In the past few years, virtual reality (VR) has been on a roller coaster. Its popularity peaked then it dipped and now, it is enjoying somewhat of a rebirth. In fact, Greenlight Insights forecasts a $34.5 billion worldwide market for Virtual Reality by 2023.
Why the roller coaster? Its popularity seems to be high. Interest seems to be there too. It’s coming and here’s what you need to know about Virtual Reality technology.
Virtual Reality Used To Raise The Dead
How would you like to be reunited with a family member who has recently died? Virtual reality is now making this resurrection a real reality. In South Korea, a grieving mother has been “reunited” with her dead child.
A South Korean TV documentary presented the meeting of a mother of four, Jang Ji-sung, with a virtual version of her daughter Nayeon who had passed away in 2016. Using virtual reality technology, a digital avatar of Nayeon (her body, voice and face) was created using pictures of her and along with a child model.
This whole encounter was filmed for a South Korean TV show called Meeting You, which was created to give grieving relatives the opportunity to say goodbye to their lost family member.
Watch clips from the documentary. Warning: They are absolutely heartbreaking…
Ji-sung wore a virtual reality headset and virtual reality gloves so she could experience both seeing and a sense of touching her daughter. They first met in a virtual park. The pair then went to a virtual home where they were able to interact before Nayeon went to sleep. As she was drifting off, she was able to tell her mother that she is not “hurting anymore”.
If you were given this chance to spend some time with a recently passed loved one, would you take it?
Virtual Reality History
While Virtual Reality may appear to be a recent technological creation, its roots were formed in the 1800s. Sir Charles Wheatstone is said to be the man who initially described stereopsis in 1838 and his impending research led him to the invention of the stereoscope. Things would move slowly in the VR direction until in 1956 Cinematographer Morton Heilig created the first Virtual Reality machine, Sensorama. This was a machine that used multiple technologies to stimulate all senses. His machine used a vibrating chair, stereo speakers, scent producers, and a stereoscopic 3D screen. Heilig felt this was the “cinema of the future.”
Things progressed but probably not as fast as Heilig had hoped for. He patented the first head-mounted display he called the Telesphere mask in 1960 and in 1961 two Philco Corporation engineers created Headsight, the first motion tracking head-mounting display (HMD). Unfortunately, Headsight was created for the military and not for VR purposes.
The ‘70s saw more advancement but it wasn’t until the mid-80s that VR as we know it began to materialize and the term “Virtual Reality” became popular. In 1990, a VR arcade machine, Virtuality, exhibited at the Computer Graphics 90 exhibition.
In 2010, an 18-year-old entrepreneur, Palmer Luckey, invented the first Oculus Rift headset. In 2012 he launched a Kickstarter campaign for his Oculus and it raised $2.4 million. Oculus, as you will soon see, has become a major player in the Virtual Reality industry.
Today’s VR Technology
It’s all about the headset. These wearables are developing at a nice clip and the studios creating your Virtual Reality experience are making things more fun than ever for VR fans. But Virtual Reality isn’t all about the graphics, even though we are visual creatures. No, audio is just as important when it comes to VR, some say it can be more important as it’s been shown that humans react faster to audio cues than visual cues. If you truly want to get lost in a Virtual Reality world, the audio environment must be dead on.
There are a few different types of Virtual Reality headsets on the market today. One type allows the user to use their smartphone, plugging it into the headset and enjoying VR from various downloadable games. Another is a headset that can attach to a PC. And the last type is a headset that doesn’t attach to a PC and does not use smartphone technology. There are benefits to each type. The cost can play a big factor, the type of Virtual Reality experience you are wanting can be another. So, who are the big players in today’s VR race? Let’s take a look.
The Oculus Quest is the baddest headset on the planet right now. This is an all-in-one headset, requiring no PC, no wires, and no smartphone. It offers simple setup and can be taken virtually anywhere. The Quest also offers positional audio that is built directly into the headset. This allows the player to hear what’s sneaking up behind them or what their teammates are saying, all without the need for headphones.
The quest comes with two controllers that are intuitive and hand out realistic precision. The Oculus system also comes with its Oculus Guardian system which is designed to learn the boundaries of your playing area so you do not crash into anything.
This slick kit comes from Nintendo and is meant to be used with the Nintendo Switch. With this kit, players get to build their own VR goggles and the blaster that can be attached to the goggles. The Switch slides inside the goggles for Virtual Reality immersive fun. This kit is a hit with the younger crowd as the games are more Nintendo-friendly.
SONY PLAYSTATION VR
The PlayStation VR is another top-selling set. This one is another wire-free headset, though there is more hardware involved than other Virtual Reality sets. The PlayStation VR uses a camera (set up to your TV) to follow your movements. On top of a regular PlayStation controller, players will also use Move controllers for some of the games.
PlayStation VR boasts a library consisting of over 500 games and Virtual Reality experiences from the fun to scary to jaw-dropping.
The HTC Vive is a popular VR system played through your PC. While it should go without saying, the better the PC, the better your Virtual Reality experience will be. Instead of using a camera like the PlayStation VR, the Vive uses two base stations that help track the player and their surroundings. The Vive comes with two earbuds to fully immerse you into whatever Virtual Reality world you choose.
