VR the future

By: Bryan Tropeano

It’s here. The Sci-Fi fantasy that many of us once dreamed about can now be purchased for a few hundred pounds or at least emulated with a cardboard box and a smartphone.

Virtual Reality is one of the newest ‘old’ technologies around, finally hitting the mainstream with the latest generation of headsets from PlayStation. The technology has been around for a while, but its appearance as a console add-on is the huge leap that has brought VR games to more living rooms.

A history of alternative realities

Finding its roots in numerous Philip K. Dick and similar 1960s Sci-Fi stories that featured some sort of future-tech headset, virtual reality as a concept is actually quite old. The fantasy of entering a world where we can do pretty much anything is a popular one, so it’s no surprise that video game developers have been the champions of an actual solution.

The 1990s, when video games really started to gallop, saw quite a few game-changers that turned the 2D scrollers of the SNES and MegaDrive into the impressive 3D titles would eventually reach into the billion-dollar level of global revenue. Amongst the ultra-successful N64s and PlayStations there were a few forgotten consoles that are still languishing in the 90s videogame graveyard.

The Virtual Boy, Nintendo’s landmark VR console, was absolutely breath-taking at the time – on paper. The world’s first foray into virtual reality headset consisted of a red VR ‘helmet’, with a battery controller (6 x AA!) attached via a clunky piece of plastic which kept the wire in place. Blood red stereoscopic images were broadcast onto the screen, using a technology developed from a headset called Private Eye, which was rejected by Sega for inducing motion sickness too easily. The whole thing was a complete disaster, costing too much money and becoming Nintendo’s second-worst selling product just after the pointless 64DD. Despite this, it was still an impressive piece of technology and did indeed create an environment that moved with the players head (only left and right, up and down was too complicated).

Between 1995 and 2010, not a great deal happened in the world of VR. The video gaming world was transformed by both the high-definition console and the internet, with more than enough impressive gameplay available without the need for another dimension. Palmer Luckey, a tech genius from silicon valley, then decided it was time for the Occulus Rift. Only able to be used with a high-end PC, the Occulus was one of the trailblazers of modern, high-definition VR, with players fully immersed in head-tracked 3D worlds, with 3D sound to match.

After selling over 200,000 units and given some competition by the similar HTC Vive, PlayStation realized the popularity of the Occulus Rift and began devising the PSVR. They had already experimented with augmented reality along with Microsoft, producing the PlayStation Move camera and controllers which brought the players actions onto the screen, along with avatars that matched their movements. The PSVR is now a year old, with almost 100 VR titles and experiences and over a million units sold.

Why VR will change everything

Although the PSVR is an impressive piece of kit, we’re still in the early days of HD VR. Google cardboard has slowly helped people to become interested in what VR can do, but the leap in both quality and price is still the hurdle that VR needs to overcome. At over £300 including any games, the PSVR is the cheapest VR headset out there, and the quality isn’t quite at the HTC and Occulus levels thanks to the limits of the PS4. This has still allowed there to be some impressive titles and applications which will eventually become the only way to game.

Take PlayStation’s latest Gran Turismo title, Gran Turismo Sport. The phenomenal graphics and exceptional detail of this game have made it one of the best selling racing games of all time, and the newest game has an extra wow factor for PSVR owners. Transported to the seat of selected racing cars, players can experience some serious immersion, with 360-degree races presented in full 3D. Although the graphics are still on the way to 4K and the headset is still extremely noticeable, the whole experience is absolutely incredible. If this level of detail and fun could be applied to every game, players will certainly start abandoning TV screens.

Even the add-ons and ‘experiences’ are incredible. From flying like an eagle through real-life locations to watching movies on a virtual cinema screen that really feels like it is 20 meters wide, it really feels like you’re in a different place.

One massive area that could change completely with VR is online casino gaming. Online gambling already suffers slightly from the whole grandeur of a casino as well as human interaction being lost on the small screen, so it’s exciting to think of top games in 360 degree 3D. The best gaming companies will already be considering how they can implement VR, online slots are particularly popular at the moment, there is a huge range of games available and VR could be the perfect opportunity to target younger players and increase the size of the industry even further. There is no doubt that those who specialise in poker will also be very excited, imagine winning a game of online poker face to face with someone on the other side of the world.

The next generation of VR

For now, VR is still limited to those who have a real interest in gaming. Phone based VR using Samsung Gear or even the rudimentary Google Cardboard is ok, but the limits are pretty huge. Small phone screens don’t come close to the ultra-high resolution screens on an Occulus Rift for example, and the level of details is quite basic thanks to limited graphics outputs on mobile devices.

The biggest game-changer will be when headsets become more portable and less clunky. All of the headsets currently on the market require a power supply and are frankly huge, especially the PSVR which can cause headaches, not from the extended use of VR, but the straps that dig into the back of player’s heads. There’s also the issue with wires, with the majority of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi simply not powerful enough to transmit the huge amounts of data to headsets.

Once these issues begin to disappear and the level of worlds gets even bigger, then we can expect more developers, businesses, and brands jumping on the VR bandwagon. For now, we can still get excited about DOOM, Skyrim and Fallout 4 VR all appearing over the next few months.

Bryan TropeanoBryan Tropeano is a senior producer and a regular reporter for NewsWatch.  He lives in Washington D.C. and loves all things Tech.