The media hype surrounding VR is slowly dying down, but the technology remains. How will it change our everyday lives, and what potential do VR glasses hold for companies?
Virtual Reality (VR) has become a ubiquitous topic, enthusiastically embraced across industries and promising nothing less than a revolution in digital content consumption. The technology is not only celebrated by early adopters and tech enthusiasts, but more and more large companies such as IKEA or Audi are making their products accessible to potential customers by means of VR. And beyond the areas of communication and entertainment, there is also great potential in education, research, medicine and therapy.
But what is VR anyway, and how will it change our media usage behavior in the future?
VR initially refers to an artificial reality generated by special hardware and software. This can be a true-to-life archaeological visit to past cultures or a simulated flight in a spaceship, but also a true-to-scale tour of a construction project. All of this is difficult to compare with existing 3D technologies – and even more difficult to describe without experiencing VR for yourself.
The core of modern VR hardware is the VR goggles (or headset, head-mounted display) with two high-resolution displays for showing artificially generated images and a sensor system coupled to them for detecting the position and orientation of the head. If less than 11 milliseconds elapse between the sensor system and the display of an image – the so-called sensor-to-photon latency – the impression of being “present” in virtual reality (“presence”) is created.
There are currently two classes of VR devices on the market:
- High-end headsets such as Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, co-designed by game developer Valve, which connect to a traditional PC.
- Mobile headsets such as Google Daydream, Samsung GearVR or the cardboard Google Cardboard, which are significantly cheaper and work with smartphones
In addition, Sony is working on its Playstation VR system, which is scheduled for release at the end of 2016 for the Playstation 4, Microsoft is currently developing the Hololens holographic augmented reality solution, and major chip manufacturers such as AMD and NVIDIA are also researching their own VR modules.
Thought leaders in the tech industry believe that VR will shape our everyday lives and change the way we consume media in the coming years. In addition to games and VR experiences such as climbing Mount Everest or a documentary journey to Prypyat in the “Chernobyl VR Project,” VR could then also have a strong influence on media, industry, design, architecture, science, education, medicine, communication – in other words, on society as a whole. According to a recent forecast by Goldman-Sachs, VR revenues will overtake the TV market by 2025. Like TVs, PCs or game consoles today, VR headsets could then be standard equipment in many households. Today, we are still at the very beginning of an extremely exciting time as programmers, media creators and artists try to infuse this new technology and create innovative experiences.
In many ways, VR is a technology driver, as the demands on chip speeds, display quality and efficient software are extremely high. At the moment, most applications are merely logical extensions of what has already been experienced. However, VR makes these applications easier to realize, more immersive, and adds an additional layer of interaction, as these examples show:
- IKEA customers can virtually walk through their new kitchen from home, true to scale and with realistic graphics.
- Car manufacturer Audi is installing VR stations in showrooms where customers can examine any car configuration almost true to the original.
- The film industry is investing more in VR movies, including the “Story Studio” founded by Oculus itself.
- Sporting events could also be broadcast in VR in the near future, from the perspective of a top seat right in the stadium.
- Gamers can experience space battles up close with maximum immersion directly from the cockpit.
- Consumers of digital erotica can interact with realistically rendered digital copies of their favorite performers.
The technology is also already in use in the fields of science, therapy and medicine:
- Treatment of phantom pain in amputation patients.
- VR-assisted medical diagnostics, training of surgical techniques, tele-medicine and extended surgical field of vision
- Therapy of soldiers with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). According to various studies, VR can also be used to treat other anxiety disorders.
- Simulations in training pilots, astronauts, train drivers, etc.
If we believe game designer Jesse Schell’s prediction at the Game Developers Conference 2016, we will be able to relive beloved memories in unprecedented immersion as early as 2025 with the help of homemade VR home videos.
Exclusively in VR
However, things will get really interesting when content is created that can be experienced exclusively in VR, or when it is combined with other technologies to create something completely new. In the words of John Lasseter, producer and chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios, “It’s not the technology that entertains people, it’s what you do with the technology.”
For example, it would be conceivable to have an almost infinitely large, freely configurable virtual space in which millions of networked people from all over the world could communicate and interact together, free of linguistic and physical barriers. This space could be an egalitarian utopia in which origin, age, skin color, physical impairments and language no longer play a role. Or a loud, colorful nightmare, permeated by advertising and manipulation, into which the masses take refuge from reality. Social isolation from reality, the flight into a supposedly more beautiful world and the associated risk of addiction are serious problems, comparable to discussions about multiplayer online games such as “World of Warcraft”.
No matter in which direction VR will develop
The technology is already here, and it will not disappear again. Following the general development trend of the technology, the next generation of headsets will primarily become cheaper, smaller, lighter and more comfortable, and will thus probably find its way into the mass market. Now the ideas of creative people are needed above all to create unique content. Given the speed at which VR technology is developing, these ideas have the potential to fundamentally change many areas of our lives.