Thursday, January 21, 2016

Virtual Reality Comes of Age

But your new headset might require a new computer

VR headsets were a big deal at this year's CES show, probably because the chance for early adopters to buy is almost upon us. The rest of us, though, might want to wait a little longer while computing power catches up.

Virtual Reality (VR) headsets aim to create a fully immersive 3D virtual environment for the wearer. This is unlike the experience of looking at a TV or computer screen. With VR, whichever way the wearer looks the head-mounted display shows the virtual environment in that direction. Different but related, Augented Reality (AR) overlays graphics and other information onto the user’s view of their actual physical surroundings.

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Google Glass is an example of AR. Oculus Rift (first mentioned in this blog in February 2014) and HTC Vive are examples of VR headsets coming to market in 2016. Microsoft’s Hololens might be somewhere between VR and HR, with aspects of each.

Though these are clearly the early days for VR headsets, a number of products are coming onto the scene in 2016. Wareable has a great roundup of current and near-future products, which can be found here. While some such as the Oculus Rift will likely be in the $600 range, some are substantially lower in cost, especially those that can use your phone as the computing power and display. Google has a simple design for a fold-up cardboard headset, called Google Cardboard, that cradles your phone. Versions are available for as little as $25 (prices vary among several producers). Fold it up, put your phone inside, and try it. You might not get the full experience but it's hard to argue with the price.

Although Oculus Rift (a product of Oculus VR, now owned by Facebook) still gets the loudest buzz, HTC Vive, Playstation VR, and Microsoft Hololens look very interesting, too. Check out the video below introducing the HTC Vive.

In just about all cases, the computing power to drive VR in a fully immersive and high performance way (laggy VR, it turns out, can make you feel sick) is still a little high-end for most people. Conventional wisdom is that in this first generation, VR headsets will be purchased by serious gamers who spend serious money on serious gaming systems with serious computing power and serious graphics processing power. Seriously.  For most of us, the really high-end experience may be a few years away as newer laptops with higher performance become more commonplace and more cost effective.

Will you be among the early adopters of Oculus Rift or other higher-end VR headsets? Do you know someone who will be? Are you more interested in AR than VR?

Please leave a comment, here in reality, about your plans for virtual reality.

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