Let’s start with a quick primer on the history of VR. VR was created in 1965 by Ivan Sutherland – he created the”Ultimate Screen”, a system that could overlay wireframe interiors onto a room. The army was concurrently investigating and investing in VR’s potential for flight simulation and training.
The VR industry continued to grow over the next few years, but appeal was limited to just the most ambitious engineers and early adapters because of the cost of components, and the computers that powered them. Even in the early 90’s, the price tag on a good virtual reality apparatus was over $50,000.
Fast-forward 40 decades and Palmer Luckey (the inventor of the Oculus Rift) made his first VR prototype at age 18 in his parents basement. Luckey eventually developed the product that would come to be known as the Oculus Rift. Oculus has ushered in the current era of VR development and breathed new life into this promising technology.
The announcement of the Oculus was followed closely with technology insiders, developers, and early adopters, all of whom had been chomping at the bit to experience this new frontier in VR development. It was not long before heavy-weights such as Facebook, Google, and Samsung took notice and began investing heavily in VR with the hopes of making the first consumer ready device. Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg said that he sees the purchase as a”long-term bet on the future of computing.”
TODAY’S CHOICES FOR CONSUMERS
The current lineup of VR products run the gamut in terms of price and accessibility. You can get your feet wet with Google’s product (aptly named Cardboard). Cardboard is extremely inexpensive, roughly $20.00. Rather than a built-in screen like the Oculus Rift, this item is powered by any Android cellphone running 4.1 or higher (simply slide your phone into the”headset”). You build it all yourself, following Google’s step-by-step directions with pictures.
The phone powers the entire encounter with applications found in Google’s Cardboard app store). There are no external wires or clunky hardware to deal with… just the Cardboard case and your Android phone. At Primacy we recently built one to test out in house – the entire build took about 5 minutes from start to finish.
Given the present pace of innovation it is a safe bet that both the hardware and software for Facebook’s Oculus technology is only going to get better in the months ahead. The consumer version, though not currently available, is expected to be published mid 2015. The developer model (DK2) costs $350 and comes loaded with a very low latency display (the same used at the Samsung Galaxy Note 3). The unit also includes a gyroscope, accelerometer, magnometer and a near infrared camera for mind and positional tracking. Programs are run on a computer that’s connected directly to the headset via an HDMI and USB cable.
Samsung’s Gear VR Innovator Edition
Samsung saw a chance to jump in the VR mix and partnered with Oculus. They’ve produced a headset that looks like the most consumer-ready device so far. Samsung’s Gear VR Innovator Edition is precisely what you would expect from the established tech giant both in terms of quality and usability. It is also the most expensive option, coming in at an msrp of $200 for the headset + $750 (off-contract) for the phone required to power it. Unlike Google’s Cardboard, the Gear VR only works with a Samsung Galaxy Note 4, so if you’re fortunate enough to already own one you can save yourself a significant quantity of money.
The headset itself is very well designed and very intuitive. There is a volume toggle, touchpad, and”back” button on the right side of the headset that can be used to easily navigate through VR experiences and software. The top of the headset holds a focus wheel that is used to adjust the attention to optimum range for your eyes. Two straps hold the unit firmly in your mind which seals your vision off from the external world to improve the sense of immersion. Plus, the absence of any cables tethering you to a computer helps make the experience more enjoyable and mobile.
There’s no need to take the unit off your head in order to download or change applications… everything can be done through the Oculus Home menu or Samsung’s application library after the initial setup and configuration. There are a handful of interesting and useful programs included out of the box such as Oculus Cinema – for watching movies and videos in a virtual cinema, Oculus 360 Pictures – for viewing panoramic photos, and Oculus 360 Videos – for viewing panoramic videos. Samsung also recently published a marketplace called Milk VR that’s essentially YouTube for VR.
Samsung Gear VR
We’ve found that a lot of the applications available today are graphics heavy and the experience can degrade quickly without a fairly good graphics card. It is worth noting that experiences between 3D graphics and rapid movement can quickly become nauseating to some folks because of frame-rate or GPU restrictions and a phenomena known as”judder” (when the pictures become smeared, strobed or otherwise distorted), so it’s really the responsibility of programmers to create”comfortable” experiences which aim to minimize judder. Regardless of the drawbacks – when used in tandem with a computer that has a high end GPU, the result is a sense of immersion that 10 years ago would have seemed impossible. The PC SDK is intended for the Rift DK2 where-as the Mobile SDK is intended for Oculus powered devices which leverage mobile phones.
We’re just starting to crack the surface with VR. The emergence of panoramic video and photo is making it effortless to”teleport” audiences to places they could never physically be.
Imagine a front row seat to watch your favourite band play live… with the freedom to check in any direction in real time. Imagine walking (literally… walking) through your favorite national park as if you were actually there. Imagine sitting in a conference room half way round the world and interacting with other people as though you were really there. These are simply a few of the incredible applications that VR devices such as the Oculus Rift enable. So stay tuned – if present progress is any indication, virtual reality is here to stay, and it’ll be invading your living room or office much sooner than you may think.