Virtual Reality: Are you for real?
By Jonathan Fox June 2015
Our very own ‘techspert’ has an inside look at what’s really going on in the virtual world.
Remember that scene from Red Dwarf, where Lister has a slight obsession with his ‘virtual girlfriend’ in the VR room?*
Don’t remember? Here’s a reminder:
It’s one of the many classic Red Dwarf episodes that draws inspiration from real theories of technology in the future. It’s not only hilarious, but also gives an insight (albeit slightly jocular), into the possibilities that lie within the world of virtual reality.
The episodes plot centered around a virtual universe accessible via sensory equipment ie. wearing goggles and headphones that generate an interactive world through the use of computer generated imagery.
When the episode was originally aired back September 1988, virtual reality was a nothing more than a boundless and extravagant notion of what humans would get up to in the far, far future.
Well it seems now, that the far, far future isn’t actually as far away as they thought.
In the past couple of years virtual reality has gone from a farfetched, futuristic idea, to becoming, well, a reality. You can now buy virtual reality headsets ready to strap to your face and be instantly transported into worlds of dragons, spaceships and the odd zombie apocalypse. And there’s an increasing list products popping up, trying to grab a piece of the action.
Here’s a little rundown of what’s currently going down in VR town:
Recently bought by Facebook, this is the benchmark of how virtual headsets can follow your every head movement as you look around your pixelated environment. I had the pleasure of trying one of these out last year; After putting on the headset I landed into the depths of the pacific ocean where a giant whale passed underneath me and completely freaked me out in the middle of a tech demonstration. It’s surprising just how quickly and easily your mind adjusts to virtual reality situations as if they were really happening…
Similar to the Oculus, Sony’s VR headset straps to your head and completely whisks you away to an alternative reality. Powered by the PS4, this surely will become a required addition for every PlayStation guru.
Like the others, this straps nicely to your head like an octupus clamping gently to its prey. It also comes with a controller; perfect for shoot-em-ups and stick based activities… Tennis anyone?
A slightly unique design in that the main interface is your Samsung galaxy. Simply slot your Samsung smart-phone device snuggly into the facemask and hey-presto; you’re ready to fight some angry orks seconds after face-timing your gran. Note, do not confuse the two.
Much like the Samsung Gear, the VR lets you slot in your smartphone which becomes the screen. The big selling point is that you can use a range of devices including iPhones.
A different approach here. The Hololens doesn’t transport you to new dimensions as the other headsets do. Instead, it turns your room into a virtual playground. Using Xbox Kinect-esque technology you can turn your coffee table into a chess board or your rug into a tiny football pitch.
This is definitely the gateway drug to into the more defined virtual world of the above products. The thing about Google Cardboard, is that it is just a cardboard box, fashioned to hold your smartphone in front of your face. So you get the look and feel of the Samsung Gear and the VR One, but for the cheeky price of £25!
It’s also worth noting Google Glass; even though it’s not technically classed as virtual reality, more augmented reality. This was essentially Google dipping their toe into the waters of alternate realities. It tested how technology can interact with the world around us as it happens. Imagine going on holiday to Morocco and as you scout the local area relevant pieces of information are popping up in front of your eyes.
The interesting thing is the fact that so many international organisations are willing to put their weight behind this emerging technology. If they’re willing to invest so much time and effort into virtual reality, then you better believe that it will become commonplace in the consumer world very soon.
So what’s the big picture here? At the moment the big focus is primarily on gamers and hardcore-console users. But don’t be surprised if this becomes more accessible to the mainstream public. You think teens are anti-social now? Just wait until you can don a VR headset and be transported into a virtual Minecraft world.
The limitations are pretty flexible really, if you can imagine it, then technically you could build it in VR. The interesting point will be to see just how it develops from a domestic point of view. Imagine having an afternoon break and heading off to a simulation if Bondai Beach for ten minutes. Or chatting to your friend in Hong Kong by visiting a fictional bar for a quick catch up? Or what if you could visit your virtual office and do your day job from the comfort of your living room? There’s a lot of potential in VR for more than just gaming.
The real issue will arrive when the virtual world becomes more attractive than the real one…
*For the fellow dwarfers out there, that exact scene was from the classic episode ‘Better than life, S02E02’ where Rimmers’ self loathing ends him up living with Yvonne McGrouder and owing the tax man £18,000. Easily a top ten!