The IT world loves a buzzword. For the past few years this has been ‘The Cloud’, but now a new buzzword has entered the scene. VR, and it’s cousin AR.
But what exactly is VR? VR stands for Virtual Reality, and boiling it down to its simplest form, is strapping a screen and a bunch of motion sensors to your face, so that the environment you see on the screen moves relative to the way you move your head. So why are a lot of people getting excited over this? Well, it opens a whole world of opportunities up. From the standard gamer it provides a much more immersive world for them to explore, to more practical uses such as exploring areas of the world unreachable by humans (sending cameras down into cave systems for example). It can also be used creatively, with fantastic software such as Google’s Tiltbrush, which is like Microsoft Paint but in VR space, allowing you to paint 3D pictures and move around them in real time. The opportunities are endless, giving people the opportunity to do pretty much anything. This sounds great James! Where can I get one! Well, in terms of availability you can grab a VR headset right now and there are a couple on the market. The downside right now is the cost. The two major runners in the VR scene on the PC are the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, with the Rift starting at £550 and the Vive starting at a whopping seven hundred and fifty nine pounds. Yes, you read that correct, £759. But that’s just for the headset, you then need a powerful PC to run them which would most likely set you back at least £700-800. That’s a very high cost of entry.
If you’re purely interested in gaming, then Sony have just released their PlayStation VR, or PSVR for short. This headset will set you back half of what the Vive costs, coming in at around £350. You do need a PS4 to power it but nowadays you can pick these up for around £300.
I’ve had a go on all 3 and the HTC Vive is the best hands down, but you would want to expect that due to it being almost £250 more expensive than the next cheapest headset. The Vive and the Rift have the benefit of being on PC where pretty much anyone and their grandmother (providing they are great at writing computer programs!) can release software for them, as opposed to being locked down to Sony’s approval system to release the software on the PlayStation store.
You may remember I mentioned something else earlier, AR. AR stands for Augmented Reality, and where VR tries to send you to an entirely different world by occupying your entire field of view, AR modifies the world around you, by providing a clear display where it then overlays information on top of the real world. The major player in this area at the moment is Microsoft with their HoloLens product. The use cases for the HoloLens have been a bit more business orientated, with Microsoft demonstrating things such as Skype meetings where you can see the person in the same room as you, to having complete blueprint diagrams for a car and then exploding them out so you can see each part individually and work out where it needs to go. There is a lot that can be done with this and Microsoft are certainly pushing the technology forward to get some interesting programs created.
Microsoft are not only focusing on business use though and have on many occasions demonstrated Minecraft where you can manipulate your Minecraft world right on your dining room table.
The HoloLens is not out for consumers just yet, but is available to developers so that they can create software for it. You can buy one of the Developer kits if you want one, oh and you have $3000, because that’s how much they cost right now. Ouch.
There is a lot happening in both the VR and AR spaces, and I think we will certainly see this technology explode over the next 5 years.
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By James Rood