While you sit reading from the comfort of your pc, tablet, or smartphone, a war is being waged over a reality of a different kind - the virtual kind (not so different from The Matrix). With the world on the cusp of real end-user virtual reality (VR), the once barren landscape is once again heating up.
Did you know that virtual reality - or at least an abstract concept of virtual reality has been around as long as theaters and can be traced back to the early 1900's? If we've learned anything from Star Trek, all great inventions begin in the musing minds of science fiction writers.
It wasn't until 1962 that we had our first look at a working prototype. This prototype boasted several tag lines such as stereoscopic 3D, motion, and even aromas that triggered on queue. The project struggled to gain any financial backing, however, and eventually found its place scribbled into the pages of what could have been.
The Sensorama's failure (alongside other VR attempts like the viewmaster and the atrocious Nintendo Virtual Boy) helped keep the lid on VR for awhile outside of military applications. Between cost, size constraints, usability, and disparity in graphical detail of the time, VR faded.
The Oculus is widely accredited with bringing the concept of virtual reality back from its dusty slumber. In 2014, Facebook noticed the potential in Oculus and responded to it's overwhelmingly popular Kickstarter campaign by purchasing Oculus VR, but it isn't the only contender in the market place.
When the food is a-plenty, you can bet the fish aren't far behind.
Samsung, fresh in their pull for gear devices that tie into their existing products, have placed their cards on the table with the Samsung Gear VR. This headpiece maintains its low-weight profile by leveraging the computing power of compatible Galaxy devices.
HTC and everyone's favorite Valve are collaborating on the HTC Vive, which offers a room-scale experience through its head piece and stick controllers. This device promises better safety for the user as it uses cameras to warn you of objects that might be in your way in the real world.
Sony, showing interest in VR since the 90's, is working on the Playstation VR via Project Morpheus. While the pricing on the Playstation VR isn't publicly known, it is widely believed it'll cost about as much as a new gaming system.
There are many other startups and projects going on in the area of course, and I'm sure we'll see new ones cropping up as time goes on. Most VR devices are slated for release early this year.
Here are the specs on the headsets mentioned in this article:
|Samsung Gear VR||60Hz||2560×1440||96||$99|
|Playstation VR||120Hz/90Hz||960xRGBx1080 per eye||100||TBA|
With VR back in the spotlight and big business pushing it forward, the promise of substituting reality with one of our choosing is becoming more and more, well, realistic. The added competition of organizations fighting for their stake in the game means only one thing - we the users win.
Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerBerg had this to say of VR:
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.
Meanwhile, Dogbert creator Scott Adams has shown some concern:
When virtual reality gets cheaper than dating, society is doomed.
Whether VR will ultimately be the downfall of mankind or the escape we so eagerly search for, one thing is certain - over the next few years we'll be a lot more top-heavy.