Virtual Reality: The future’s in your face

Ever since Oculus Rift’s Kickstarter made $2.5 million in 2012, virtual reality (VR) has been “the future.”

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Ever since Oculus Rift’s Kickstarter made $2.5 million in 2012, virtual reality (VR) has been “the future.” Now, in 2015, we’re finally in a place where VR headsets are falling into consumer hands.

VR works by utilizing separate screens for each eye, which creates the illusion of a 3D space for the wearer. The headset tracks movement, so the in-game camera points to wherever the user is looking. We’re glossing over mountains of tech aspects, but we’ll get into that in a later post.

What the heck is VR?

Virtual reality is a science fiction dream come true. It can be the purest form of escapism or the ultimate immersion into any subject. The idea of being able to “go” anywhere at any time just by slipping on a pair of sciencey-looking goggles is undeniably exciting. It’s the core idea behind movies like Avatar, TRON, and even Inception.

Even though the the current consumer choice for VR headsets is limited, the money is flying in. Huge companies with equally huge bank accounts are investing heavily in VR.

While the initial purpose of the Oculus Rift was for gaming, it has since expanded into experiential marketing, education, tv and film, and more. HBO used it to simulate walking along The Wall, a major location in Game of Thrones. Toyota used it to simulate the effects of distracted driving.

As developers get more acquainted with it, we’ll see more VR. It’s no longer a future pipe dream, it’s happening right now. In short, VR is here to stay.

What are my options?

The Originator

The virtual reality boom began with the Oculus Rift by Oculus VR, the first to mass-produce the technology you see in most headsets. Oculus has released two development kits since 2012, with the consumer version coming next.

The Tinkerer

Google Cardboard is the most budget-friendly VR option available. Cardboard is literally that – cardboard – that folds out into a headset. Download the app on your Android phone and slide it into the headset, and you’ve got a similar experience to the Rift. At Zemoga, our development team has been using it to toy around with new ideas. You can build your own headset, and there are a few third-party options if you want something other than brown cardboard.

The Consumer-Ready

Samsung’s Gear VR takes this idea a step further. It uses Oculus’ technology paired with a Samsung phone. The headset itself is made out of sturdy plastic rather than cardboard, and the viewing experience is a bit better than cardboard (but that’s to be expected with the higher price tag). Most important, you can buy and sell games on Samsung’s Gear VR digital store.

The Gamer

Sony’s Project Morpheus is releasing in the first half of 2016. It boasts the most streamlined experience of the bunch so far: you plug it into your PS4 and go. Sony is focusing on high FPS and low latency to make Project Morpheus’ screen as smooth as possible. That works double, since not only will your games look great, they probably won’t also make you sick. Even a small disconnect between your head movements and screen refreshing can be nausea-inducing in VR.

The New Kid

Valve is the newest player in the game, but they bring a massive gaming pedigree with them. Valve has partnered with HTC to create the Vive, a VR headset that has all the capabilities of the other headsets, but also includes physical movement tracking. Its base stations allow a user to move around within a 15’x15’ area. The Vive’s development kit is scheduled for release this spring, and the consumer version is slated for the fall.

The Dark Horse

Magic Leap’s technology hasn’t been shown in public yet, but they’ve raised over $500 million from investors, one of which is Google. Their technology is shrouded in mystery, but we do know that it works with a mixture of virtual reality and augmented reality.

Look out for our in-depth thoughts on strategy, UX, and tech in VR, coming all month! To stay up to date, follow us @zemoga and subscribe to our newsletter.