Updated: Jul 17, 2019
Early attempts at consumer based VR did not bode well. Thus causing some tech experts to call it death of Virtual Reality. They couldn't have been more wrong!
There were two early players in the consumer VR market and one never got it out of the prototype phase. This lead industry experts to declare that VR was dead. They couldn't have been more wrong. The first try was by Sega in 1993 as they unveiled their VR Glasses prototype. Technical issues stopped it in it's tracks even though Sega already had 4 games for the platform.
The second attempt was by Nintendo in 1995 with their " Nintendo Virtual Boy ". They ended up only selling less than a million units and it was deemed a failure. I remember trying on of these out that a friend had. I remember thinking it was cool but, thought the much better graphics I got on the Sega console would still be my first choice. The biggest draw back was you had to keep your head in a viewer while it sat on the table. The dam thing kept moving when you pushed your face into it. That was a deal killer for me as I walked away frustrated. We then decided to play the Sega Genesis. I still remember it! Seeegaaaa (Yes I'm old)
It would be another 15 years before anyone would try it again. Then in 2010 and brilliant 18 year old entrepreneur named Palmer Luckey unveils the first prototype for the Oculus Rift. In 2012 Palmer launched Oculus's Rift with a Kickstarter campaign and it was off to the races. I could go more into the history but, I have a blog post for that.
Over the last 24 months VR has begun to evolve faster than ever. We've seen the two biggest players release 4 new headsets. Additionally they already have announced plans for the next generation headsets to come. Oculus and HTC VIVE dominate the consumer market however, others are making progress too. Even though there is a long history of immersive experiences we are still only at the end of the beginning. PlayStation and Microsoft Mixed reality look to capture their own market share. It should not surprise to see other companies get into the game as well. Right now it is the wild west and all the settlers are running the race to claim the plots of the market share that currently sits empty. What does that mean to you and me? It is going to be a fun ride for sure.
What I have noticed over the last year is a merging of technology. The top two headsets on the market have been the Oculus Rift and HTC VIVE both of which still need tracking sensors. For the VIVE this means actually mounting the "Lighthouses" to the walls of the room or area your trying to track. The PlayStation VR system does it differently.
The PSVR uses a single camera placed in front of the user making it much easier to install and use than the VIVE. That said, it is still remote tracking separate from the headset itself. Microsoft Mixed reality on the other hand has the right idea as far as tracking goes. Their the first production consumer headset that uses tracking cameras in the headset itself. The newest headsets from Oculus and HTC both use this technology. In fact the use of cameras allows for the use of pass through technology. In other words the cameras allow for pass though of images from reality to create augmented realty. In theory this could allow you to set up a room with physical objects like doors or rocks and impose virtual objects within the natural world. Camera tracking is the next step in the evolution of VR equipment.
Another merging of technology we are seeing is in the controllers. Above you can see three of the most used controllers in virtual reality today. As you can see they are vastly different but, that is changing. The newest shapes are moving closer to that of the Oculus Rift.
This includes the new Vive Cosmos which is due to be released sometime in the next few months. That said, the use of controllers is only a stopgap measure while we wait on already existing technology to become more refined and reach an affordable price point. What is this technology you ask? Well if you seen the movie ready player one you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Haptic feedback gloves are what they're called and they allow you to actually touch and feel virtual objects in the digital realm. In fact the technology for full body Haptic suits already exists as well. Ready Player One here we come baby! You need every edge you can get. Every push, punch, gunshot you'll feel it all! Ok, ok, I really liked that movie.
Now onto my predictions for the future of VR and how it will integrate into our lives. The future of VR is mobile technology and 5g connections. Once 5g is available widely consumers will be able to get 100 meg download speeds blowing the limits we have now into oblivion. Technology wise at the moment the PC connected VR experiences are still King. That said, mobile technology is developing quite fast and when 5g finally arrives in mass manufactures will push it even quicker. Basically as mobile processing power gets closer to today's PC technology we can expect to see a boom in mobile VR use. Just like with internet searching just a few years ago the desktop PC accounted for more than 80% of searches. Today nearly 60% of all searches on the Internet are done on a mobile device.
We are at the end of the beginning in the VR revolution. Over the next three years we will see VR tech continue to develop at a much faster pace than ever seen before. The moment 5g becomes available in mass you will see VR become a big part of all our lives. You will work in VR, you'll call your Mom in VR, and you'll find entertainment in a Virtual World. The movie Ready Player One takes place in 2045. I predict the VR experience you see in that movie will happen much sooner than that. In less than 10 years VR will become completely mainstream.