Red pill or blue pill?
Before we welcome you to the real world, what is virtual reality? In the short time since VR has become accessible, we’ve already witnessed the impact of this new medium. Many of us have been dreaming about virtual reality for a long time. Popular TV shows, movies, and books have teased us with a futuristic glimpse of the virtual worlds. VR of today works to live up to user expectations and truthfully, we’re getting closer to that vision every day. The definition of VR can be very different depending on who you ask and it might end up looking a little different than we all expected.
Just the Facts Ma’am
If we take a moment to dust off our dictionary, the strict definition of virtual reality is;
“an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment.”
What is Virtual Reality?
Sounds sexy, doesn’t it? Before we all get caught up on the word “stimuli” and find ourselves talking about teledildonics, does today’s VR fit the definition? I would answer that question with a resounding yes. We may not be living the life of the Lawnmower Man or enjoying a savory steak in the Matrix but some of the core building blocks are starting to take shape.
The Virtual Reality Equation
The basic equation for creating any good VR experience is simply;
Seamless Control + No Thinking + Insight = Kick Ass VR
It’s an odd combination of words but stick with us.
Control – Consider the fact that 360° videos and VR animations are the base virtual experience you can enjoy right now. They are a 360° show on rails and the most amount of control you can exercise is choosing where to look. This level of control is still important as it provides the visual stimuli your brain needs for VR to work it’s techno-trickery.
No Thinking – Giving users seamless control that simulates real-life and without making them think about it is critical. The growing gamer culture and many popular AAA game titles owe part of their success to the fact that an entire generation of people instinctively knows how to play a first person shooter. An interactive experience whether it be virtual or digital is only successful if the controls are like second nature. If a user needs to pause for an instant, even in the menu screen, it’s over.
Insight – VR is a very powerful entertainment and educational tool. If we examine how virtual reality has been depicted in movies or TV, there’s a consistent motive behind its use. As modern day humans, we’re in a constant struggle to be entertained in new and delightful ways. Aside from releasing endorphins, we (in theory) strive to better ourselves. VR is an incredible way to educate or train people in the workforce or to simply gain insight.
Flying with the Blue Angels in a 360° video? If you’re not actually a jet pilot, you’re gaining insight dude! Riding a virtual roller coaster? You’re controlling where you look during every twist and turn and since up feels like up and down feels like down you don’t need to think about it.
The Virtual Landscape of Today
VR and 360° content are growing more popular every day. As more people dive into VR, more options become available. Many folks tend to use an Oculus Rift or HTC VIVE especially if they’re up for the investment and have a PC that will support it.
These systems employ headsets tethered to your computer and make use of things like room-scale to keep you from bumping into walls. It’s not quite the Holodeck on the Enterprise, but we’re getting closer.
The controls aren’t perfect but many companies are developing wearable technology like suits, gloves, and PC backpacks. Valve recently showcased their innovative Knuckles Controllers and that’s just the beginning.
These don’t require a PC but you need a compatible smartphone. Sony even threw their hat in the ring with the PlayStation VR but even fun gaming peripherals may not be enough to keep consumers interested.
Just on the horizon, new standalone VR headsets are set to hit the market and will pave the way for even greater advancements.
So what is virtual reality? In time, it may be the way we live, learn, laugh and love.
We get VR before flying cars and that’s probably for the best.