It’s easy to assume that virtual reality is only a recent occurrence. It seems VR has only recently came back to the public attention in the 80’s/90’s, but most do not know that VR has long been a challenge engineers have fought to conquer. Although some of the earliest known modern VR technology gaining popularity as early as the 1950’s, there’s evidence of virtual reality even as far back as the 1860’s. Paintings depicting a 360° view established the first historical evidence at an attempt of granting the viewer a “full experience” of a depicted environment.
Many people may be skeptical of some of the latest re-introductions to virtual reality, because we’ve heard it all before. Items introduced in the 90’s, for instance Nintendo’s “Virtual Boy,” were a big flop. They showed that the advancement was a possibility, but the price was not practical enough for the masses to get on board. Well, like most technology, timing is everything.
Companies delving into the depths of virtual reality technology today are not only testing its’ limits, but they’re also tackling issues that had failed for VR before: availability and affordability. For example, Google’s virtual reality team has introduced the world to Google Cardboard, which is virtual reality googles that are literally made out of Cardboard. For now, Google Cardboard only works with Android (not surprising), but according to the company it has already been shipped to 5 million users in the U.S. In addition, Google is working to span the reach of VR overseas to Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. The convenience of this new VR technology can’t be overlooked. Google Cardboard is being sold on the Google Store for just $15. That’s a lot cheaper than the headsets of the 90’s, which sold for close to $1,000.
Google isn’t the only tech company getting in the game. Facebook and Samsung have recently partnered to make Oculus, a VR headset that is tied to 350 apps, with a million users so far in April alone. While it costs around $600, its popularity and reach so far cannot be overlooked.
What are people spending so much time and money looking at? The most talked-about content spans everything from 360 experiences under the ocean to even virtual porn. These examples obviously become a huge concern for those who are a fan of the more old-fashioned “going out and doing things” approach. With new elements rumored to be added to the VR experience like touch and smell, soon we will live in a world where real life experiences will compete with the cheaper, safer, and more convenient virtual experiences of the 21st century.
While much has been achieved to further the advances of VR technology, there are still some aspects that will need to catch up before virtual experiences are to compete with the real life thing. In addition to the full-sensed experience being underdeveloped, we’re still waiting on wireless capabilities to catch up with that of VR capabilities. For now, the best experiences for VR are wired. With movements required to bring the virtual world full-circle, it’s easy to see how a wired device can definitely limit the experience.
Many may wonder where Apple falls within this new technology race. Although their advances have not been public, it is not unknown that Apple has been investing and working on Virtual Reality even before Facebook came to the forefront with Oculus. In 2006, they filed a patent for a Head-Mounted Display that had design more compact than has been seen yet. While Apple is taking their time with their developments, we expect nothing but the best when their advancements are launched in the future.
It’s fair to say that, unlike successful VR endeavors of the past, this generation’s recent attempts at creating stellar content, affordable and widely-available headsets have been a success so far. As more money and time is put into creating better and more realistic forms, more will be able to be done from our couch. With endless applications, it’s safe to say, we’re excited to see how these endeavors turn out.