Virtual reality, the tech world’s latest obsession is doomed to fail. The movement has been slowly gathering steam since 2012 when the “Oculus Rift” Kickstarter campaign brought it into the public eye. With the potential applications in anything from entertainment to education, it comes as no surprise that industry titans like Facebook and Microsoft have invested heavily in VR technology. With the first headsets set to be released in early 2016, excitement has reached a fever pitch. The notion of being able to fully interact with a virtual 3-D world has captivated our collective imagination since Tron. If done well, the technology will revolutionise the way we consume and interact with information.
But what are the chances that the pending release will deliver on our lofty expectations? What everyone seems to have forgotten is that we have been here once before. In the early 90’s virtual reality was hailed as the “next big thing”. Despite sizeable investments and a plethora of VR gear being released, the technology just wasn’t sophisticated enough. The experience was exactly what you would expect from a 90’s video game.
Crude blurry polygons barely resembling faces being seared into the users eyes from a screen half an inch away. Obviously in the past 25 years, computer graphics have come a long way. Game characters have leaped over the uncanny valley; digital environments are far richer and more complex. Yet despite all of these advancements, VR’s original problems still haven’t been resolved.
The headsets have certainly become more compact, but they are still fairly obtrusive. Many users become nauseated as a result of “VR sickness”. Then there is the issue of price; the headset alone is slated to cost upwards of $350, couple this with the cost of controllers and various other accoutrements and the price climbs even further. Not to be overlooked is the fact that the headset will need to be coupled with a high performance computer to run smoothly and all of a sudden the market for such a product becomes rather small.
Even if these problems are somehow solved before release, a fundamental question still remains. What exactly is virtual reality geared towards? So far most people in the industry answer with an ecstatic if somewhat naïve “it’s for everything”. Whilst its broad range of possibilities make this statement technically true, it doesn’t really offer any guidance to someone who is genuinely asking what they will be able to do with the device if they actually buy it. The logical thing would be to cater towards video game fans. The technology has very obvious applications and many will have the high-end performance computers necessary to run virtual reality.
However, VR is intrinsically a fairly solitary experience. With many developers focusing their attention and resources on creating compelling multiplayer experiences. VR is in direct conflict with this growing social trend within the industry. In short, virtual reality just doesn’t have a place yet in today’s world. Shackled by inadequate technology and burdened by the unrealistic expectations of pop-culture, VR will just have to wait a little longer before it can actualise its true potential, it is simply a matter of time.