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Oculus VR

VR's arrival is now closer than ever but what's it all about?

The first real headsets will start arriving at the end of 2015/early 2016, and it could bring benefits far beyond gaming.

VIRTUAL REALITY HAS had a painful history since it first entered the public consciousness in the 80s. Promises of immersive experiences where shattered thanks to bad hardware and poor experiences like the Virtual Boy.

Now things are different. Ever since the Oculus Rift started out as a Kickstarter, interest in the space has been rejuvenated thanks to a number of new competitors in the market.

With the first major headsets arriving at the end of 2015/2016, there’s still a few months more before you can buy them in the shops, but it’s an area that holds a lot of potential.

How exactly do these virtual reality headsets work?

Essentially, it’s displaying two images side by side – one for each eye – which in turn creates a stereoscopic 3D for you to look at. Both images have a wide view meaning it takes up your entire field of vision and have a slightly different angle which creates the impression of depth when viewed together.

The headset you use is able to track your movement by using a gyroscope so it knows where you’re looking. What it results in is your brain treating it like a real situation. You know it’s not real, but it really feels like it.

So what companies are involved?

You have Oculus VR, which kickstarted the move (both figuratively and literally) and were bought by Facebook, but you have other competitors like Sony’s Project Morpheus, and HTC and gaming developer and digital store Valve which are working on its own VR device Vive.

Then you have the more mobile experiences like Samsung’s Gear VR and Google with its jokey/serious inclusion Cardboard. Both systems require smartphones to work.

Vive will be released at the end of the year while Project Morpheus and Oculus Rift are down for an early 2016 release.

HTC / YouTube

So is gaming the main focus?

For now. It’s certainly easier to see how they would implement VR into a game that works with a first-person perspective, but that’s limiting the potential it has.

Alongside gaming, it can work as a medium for exploring areas or experiencing events remotely – think of exploring a VR version of Google Maps or watching a match unfold as if were physically in the stadium and you get the idea – but its uses go beyond that.

GameSpot / YouTube

One use is Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT) which is effectively exposure therapy but done in a virtual environment.

For example, US soldiers suffering from PTSD use it to relive live combat situations as a way to reduce fearful associations linked to traumatic memories. For phobias and fears, it’s a matter of placing them in an experience that simulates that fear like placing you on a plane if you have a fear of flying.

The graphics may not be the most detailed – running virtual reality simulations is a resource-intensive process, let alone a truly realistic experience – but as mentioned earlier, your brain makes you feel like you’re there and that’s a powerful tool to work with. This makes it an effective tool to help treat some phobias, especially since headsets are cheaper (in relative terms) and more advanced than they were a few years ago.

The success of it really depends on the type of applications that are available to it. Gaming will certainly appeal to those with high-end PC but to truly capture the general market, it will need to convince people that it’s much more than that.

How will you control them?

So far there are two different types of controllers. The first is the traditional controller from consoles like the Xbox One or PS4 while the second type is the Oculus Touch.

The best way to describe the latter is they’re like the Wii nunchuck (it has a joystick and buttons) but with a ring around it to track hand movements.

There are two for each hand and they’re designed to simulate hand movement within the game or experience, although the biggest issue with them is they’re not the default controller for Oculus Rift. Instead, it’s an Xbox One controller that’s included.

TouchContro1 The Oculus Touch. Oculus VR Oculus VR

Some experiences, mainly demos of the technology, may be on-rails (ie: you will be brought on a predetermined route like a rollercoaster) meaning you just let it guide you through the experience.

What kind of hardware will you need?

Ultimately it depends on the device itself. Samsung’s Gear VR and Google Cardboard use smartphones for its experience so provided you have a mid-range or high-end phone, the experience should be decent.

Sony’s Project Morpheus is designed with the Playstation 4 in mind although the level of detail may be lower than what you might be used to with traditional games.

If you’re buying an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, you will need a high-end PC to run the games since running VR games require a high frame rate for you not to get nauseous.

The former will also work with the Xbox One but for now, it limited to just streaming current Xbox One games through a virtual living room.

GamersPrey HD / YouTube

What are the issues facing virtual reality?

Nausea is the biggest problem mainly because what your eyes are experiencing isn’t backed up by your body as it’s not feeling the effect. The other potential problem is moving your head and what’s on screen taking a moment longer to catch up, which can be disorientating.

This is part of the reason why VR companies have been moving slowly. If VR is associated with nausea and vomiting, then there’s no way people will buy it. Fixing that is vital if it’s to have a future.

A possible solution for it is to add a virtual nose in the experience. While further tests are still required, the reason for this is it has a stabilising effect on the uses.

So far, Valve is the only company which has claimed to have cracked the motion sickness problem and Oculus VR feel the same way about Rift.

More importantly, how much will this cost?

That’s the big question and to be honest, there isn’t a real answer yet.

The development kit for Oculus Rift costs $350 (€315) and it’s possible that the official version will be somewhat cheaper than that when it released, but again, we won’t know until closer to the date. The same thing applies to HTC Vive and Project Morpheus as prices have not been revealed for them yet.

So with all of that in mind, we want to know is would you consider buying your own VR headset when they arrive?

Poll Results:

Hell yeah! (465)
I'll wait and see what games/apps are released first before deciding. (331)
Only if the price is right. (246)
It doesn't look like my sort of thing. (161)

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