It’s already 15 years into the new millennium, and we still haven’t seen flying cars as the standard mode of transportation nor have we gotten past the moon in terms of manned exploration. Remember Space 1999? We’re supposed to have blown the moon out of orbit that year. The thing is, we may have advanced a lot in the past decade or so but not as much as many predicted back in the 70s. Many of the stuff predicted in Back to the Future hasn’t come to pass, but Marty would be happy that there’s a prototype hoverboard out there somewhere. We now have the internet, something many never expected. We now have social media in various forms, well Wall-E saw how much we’re enslaved to it. Watch the weight people. Anyway, 2016 promises a lot of technological changes underway. One of those changes includes Virtual Reality.
We’ve been on that road before actually. It was all the rage back in the second half of the 90s when computers were supposed to be at their most advanced that they can take users to other worlds. Well, they did. Mostly a world of neck strain and blocky polygons. Several movies did cash in on the trend like Virtuosity and The Lawnmower Man, but the technology back then was nowhere near the scenarios depicted in those movies. TLM did come close when it came to renditions which are actually laughable by today’s standards that it’s silly to re-watch the movie today. There was a lot of hype back then about how the VR could change the world. But because of the cost and computing power required, the technology never got to be mainstream but instead was used in special applications such as psychological therapy and simulations. The thing is we tried. We proved that it was possible. But the reality in virtual reality wasn’t there yet. It was actually hot back then as awe took over and many accepted blocky polygons, and a little framerate lag to be as real as it gets. Come 2016, we’ll see the second wave of VR technology as many tech companies like Facebook acquired Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, Sony, Samsung, Magic Leap and even Microsoft ready their products next year. Will we get it right this time? Will Virtual Reality change the world like it was supposed to do back in the 1990’s?
If you take the time to look into YouTube videos of the output of VR headsets today, especially Oculus Rift, you’ll be amazed at how far we’ve gone in terms of frame rates and polygon count. Definitely more impressive if you’ve experienced the technology before during the first wave. Oculus Rift’s results actually renewed the interest in Virtual Reality as the time was ripe for a reboot. Machines are a lot faster, and research can easily be funded or absorbed by big players if the tech is interesting enough. Headsets are still a little bulky, but that can be fixed in due time if the technology really takes off. Watching several Oculus Rift videos shown by independent game developers, the reality element has arrived. And these are just from the Indies. What happens if studios like EA or Blizzard release their own titles?
In the world of gaming, framerates and resolutions are hitting an impasse. Graphics become more realistic, and cut scenes are already at cinema quality. The only way to beat the competition is to continually up the frame rate and polygon count on the next generation, but that won’t necessarily translate to better games. What that translates to is additional bloat to the game size and bandwidth required to play the game through internet multiplayer. What’s needed is a new mode of gameplay, a more immersive experience than simply seeing two hands holding a gun or a sword in front of the TV. The answer is Virtual Reality and its set to take the gaming world by storm in 2016.
Aside from the technology, another limiting element mentioned that kept VR from going mainstream in the 90s was the cost. The headsets were huge and bulky and cost a fortune. Few people got to develop the killer app or game needed to send the tech out to the public. But university labs and therapists managed to afford them, and some are still in use today, waiting to be replaced by the cheaper Oculus Rift. Now the Oculus Rift, even though its expected price is a minimum of 400 dollars, is relatively affordable for avid gamers. The immersive experience and new mode of gameplay seems like a fair tradeoff for the price. The cheapest way to get into VR now without having to wait for 2016 is through Google Cardboard, at least for people who own compatible Android smartphones. The most expensive option so far is Microsoft’s Hololens, while not exactly virtual reality comes quite close. In their recent demo, giant robots can now invade the user’s living room to do battle over the couch. With VR, maybe landing a jet on a carrier in Top Gun VR would now be easier. Users can also shop and do a teardown of the latest Volvo. Development kits for the Hololens cost 3,000 dollars.
Will Virtual Reality change the world in 2016? Yes. For gaming, what little time we have with the kids will be taken up by VR gaming or even social media. The kids haven’t even had their shot yet. Apart from gaming, the sales and tourism industry will also take advantage of the technology. Prospective home buyers can explore a house for sale on the other side of the country. Tourists can have a pre-tour of their destination. Students can explore Mars as it was seen by the Mars rover. Trainers and trainees of various industries can enjoy and learn more with more realistic simulations. The same promises that were said in the first VR wave. Yes, VR, as it is now, could change the world. Streets might be devoid of kids and young adults as they’re all in another universe as shown in TV shows like Sword Art Online or .Hack. 2016 will be an exciting year especially if like tablets; anyone can afford to get their hands on VR.