December 6 2018
Virtual Reality’s (VR) Current State and Evolutionary Path
VR technology has been around for quite some time, with it’s primitive, stereoscopic goggles having been invented around 1939. It’s only within recent years that it’s electronic counter-part has evolved to the point that it can properly immerse a user in a computer-generated world. Still, because both the software and hardware involved are still nascent, there’s plenty of gaps in the experience to be had. It’s for that reason that the currently existing VR technology can rapidly change within the next few years, such to the point that it might look like we’ve stepped into the matrix.
Some believe that the most prominent VR technology within our society is that of the mobile phone headsets. I disagree… strongly (I will speak more about this later in the article). It composes a whopping 98% of VR technology sold in 2017, and has succeeded because of its cheap, straightforward setup. Buyers simply need to obtain the stereoscopic head set, ensure they have a VR-compatible mobile phone (Usually Samsung), and, once setting up their program, can simply clip them together. Add in a set of headphones, and tweak the goggles for good measure, and you’re ready for a 360 degree, nice, in-your-face experience.
Cool right? No boring. Tried it once and never want to do it again.
The primary drawback of this technology is the extremely limited motion tracking. At most, the system, through a gyroscope, can tell which way you’re facing; and with an additional peripheral, can track one of your hands. Otherwise, the viewer remains completely stationary in what can appear to be breathtaking world. Alongside this, there are smaller issues, such as light leaking, resolution (Far away objects are often blurred), and the phone not have processing power for more complex VR simulations.
More powerful systems do exist in the market, though the obvious trade-off is a much steeper price tag. Oculus Rift, HTC VIVE, and Playstation VR are the top powerhouses, and all provide both an immersive and interactive experience. HTC VIVE, for instance, can turn an entire room into a virtual playground for the user to walk and interact in, thanks to its laser capture technology, Lighthouse. Other peripherals, such as Oculus’s new Touch, allows you to create varying degrees of hand gestures in the virtual world. This is, however, in exchange for what can go over $800, unlike the mobile phone VR, which costs only between 100-$200. Let’s cut to the chase here. Roaming around in VR and being immersed is what’s cool about it. Less than that… is… horrible. We all want to plug in like Neo in the Matrix and be transported into another world. We need to focus on that and give the gamers what they want.
Beyond this cost, there are still limitations to these systems. PlaystationVR still has the occasional light leak issue; some Oculus game’s can make you nauseous; and VIVE has lot of equipment to set up. All of them require handheld peripherals to play the VR games, and the most lacking is that of haptic feedback – the ability to feel and touch virtual objects. In other words, there’s certainly quite some way to go before VR can become a compact, easy-to-use, device that can fully transport our minds to a completely different world. Although I am very excited about Oculus next HMD.
The good news is that prototype technologies aiming to fill in these gaps already exist, and are constantly being refined. Although this doesn’t cover all the current and developing aspects of VR technology, it brings about the core details in how it can rapidly change over the years. It’s already proving that even cell phones can provide an immersive, albeit flawed, experience; while it’s only a matter of time for the more expensive, advanced VR hardware to become more accessible and in a format that will actually gain traction such as location based entertainment (LBE) experiences. This, along with the addition haptic feedback, will eventually help to make VR a mainstream technology.