Virtual Reality emerging before your eyes

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A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to try an early version of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset while a group of co-workers watched. Would I throw up, as I’d heard early VR users were apt to do? How would I look – sitting there in a conference room, yet acting like I was snow skiing or bungee jumping or . . . really anything not typically done in a conference room?

That VR experience two years ago was interesting (and non-vomit causing, thank goodness). The view behind the headset of “walking” through a cave felt more real than I expected. Despite the graphic use of some colors not found in nature, I was getting a 360-degree visual experience of walking among stalagmites and stalactites.

Fast forward to this summer when I tried Google Cardboard. Definitely better graphics this time – even on this inexpensive headset. (It is literally made of cardboard and uses a smartphone app to create the visuals.) Since the goal of VR is to create a “sense of presence”, this second experience was closer to creating the desired alternate reality. This time I was flying over beaches, oceans and mountains, able to control where I “flew” by turning my head in different directions.

What special magic is creating that visual experience you say?

The success of VR is dependent on several components working together:

  • a headset that blocks out the real world
  • screens that give each eye a different view (like your eyes do)
  • special VR device lenses that create the virtual world
  • a system that tracks your head movements and aligns the virtual world to them
  • graphics, a possibly a soundtrack, that create images and sounds to trick your brain into thinking it’s seeing reality

While those basics don’t change, technology improvements are happening almost monthly. For example, filmmakers are using the technology but need to sharpen the sound experience. Because virtual reality lets you look anywhere, filmmakers need to direct your eyes the natural way – with sound coming from a specific direction. Otherwise you may not see what’s happening behind you.

Even though VR can improve in many ways, it can be an amazing experience in its current form. There are a growing number of options out there to try.

Besides the Oculus Rift (owned by FaceBook) and Google Cardboard VR devices, other well-known commercially available VR systems are the HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR and Sony PlayStation VR. Even Mattel has announced a collaboration with Google to create a new iteration of View-Master (Google it if you’re under 30), called the View-Master Viewer DLX, which is based on virtual reality and uses a smartphone. And just last week, the Senate Commerce Committee held what it called the first congressional hearing on augmented reality, calling expert witnesses from a variety of areas.

Famous futurist Ray Kurzweil recently predicted virtual reality will begin to feel 100 percent real by the 2030s. Between now and then, we’ll continue to discover the full capabilities (and drawbacks) of VR.  But forget the potential that VR has to cut across areas such as entertainment, gaming, education, tourism, real estate, medicine and just plain socialization. Maybe you just want to bungee jump from your nearest conference room.

Don’t want to wait until 2030 to try VR?

Try the Google Daydream View

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