Virtual reality is not new. The technology has been around for 20-plus years but has lacked widespread distribution and consumption due to limiting factors in technology and content. That is changing now.
Currently, the biggest player is Oculus VR—the headset and software developer—made famous by Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of the Southern California startup. Other hardware companies, including Samsung and Sony, are quickly moving into this space, adding some competition to the mix. At the same time, content developers are rapidly prototyping the impact the technology will have on all sorts of content.
What is virtual reality?
Virtual reality (or “VR,” as it is often referred to) is a computer-generated interactive environment that simulates 360-degree views in multiple dimensions by wearing special headsets. For many years VR environments were hard to sell because they made users motion sick due to slow computer processing speeds and tunnel vision. However, the Oculus Rift headset is being dubbed the first “affordable” device that overcomes these problems (I am very sensitive to motion sickness and have used the Rift without any problem).
Breakthroughs in rapid computer processing and lens manufacturing now allow devices to simulate multidimensional experiences while keeping the body’s sense of equilibrium. For example, Oculus uses new processes to better conform to the body’s sense of movement, and new magnifying lenses expand the scope of vision.
Who are the players?
The short answer is there are a lot and many more coming. In terms of hardware, there is the Oculus Rift, Sony’s Project Morpheus and Samsung’s Gear VR. Google has been making some strategic investments in addition to its DIY Cardboard headgear set.
On the content side, it’s a free-for-all. There are small VR production companies popping up everywhere, and a high concentration of them in Los Angeles. Digital LA recently held a #VRLA Meet-up to demo some of these products. It was also the first-ever VR live-streamed event.
On the Hollywood side of things, the major studios—not wanting to be left behind—have caught on and are investing in some of these VR production companies. More to that point, at Sundance more than a dozen short VR movies were presented and the Sundance Lounge staged a demo room for some of these devices and developers.
Where are things going?
This is a hard question to answer, but one thing is for sure—it’s beyond gaming. Movies are the first obvious choice, but there is (virtually) no limit.Live music events, medical procedures, investment analysis, defense training and aerospace simulations are a few of the areas that are being primed for VR technology.
Another unknown is the use of mobile. All the current headset devices are large, clunky and expensive. It is and will continue to be hard to sell a $300 headset to consume VR content that is still in its infancy, when there is so much standard content available at no or little cost. Thus the advent of mobile VR through devices such as Google’s Cardboard and mobile headset is very interesting. This has the potential to explode because it’s cheap, familiar and readily available.
Many media and technology companies are still adjusting to the brave new world that is digital. The learning curve will be even steeper with VR, so it’s best to understand what is going on early.