Stacy, my wife, is an exceptionally grounded individual. She’s responsible, sensible, and disciplined; of the two of us, I’m the one far more likely to binge on Netflix, social media, Reddit, video games, and YouTube. Stacy just isn’t the type of person who gets impulsively addicted to technology.
That was before I introduced her to virtual reality.
Now, all Stacy wants to do is explore underwater habitats, travel through outer space, walk among dinosaurs, and lead armies into battle with a vigor that, to be perfectly frank, is a bit intimidating.
VR is incredibly immersive; in its clutches, your brain can’t decipher whether the world in front of you is real. You know deep down that it’s just ones and zeros, and you’re not really petting a giant neon jellyfish, but the experience is still so intense and realistic that you can’t help but feel a little confused when your brain tells your body that it’s underwater and, yes, that gelatinous sea creature is right in front of you.
Graphics in video games have been nearly photo-realistic for more than a decade, and the bar for animated realism continues to be raised by movies like “Avatar” and each new Pixar flick. Advances in multicore computing and graphic power now allow ones and zeros to be rendered faster and smoother than ever, creating the opportunity for vast and incredibly realistic virtual worlds to be built like never before.
VR adds a whole new element of realism to watching videos and playing games. Donning a headset and body sensors as you enter a virtual world blocks out all other inputs and focuses nearly all of your senses on the virtual environment.
The accelerometer in your headset tracks your head movements, seamlessly shifting your 360-degree field of vision to match what you’d expect to see if you were truly there — looking up into trees so realistic you can count every leaf or looking down at a field of grass where every blade is clearly distinguishable.
Even Stacy couldn’t resist the temptation to reach out and touch the scaly nose of a dinosaur that walked by. Imagine how people would react to a VR world full of kittens and other cute animals. How could you not try to scratch the belly of that baby St. Bernard in front of you?
When your real-life hand doesn’t actually register the soft fur of a puppy, the thrill your nervous system generates is like nothing you’ve ever felt before. Prepare to get addicted to this sensation.
Once you experience VR, it becomes almost instantly clear what companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Sony, and Google see in the future of this technology. Online communities like Minecraft and The Sims are already insanely popular methods for people to meet, socialise, and communicate — imagine what those worlds will be like in VR. Better yet, imagine Shark Week from the cage or a UFC fight from the perspective of the referee.
Years ago, Electronic Arts made huge waves in its popular sports games by allowing users to upload their faces to EA’s servers to be rendered as in-game characters. Today, rather than merely add your face to games, you could add your entire world to them, thanks to new centimeter-accurate GPS technology from The University of Texas at Austin.
Rather than post photos on Facebook to show friends what that beach resort was like, you can give them a virtual tour. Even I’d come listen to you insist that timeshares are a great investment.
Just think: You no longer need to stress out over creating a guest list for your wedding; you can virtually invite everyone. You’ll be able to share a sunset with your distant family and friends while you virtually chat; you can even watch some insane parkour videos while standing right next to the people doing the stunts. GoPro is the current king of action cams, but videos will soon become even more extreme by allowing viewers to strap themselves in and skydive, surf, and bike alongside the action.
It won’t be long before VR technology impacts every part of our lives, both at work and play.
Although its availability on the consumer market is highly limited, VR is already in the hands of some of the world’s most powerful developers. With a huge presence at E3 and CES, along with a rapidly growing software library ready for launch, everyone is betting big on VR.
Facebook has already implemented spherical video on its News Feed, and YouTube is currently amassing a rapidly growing library of 360-degree videos. Though it represents a mammoth financial and technological investment for these companies, this growing support already looks stronger than that of any other wearable on the market.
In short, if you’re at all invested in the worlds of entertainment, advertising, or software development, now’s a great time to get ahead of the curve by considering ways to leverage VR’s transformative power.
With any luck, you’ll have a chance to carve out a niche in the virtual world before my wife conquers it.
Pete Borum is the co-founder and CEO of Reelio