Virtual Reality is back with a bang in 2016, as the various brands finally have systems that look good enough for the modern consumer.
Various Virtual Reality systems have been developed over the last 30 years, but the hardware was too slow and simple to do anything more than basic novelty displays. However, after a good few years of work, crowd funding and the rise of mobile semiconductor technology, we are finally in a position to enjoy proper virtual reality.
VR is where you wear a helmet fitted with stereo screens acting like glasses that show you a fully rendered, real time interactive world. Speakers help provide immersive audio and you move around the world with a games controller or special hand-held controls.
Contenders for Virtual Reality
There are three classes of virtual reality either available or about to hit the stores for consumers. The PC class of virtual reality can also be used by businesses for design and instructional purposes, but we’re sticking with the fun aspects in this piece.
Instead of staring at a flat screen, you are “in” the cockpit of a race car or spacecraft, or the eyes of the character. Even in games not played from the first-person perspective, you can more easily view the world around you and the 3D audio further.
A word of warning, many people find themselves feeling rather queasy when first playing VR, so take it slowly. The developers have noted these early experiences and have tried to reduce the lag between movement and the system to eliminate the problem.
Products like Oculus Rift (https://www.oculus.com/) are now available for $599, after some four years in development following a massively successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. The Rift utilizes the massively powerful hardware in the latest PCs to produce the highest quality visuals.
Also available is the HTC Vive system (https://www.htcvive.com), at $799. It comes with infra-red sensors that you can put on your walls in your game room. These help track you, so the player can actually move about in the game world, as long as there’s plenty of space and nothing to trip over.
Since many of us already have portable HD screens in the guise of our smartphones, some makers have developed $100 mounts that turn those phones into the VR screen. Samsung’s Gear VR (http://www.samsung.com/global/galaxy/gear-vr/) can fit various Samsung smartphones while the generic LoopVR will take most phone types.
While nowhere near as powerful as PC VR, this provides a low cost and fun way to explore VR worlds via mobile apps. There are even super-cheap cardboard mounts that can help turn social events like concerts into VR experiences.
Sony is the only console maker focused on VR right now and its PlayStation VR (https://www.playstation.com/en-gb/explore/playstation-vr/), formerly known as Morpheus, launches in October for $399.
Turning any PlayStation 4 game into a virtual experience, one player can use the VR headset while others watch them play on-screen, or a second player can use a regular controller and use the TV set for cooperative gaming.
Whatever your choice, virtual reality is now officially here and will be a a great way to enjoy interactive experiences in the coming years.