash, the user is rooted to the spot. Too afraid to navigate freely in the real world.
Given the sheer volume of media coverage devoted to VR and the big-name tech corporations heavily invested in it, you could be forgiven for thinking the world has already been conquered by VR. For me, it is true that working with the technology for more than three years may just have distorted my point of view.
Family and friends have little interest in it. They never say: “Hey Simon, have you seen this great VR experience?” This apathy suggests the format still has a long way to go before it becomes mainstream.
In an interview with the Financial Times this year, Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey warned that it could take a decade before headsets become cheap and portable enough to replace smartphones as the tech industry’s dominant computing platform. “I think until you have really high-end computing power and until you have really slim form factors, you’re not going to see glasses that people wear every day as part of their everyday lives,” Luckey said.
Last year, everyone was saying that 2016 would be a ‘make or break year’ for VR. So what is the verdict now we are nearing the end of the year? Well, we have a way to go before we see an experience so compelling and beautiful that the public-at-large rushes out to buy headsets in order to experience it in VR for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve experienced some incredible VR over this past year and I’m a huge fan, and advocate. But I’m yet to see something to transform the medium with the same level of impact as The Jazz Singer did with cinema.
The Google Daydream View headset and Pixel phone look good. TheDaydream VR platform and The Daydream YouTube app will allow exploration of the entire YouTube library and of course viewing of ‘made-for-VR’ content. No other platforms have seen an official YouTube VR app up to this point. This may encourage brands to include VR as part of their cross-platform marketing campaigns.
I recently attended the ‘Bjork Digital’ event at Somerset House, in London, with my family. We saw a few linear music videos, using Samsung’s Gear VR, but these soon became pretty boring. However Notget VR, presenting Björk as a digital moth giantess transformed by stunning masks, was the stand out experience of the show. Viewed using the HTC VIVE, the user was free to move around Bjork and interact with her. It was fun and thrillingly immersive.
So, in short, there is a huge market for experiential VR. You can see it in shopping malls and at events, wherein immersion is elevated through use of moving chairs and platforms or an ability to move around a scene. Sometimes with fans being blown into the face to enhance a sense of movement and atmosphere. On occasion, fragrances are even sprayed to make for a more vivid, olfactory experience. At present, this is the best space for users to experience immersion levels of VR on headsets. They are just still a bit too pricey for the average household.
In conclusion, 2016 was indeed a big year for VR and the tech now feels like it is here to stay at least. However, it is still going to be a few more years until the reality catches up with the rhetoric.