Everyone who writes a VR related blog, puts out a newsletter or hosts a VR site has an opinion about virtual reality and where it is going, what we will be able to do with it, who will be using it and which headset is the best.
The popular opinion is Oculus Rift is the GOD of virtual reality. There is also Project Morpheus, HTC Vive and Sony PlayStation VR to name a couple more that will be offering immersive experiences. Developers are busy creating VR content and for when these headsets actually come to the consumer market. Oculus is releasing in small qualities for Christmas with the other launchings scheduled sometime in the first or second quarter of 2016. The truly immersed experience where you can change perspectives at will by walking around and interacting within that virtual world is truly amazing. But these experiences are still in the future for most people.
Where can VR take you now?
There are already consumer VR headsets on the market that offer VR experiences through your smartphone and apps from your app store. Are they just as good as Oculus or HTC Vive? That’s like asking if a Toyota Camry is as good as a Ferrari. Both are cars. Both take you places. It’s just a matter of how you want to get to those places and what you expect from the experience. Both deliver according to consumer expectation. Everyone knows the difference between a reliable family car and a fast, high-quality sports car.
The headsets mentioned above are the Ferraris, and products like VR KiX, Google Cardboard, Destek, and Freefly are the Camrys. There are lots of smartphone apps appearing in both Google Play and Apple’s App Store, that will give people a taste of virtual reality games, 3D video and 360 degree videos.
Though 360 degree videos are not exactly virtual reality, they can give viewers a doorway to places and events that they would never have been able to see otherwise. Viewing these 360 degree offerings in a VR headset that is Google Cardboard compatible gives the user an experience of “being there”. When you are sitting at your computer and using your mouse to move the image around 360 degrees, you are still just seeing a flat image. This is difficult to relate to because your brain is not involved in a way that allows any of the 360 motion makes sense to you. Upside down does not feel upside down; the image just looks upside down. But, when you are wearing a VR headset all you have to do is turn your head naturally to see the view around you. Your eyes trick your brain into thinking you are right there and now when your look around, the 360 image makes sense…there are things happening to the left, to the right, over your head, and under your feet. And if you see something that looks upside down, it can only mean that you are literally upside down!
Now Imagine the feeling of awe a child can feel by taking a 360 degree tour of the Grand Canyon. How about a quadriplegic who can now take a walk through the street of Paris? Or an invalid who has finally gotten to see Rome, a dream of a lifetime. While these videos are not the virtual reality of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or PlayStation VR, they can create a new reality for many people. A reality full of new experiences where the price of travel is the cost of a headset!