Virtual reality was a fairytale, until recently, thanks to technology. The thought of it goes way back in 1935, where it was mentioned by an American science fiction writer Stanley G Weinbaum in a short story called Pygmalion’s Spectacles.
Although our virtual reality doesn’t have taste and smell as mentioned in the book, the rest of Albert Ludwig’s “magic spectacles” eerily foreshadow the current prominence for headsets and 360-degree games, videos and virtual worlds in mobile development.
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Virtual Reality for the Masses
What we are experiencing now in virtual reality all began in 2010. It was the work of Palmer Luckey, an American teenager who created the prototype of a VR headset that would evolve into the Oculus Rift. A Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to commercialize it was launched 2 years later amounting to $250,000 and therefore, the VR tech industry was initiated. In 2016, Facebook’s boss, Mark Zuckerberg, saw the potential that the Rift had and decided to buy the company for $2bn.
What we enjoy now as virtual reality was jump-started by the brilliance of Palmer Luckey. Since then, various competitors have emerged including the HTC Vive, Sony’s PlayStation, and smartphone-powered headsets such as Samsung’s Gear VR and Google Cardboard. In the meantime, VR games and apps are being developed daily by app developers, not mentioning the film industry where producers and filmmakers are using the VR technology in their documentaries and animation.
Meanwhile, thousands of developers are making VR games and apps, film-makers are exploring the potential for documentaries and animation. YouTube and Facebook are not left behind and are jumping on the bandwagon with their 360-degree videos. For those who are strangers to Virtual Reality, this article is for you and we are going to tell you everything you need to know about the technology, in terms of hardware, apps, and games.
What is virtual reality?
The headset is the most vital piece of virtual reality. This is a sort of thick looking pair of glasses that you wear and covers your eyes completely. Its price is what determines its quality, in that the more expensive it is, the better virtual reality experience you will have when you connect to your computer. The quality of the headset needs to match the quality of the headphones. To enhance the simulated experience of being in another world, there are also other optional accessories that you may connect to your PC. They include hand controllers and treadmills. Your real hand gestures are translated by hand controllers but you can also use standard gaming joypads.
Just like smartphones app stores, Virtual Reality devices also have their app stores. Here, users can browse and download games and apps. While some are accessed with the device, others like the VR section of the Steam digital games store are browsed using a computer.
The first commercial version of Oculus Rift launched in early 2016, which was four years after its first crowdfunding campaign. It was recently sold from the Oculus VR website and made its way to retailers around the world. Currently, you need a powerful PC to use the Oculus Rift. If you want to find out the minimum specs for an Oculus Ready PC, you will get the information on their official website. Some of the brands that offering VR-ready machines include Dell, HP, Alienware, and Asus. Oculus will expand its hardware offering this December by launching a dedicated Oculus Touch controller. The hardware is meant to translate your hand gestures into the virtual environment. This will cost you $199, which is not cheap.
Oculus Rift Apps and Games to Try
- Chronos: this app has plenty of depth as a role-playing game
- Minecraft VR: this is a blocky building game that also suited for VR as well
- Elite: Dangerous: this game gets more epic with a headset
- Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes: a multiplayer game for defusing while friends are watching
- EVE: Valkyrie: this is a space dogfighter meant for VR
- The Climb: this is a great mountain climbing game
- Apollo 11 VR Experience: this app is meant for those who love history moon-landing where you are sent on a moon-landing mission
- Within: this one a mixture of fiction and nonfiction videos to be viewed in VR
- Henry: this is an animated short film meant for virtual reality
Virtual Reality Accessories
Besides the big-name headset, there are also a couple of virtual reality products that are being introduced on to the market. Thanks to its early success, Oculus Rift’s Kickstarter is focused on VR startups touting hardware. Some of this hardware include headsets like Impression Pi, ANTVR, Cmoar, Opto, and FOVE, while controllers include STEM System, Control VR, Gloveone, and iMotion. However, you should do your research first before purchasing since some of them may not be compatible with your device or devices.
Another project (OSVR) from a gaming hardware company called Razer, is aiming to develop open standards around VR so that people can mix and match different headsets and accessories. Currently, there are only two versions of its prototype hacker development kit in the market. However, Razer is trusting that manufacturers will make their own headsets, using its standards.
How Do They Film VR?
First, cameras and editing software need to film and then knit together VR footage. This requires complexities and expenses of another level, which is not a cheap affair. Most people can’t afford Nokia’s OZO camera, going for $45,000. This is an example of what many filmmakers use in their professional use. A more affordable one is Samsung’s Gear 360 VR camera. This is a spherical camera which costs $350. With front and rear lenses, the camera captures 180-degree shots both horizontally and vertically to create a panoramic video or photo. This is a great starting point to explore within making your own VR videos. However, the price is still high.
The current popular app that uses VR tech is Pokémon Go. There are several other 360-degree cameras available in the market today including the Ricoh Theta S, Kodak Pixpro SP360 4K Action Cam, LG 360 Cam, Giroptic 360cam and the Vuze Camera. You should also be on the lookout for cameras projects that pop constantly on crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
360 vs Virtual Reality
“360” and “virtual reality” are two terms that are often used misinterpreted. However, scrutiny shows that there are several differences between them. The 360-degree photos and videos refer to panoramic pics and videos that have been stitched together. This action allows users to look around at a 360 degrees angle and that is about everything that you can do with it. On the other hand, virtual reality allows users to move around freely in a virtual world so that you can experience the virtual experience to the fullest. You can watch 360 videos and explore virtual with Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard, but all devices offer a mixture of both.
Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality
Other headsets offer digital wizardry but differences are what we call augmented reality. As much as the virtual reality offers almost a real-world experience through a screen, the real outside is not part of the experience. If you are not in a special room, you may break your arm by punching the wall. Augmented reality as the name suggests is adding digital reality to reality. You may be looking at an object but with some digital overlay.
Devices called Glass, which were augmented reality hi-tech spectacles launched by Google in 2014, was discontinued as mainstream products. However, more devices are on the way, for example, we have Microsoft’s HoloLens which will be the augmented reality equivalent of PlayStation VR. Another similar product on gaming is the popular Minecraft. Another great example is the AR headset technology from Florida called Magic Leap. This AG device has raised an astonishing $1.4bn in funding giving only a few teasers on what it looks like and how it will work.
Virtual Reality: More than Gaming
Companies and the majority of the users are using AR technology in gaming. This is because the original Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR headsets were made primarily for gamers. Another reason is that the technology is mostly embraced by gamers and they created a high demand. However, as Mark Zuckerberg explained after announcing Facebook was buying Oculus VR, there’s more to VR technology than just gaming.
Journalism and Film-Making
Although a lot of emphases is put on gaming devices, developers are also working on other kinds of entertainment and media. A few examples include journalists, film-makers and a growing number of documentary-makers. They are using 360-degree cameras to get new angles in telling their stories. There are also many different ways that Virtual Reality can be adopted.
Virtual Reality is a great technology that has been embraced so much in the entertainment industry. The technology, however, has endless possibilities. One major disadvantage of VR and AR is its price. They are quite expensive. If there is a way to make it cheap to the public it will do them some justice.