Virtual Reality has piked interest in American and Japanese culture since the late 1980’s when the original VR wave first hit and ultimately failed due to lack of adequate processing power. Since then Vr has seen its current revival by the likes of companies such as Oculus, Mircosoft Holo-lens, Google Glass, and others. Is this new revival as trendy as the early attempts at VR , and more importantly, will it stand up to the test of time?
In the 1990’s Vr was a dream that was forced into many minds by the likes of Block Busters like Tron, Lawnmower Man, The Wizard, and eventually many others. The truth outside of these movies although was that simple VR solutions such as Nintendo Virtual boy, Power gun, Arcade ride simulators, and although not exactly VR in itself, the Nintendo Power Glove was the first case a wearable became popular in pop culture.
This gave hope to the future of VR because in order to interact with a virtual reality you need virtual limbs and head tracking. All of which was limited at the time just as the bit resolution and processing power was. Early VR unsurprisingly failed due to not offering a realistic enough experience or a viable way to interact with that experience. The current VR faces similar challenges but this time around computation is less of a problem and more of a puzzle along with viable ways to interact with these new environments. There have been many suggested methods as seen below but the market has yet to converge on one before hardware makers can universally adopt an input method.
Outside of the failed science and marketing, the Idea of Vr was a success and hasn’t diminished since. Due to this versions have been seen in Television shows and movies such as Futurama, South Park, Star Trek, Sword Art Online, Enders Game and the Matrix. It’s obvious the idea hasn’t lost steam in our minds, and with recent advances in processing power, screen resolution, and graphic imagery; Vr may finally be here to stay! But is Vr as relevant as it once was, does Oculus and Google Glass bear the same cultural mark the Nintendo Play Glove once held? Is this current revival just a tech fad with no real world applications once again? or is it more than a fad but a technology that revolutionize the way we approach our every day lives and work flow? One thing is for sure, the current revival looks familiar to the early VR days in terms of aesthetic, but development this time around is all the more in-depth.
The technology is certainly enough to bring at least a semi useful vr experience to the masses. Given that the new chips such as Nvidias K1 packs about as much processing power as a Sony Playstation 3, we can assume that the technology is small enough and fast enough to process expansive 3d worlds, if a tad behind full size desktop components. Although most Current VR solutions such as Oculus utilize a PC, future solutions will utilize either the ever advancing SOC (system on a chip) that our phones use or Streaming solutions like Nvidia’s Shield where most of the processing is done on separate more powerful machine and not on your portable device. Once these features become available for VR, I believe the main stream will finally catch on. As it currently stands, in order to get a VR gaming rig you need a working knowledge about computer parts, software support, and programming methods inorder to get your games working. This is unsurprisingly out of touch with the average day consumer who would rather an Iphone they can instantly work with.
Since the technology is here or at least almost here, is Vr bound to become a dominate technology in our lives? While it definitely will have its place among the future for education and gaming, the current revival still can fail. All this depends on is consumer adoption, which is currently optimistic given that Oculus has been bought out by Facebook and other VR suites are following ensuit. If these companies that buy these VR platforms monopolize the VR industry you may see VR only gain prominence in our lives via work applications or gaming solutions or on the opposite side entirely too consumer. Each way would dramatic alter the way we currently view the systems as futuristic storytelling devices. We can only hope that these vendors allow VR to grow in tandem with the technology to allow the best possible acceptance and use by the mainstream.
With Large companies like Facebook and Microsoft putting ideas out there about what their Virtual Reality systems potential uses for gaming or workflow are, we have an effective 2-step theory. As the pop culture definition goes, it describes; rather than the producers of mass media being the opinion leaders, there is a separate group of opinion makers that interprets their own message from the media that the public is more likely to follow and reinterpret themselves. Here the opinion makers are Microsoft, Google, and Facebook; together they are repositioning our view of VR systems from tacky futuristic games towards real world work applications. In turn the consumers are interpreting how such a technology could be best used for our work flow rather than our leisure. Rather than letting VR revel in it’s current futuristic gaming experiences as past revivals exclusively highlighted; we have Large companies showing us demos of what our workflow will someday be like with their new concept devices. Effectively restructuring how we think about VR in a whole.
After VR loses its freshness as new technology just as smart phones have, it will become a droll and almost unbearable image in our minds displacing that of a middle school teacher. As these new devices will replace educational tools and resources by offering a more intuitive and enveloping experience. This unfortunately means no more snow days for kids from school, no more classes where the professor doesn’t show, the device will always be there ready create an immersive world to teach you with! Unless your VR set breaks, you’re out of luck!