Another VR addition from the Oculus family, this one is on the more affordable side. While it doesn’t boast the power or line-up as the Quest, it is a great way to jump into the Virtual Reality world and test it out without spending a lot of money. Its setup is simple as is the look of its headset. Unfortunately, it is not a position tracker and just uses one motion controller but it is wire-free, no phone or PC is required.
OCULUS RIFT S
An upgrade from the original Oculus Rift, this headset offers an easier setup, an update to earlier specs and pretty much a better, more enjoyable overall Virtual Reality experience. The motion tracking on the Rift S is very accurate on both the headset and controllers. One of the only drawbacks, though, is it still uses a cable to attach itself to a PC for play.
HTC VIVE COSMOS
Good news and bad news here with the new entry to the HTC VR family. This is a complete upgrade to the HTC VIVE in every aspect. The motion controls are more fluid, the display is sharp, it has a large library to select from. The downside with this beast is that it is a very expensive unit and you need to be tethered to a PC. For the price the Cosmos is asking, those are tough pills to swallow.
SAMSUNG GEAR VR
This Virtual Reality Headset uses a Samsung smartphone as the way into the VR landscape. Very popular early on, with the ever-changing models of Samsung phones, the Gear VR is finding it hard to keep up. But if you do happen to own a model that works with the Gear VR, you will not be disappointed. The software is run by Oculus, so right there you know you won’t be let down. They offer a strong library of fun and exciting game and experiences. The headset is comfortable and the sound is nice, but it can be enhanced by wearing headphones. The drawback, having to use your smartphone. They have a tendency to overheat, so be aware when you are playing.
This is by no means the end-all, be-all when it comes to Virtual Reality headsets. While Oculus, HTC, and Sony are the leaders of the pack, this doesn’t mean they are the only VR players out there. Both Google and Mattel offer Virtual Reality headsets that allow for smartphone use. Lenovo has come out with their VR entry and it has been rumored that by 2022 Apple will also jump into the Virtual Reality gaming business.
VIRTUAL REALITY GAMES
There are VR games and there are VR experiences. The Virtual Reality games will take you into gameplay where you are walking, fighting, shooting, exploring, doing anything and everything a gamer loves. The games can be sci-fi shooters, old west shooters, pirate shooters. You can play sports from golf to tennis to ping pong to basketball. You can fight against a real opponent; you can solve puzzles. You can hunt down zombies or aliens and you can build worlds. The options are virtually limitless.
The experiences Virtual Reality allows a user are also limitless. You can experience being a Marvel Superhero. You can pilot a Starship through the Star Trek universe.You can experience a haunted house while trying to solve a mystery. You can just experience a haunted house and not solve a mystery. You can experience the world and go to places you always dreamed about. You can, if you want, sit back and enjoy Netflix in the VR realm.
The amazing thing about Virtual Reality, if you have not had the pleasure to try it, is that it truly is becoming limitless. It is amazing what one can experience when those headsets go on.
VR PARKS AND RIDES
Obviously, the HMD is VR’s most recognizable feature. But they are not the only way to enjoy Virtual Reality. With the advances in technology and popularity on the rise, the makers of VR are looking to expand the Virtual Reality horizons beyond the comfort of your home.
More and more when you walk through your local mall are you beginning to see VR rides. They are a simple setup, usually an enclosed chair, where one sits in to enjoy a fun Virtual Reality experience. That’s just the beginning though.
Virtual Reality is now reaching out to theme parks. VR rides are being created, not just ones you see in a mall, but actual rides with actual VR headsets. Roller coasters, water slides, drop towers! Virtual Reality is being offered on these and it is wild!
Six Flags Great Adventure is home to the world’s tallest VR drop ride. The Drop of Doom raises you up, wearing a Virtual Reality headset, 415 feet just to drop you that distance, all the while fighting giant spiders.
Knott’s Berry Farm offers a VR Showdown in Ghost Town where players don the Virtual Reality headset and battle it out in an old ghost town.
Traveling outside the United States? The Daemon in Denmark is a roller coaster with a VR option. This is a normal roller coaster with all the turns, loops, and drops one loves on a coaster. Try it with a Virtual Reality headset.
If you find yourself in Dubai, you may want to check out their mall. They have a Virtual Reality park inside their mall and by all accounts, it’s fun!
Did we mention waterslides? Yes we did! How about the Galaxy Erding, located in Erding, Germany. This park offers a waterslide where the rider is fitted with a Virtual Reality headset and then sent on their way down the slide on a tube!
If you ever make your way to China, you might want to check out their VR Star Theme Park. This thing is huge and it uses a variety of different Virtual Reality headsets, depending on the ride.
THE FUTURE OF VIRTUAL REALITY
The future is now. With VR once again on the rise, businesses and companies are searching for the newest way to immerse their customers into the Virtual Reality experience. Water parks, amusement parks and even your local malls are joining in to present to you a world unlike any other. For those who don’t care to travel and like to keep it close to home, the Virtual Reality headsets are becoming more user-friendly and technologically advanced. There is no shortage to what type of VR experience one can have, you just got to go out and experience it.