In the late 1980s, my dad brought my brother and me to the South Street Seaport for an experience I will never forget – virtual reality (VR) gaming. With a headset and some accessories, I was transported to an alternate universe where I could roam freely and shoot my brother without leaving a small circular platform (or getting arrested). I remember thinking to myself, “this is going to be huge!” But of course, it was not – at least not yet.
Flash forward to 2015 and everything old is new again. Virtual reality is on the verge of becoming mainstream. Here are five reasons why I believe virtual reality’s day has finally come.
1. Big Brand Backing: A lot of the big names in the tech game – Sony, Samsung and HTC, to name a few – are jumping on the VR bandwagon. The largest investment in the category came from Facebook, which shelled out $2 billion for Oculus, a VR gaming start-up that made major waves with its Kickstarter-funded Oculus Rift headset. But the Rift – set to ship to consumers in Q1 2016 – is the just the beginning of the major VR revolution about to transpire.
Not to be outdone, tech giant, Google, has been selling Google Cardboard, a dirt-cheap and, you guessed it, cardboard headset that cradles your cell phone in front of your face to whisk you away to a virtual world. If the rumored $200 - $400 price-tag of the Oculus Rift ($1,600 all-in with a new VR ready computer) doesn’t seem feasible to you, this might be a viable option. You won’t get the high-end, fully immersive experience with Cardboard, but for most it will suffice. Hardware costs are one of the biggest barriers VR has had to face on its path to mainstream adoption. Google’s option lowers the barrier to entry. And who knows, it might even convince you to invest in a more serious piece of hardware.
2. 360º Perspective: For virtual reality to truly break through, it will need to look beyond the gaming industry and become a part of the average person’s everyday life. Earlier this year, YouTube did its part by announcing support for 360º video – available on Android phones and through the Google Chrome browser, naturally.
To change the perspective in a browser you must click and drag around. On an Android Mobile device, however, simply holding the phone out and twisting around will change the viewpoint, and perhaps your life. Pair that with Google Cardboard and, voilá, you’re living in a virtual reality for under $30.
Some very interesting videos have already been uploaded to the video-sharing goliath, including a music video shot in 4K.
Similar to YouTube, Facebook recently announced it is developing support for “spherical videos” which will eventually be introduced to newsfeeds. The videos will also work with their aforementioned Oculus Rift hardware.
3. One Giant Leap: An obstacle some multimedia content-creators such as myself face when entering the world of of 360º video is the steep learning curve and cost of entry. For the most part, the systems we use on an everyday basis (e.g., the Adobe creative suite) don’t contain the necessary tools to seamlessly stich together multiple cameras to get an immersive 360º effect. So investing in the new software is a leap of faith.
Enter Google, which recently announced its new virtual reality platform, Jump. The platform is composed of a circular rig that supports 16 GoPro cameras as well as the software to easily stich the footage together. It’s too early to tell, but – while not cheap – this may be the easy-to-use solution we’ve been waiting for. This will certainly help give VR some staying power by providing the ability to effortlessly produce 360º videos.
4. The Brand Experience: Companies have already taken notice and have started getting creative with the innovative platform. Most notably, the outdoor apparel company Merrell took the product demo to a whole other level by pairing it with an Oculus Rift and taking consumers on a virtual hike to a crumbling cliff or a rickety old wooden bridge. You can see how much fun they had in this video. This type of creativity will surely propel VR into the mainstream.
The applications don’t stop there. Wish you could get courtside seats to the NBA finals? The NBA offered a peak into their plans for VR when it partnered with Samsung to bring this year’s NBA All-Star game to virtual reality. With a simple VR headset, viewers were able to watch the All Star Game, Slam Dunk Contest and 3 Point Contest courtside.
5. The Wow Factor: Lastly, VR has what you want in new technology, the ability to leave you in awe of what you’ve just experienced. Gamers and consumers alike are always looking for the next big thing and all signs point to VR!
As long as the content continues to push the envelope and capture our imagination, virtual reality will become our new reality.
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