According to a recent New York Times article, “Virtual reality is virtually here.” The VR industry is now “real” enough to attract the attention of the big boys of the technology and entertainment industries. Facebook recently bought frontrunner VR firm Oculus VR in a $2 billion deal that closed in July, prompting Sony to unveil its top secret “Morpheus” VR project. Samsung is putting its reputation and technical prowess behind their “Gear” VR, and dozens of VR startup business are sprouting up every month.
Unlike the lukewarm consumer reception of Google Glass, VR is expected to be “the next big thing,” with forecasts of one unit in every four homes within 34 months. That saturation rate is seven times faster than home computers grew decades ago. The difference is VR offers complete immersive replacement of human vision and audio, rather than Google Glass’s information augmentation.
Among other industry leaders, Brendan Iribe, Oculus CEO believes VR will be bigger than PCs. Even at this early stage, this prediction is inevitable. Historically, new computer platforms seem anti-social at the onset. Once the platform matures — things change. This was certainly the case when personal computers were introduced. Since the advent of My Space, Facebook, CrunchBase, Ello, LinkedIn, etc., computers are now an extremely social platform.
Then came the computer platform of mobile. First, it had to go through the Newtons, Blackberrys, and Palm Pilots for a decade or so. The iPhone matured the computer platform of the mobile space. Now, with Twitter, What’s Up and texting, mobile is hugely social, in many cases replacing personal interaction.
Virtual Reality is just getting started as the latest computer platform. Its awkward infancy was launched by a ski mask HMD (head mounted display) device called the Oculus Rift. The Rift is making massive ripples in gaming and is expected to expand into education, communication and especially entertainment. In time, Iribe says it will eventually adapt to a form factor much easier for people to adopt, — like sunglasses. VR is going to be extremely social since it’s largely about face-to-face communications. Why? One simply cannot replicate the experience of person-to-person communication except through virtual reality. Facebook and Oculus share the goal of over a billion people virtually talking to each other.
Iribe says, “Hollywood is getting really excited about VR, too. VR companies have been talking to directors and actors. Hollywood producers are looking at this as next generation of real-time cinema, where you actually feel like you’re ‘in the movie’ because once you experiences just how good it can be. Watching movies on a traditional 2D screen starts to be a lot less compelling when you can actually be in the movie itself.” As Randall Rudd, CEO of Immersion Industries, creators of immersive, narrative movies, says, “Once you’ve experienced ‘living’ in an Immersion (an interactive, narrative VR movie), there’s simply no going back to old fashioned ‘window style’ movies. It’s a completely different experience.”
When will VR officially move from virtually here — to here? Nobody knows, exactly. According to Brendan, “More than a few months and less than a few years.” All we know for sure is that it will be worth the wait.