By Jaime Nava –
A couple years ago, Google introduced a piece of cardboard with a couple lenses. You had to cut the cardboard, insert the lenses, fold it together, and voila! You had virtual reality (VR). Well, you had to stick your phone into the headset as well. With the motion tracking and camera on the headset, Google provided a cheap way for people to experience virtual reality. The idea of a virtual reality headset made with something as cheap as cardboard seemed silly to a lot of people. In reality, it was an appetizer for the feast of VR to come. It was quite the success, and of course, everyone enjoys watching their grandmas freak out while riding a virtual rollercoaster. The crazy thing is, you can buy it for as low as $15. Even so, there has been a movement in the VR world in the process before Google made this pop-tech.
Prepare yourself for the VR flood to come. To start, there was one kid from Long Beach, CA who took VR to a whole new level. His headset got a lot of other VR companies scrambling to keep up with the Oculus Rift. Normally older VR headsets had a smaller field of view. We’re talking 30-40 degrees. It would be like looking out a window into the world. They were also expensive, like thousands of dollars expensive. The Oculus Rift opened the field of view to 110 degrees. This means that, instead of a window, you’re looking out across a balcony. Facebook purchased the company for $2 billion. I guess that tells us what they thought of it. Just a few days ago, Facebook had a conference (F8) that showed off some new stuff they’re doing with the Oculus Rift. Expect this to be in your face soon if you use Facebook. For this, expect to pay about $600.
Steam has its own headset as well. If you don’t know Steam, I bet you know a gamer who does. Steam is like parent program where you can purchase games and downloads and install them automatically. Just know that Steam does games very well. That said, they’ve got their own VR headset called the HTC Vive. They’re making it in collaboration with Valve, who’s famous in their own right. They’re even offering a supplemental element that allows you to put tracking sensors in other parts of your room for a non-chair experience. This one runs at $800.
Microsoft is in on the act, too. They have the HoloLens. What sets this one apart is how it augments reality (AR). That means you can see what is actually in front of you, but it adds in a digital layer on top of that. So, for example (and just an example), you could be looking at your kitchen table, and you could play a 3-D game of Angry Birds on top of it. Imagine round, green pigs falling onto your floor. It also has Windows 10 built in, too. The idea is to immerse users in an experience like walking through the planetary system, maybe doing a virtual autopsy, or looking at the parts of an engine just about anywhere. Right now there’s a developer’s version that’s too expensive to even consider ($3,000).
Sony is right there too with its own headset, Playstation VR. Like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, it’s total virtual reality that puts the user entirely into another world. The idea is to provide an immersive gaming experience. Imagine driving a virtual X-Wing where you could look at who’s on your six. That would be cool. Expect to pay $400 for this one.
There’s a bunch of VR stuff out there, and it’s only getting better. You’ve got some where you stick your phone into view like Google Cardboard. There are others that you can look for on your own. I’m just listing some of the biggies.
If you’re not bored by now, I’ll list some verbiage to consider in headsets to come. Latency is a big one. This is the time it takes for the computer to put something in view. You want this to be low. Imagine looking left and waiting even a fraction of a second for what you are looking at to come into view. That’s a latency problem. You also have refresh rate. This is how often the screen updates what it sees. The higher the better. This provides crisp and clear pictures and allows for higher frames per second. This works in tandem with latency. Then there’s screen resolution, which allows for more in the field of view. As an example, the Oculus rift has a 2160 x 1200 resolution, which equals over 230 million pixels per second. Per. Second. On top this, there are the sensors that detect which way you’re looking. All of this stuff and more adds up to a highly complex computer mounted on your head that would have been worth thousands in years past but now costs as much as your shmancy little tablet you use to read books or whatever.
Keep an eye out, folks. VR and AR is coming to a store near you. It’ll be used for showing your kids the solar system, letting them relive the Battle of the Bulge, or riding a rollercoaster on the moon. Your kids, grandkids, or nephews will be wanting this someday very soon. When you put it on, you’ll see why.