Virtual Reality or VR as it is more fondly referred to has been a buzzword for a while now. It has captured and held public imagination for a while. Movies, books, TV and all kinds of pop culture influencers have been claiming that we would go and live in virtual worlds right out of our living rooms. Are we there yet? Are on the edge of going into virtual lives? Is VR here yet? Let’s discuss this today.
First of all, what is VR? Put very simply, it is a collection of devices, services, application and content that together make the human mind block out the actual physical reality that we are all in and substitute it with a virtual one that looks, feels and in some cases even smells like it’s real. Effectively fooling our brains into believing that an alternate version of reality exists and that we are actually interacting and existing in that reality.
There are multiple ways to accomplish this, the simplest one is to connect your computer to a dual display that shows slightly displaced images that give the 3D effect to our minds. This display would be mounted on your head like a set of goggles. Facebook’s original Oculus Rift was using this method. The other option is to use your mobile phone as the medium to play out the reality and mount it on a headset that wraps around your head. Couple that with a decent set of headphones and you will have a decent VR experience. Both these methods are quite popular. Though the mobile based solutions are quite the rage now.
While the mobile based method is popular, it still quite a distance away from being smooth and completely realistic. The key problem that the VR segment faces is the issue of the subject getting nauseous on prolonged exposure or in the case of even slight lag in rendering the imagery. When we tried the Oculus a few years ago, we couldn’t use it for more than half an hour at a time. This was largely due to the limitations that the processor had or the memory not being sufficient or the application itself being a tad bit laggy.
While most of the issues can be fixed by beefing up hardware and making it strong enough to handle the computing and video processing load that VR brings on to various components, there are issues that are related to way our minds process stimuli and handles them. Those are the issues that will need serious looking into.
If we were to take a look at the current crop of VR applications, they vary from first person games to walk throughs to cinematic experiences. There are manufacturers who have gone a step ahead and given methods to interact with and control the reality that the apps take us into. There are devices that actually give us tactile feedback that is commensurate with our actions and the responses they elicit. So we are really getting to the next stages here. This is good news for gamers who were otherwise confined to an armchair, they now get to walk around, touch, feel and respond with the games that they are in. Gaming actually gets healthier now.
While all this is well and good, if we get to the question of where VR is really here yet, the jury is still out on that. There are many practical applications of VR that can make life and living a lot better. Imagine a wheelchair bound person being able to experience virtually an environment like a mountain peak that she/he can never really do in real life. Imagine what VR can do for telemedicine and rural healthcare. VR can revolutionize even hazardous material disposal and hostile environment navigation. Are we there yet? We are afraid not. Are we getting there? Probably and definitely soon!
One of the serious issues that the VR segment faces now is its cousin Augmented Reality or AR nipping very close to its heels and threatening to take the thunder away quite literally. The monumental success of Pokemon GO is testament to that. And if you look at it closely, everything that VR tech can do, AR tech can do a tad bit faster and since AR is not immersive like VR, the issues with perception and nausea are solved already.
So in summary, VR is not here yet, but is definitely getting there. We are watching this segment very eagerly to see what the next developments are and bring them to you! If there are any perspectives that you would like to add, let us know.