Virtual Reality - Is this real life or just fantasy?

virtual reality helmet from the 1990s Back in the 1990's Virtual Reality (VR) was going to be the next big thing, for a moment it did look that way, then it all went wrong.  The headsets were big and clumsy and generally not very good. VR went away for a long time until the Oculus Rift took Kickstarter by surprise.   The company  went on to be bought by Facebook for over $2 Billion dollars and itself kickstarted a new VR industry.

With this new interest in VR I thought a round up of some of the headsets and applications  would be a good idea.  The Oculus Rift is now in its 4th developer version.  A full consumer version is intended to be launched next year.

Other manufacturers haven't been resting on their laurels.

Samsung have taken a slightly different approach.  The Gear V.R does not use its own display but is a holder for the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. The Samsung phone acts as both the display and the processing power of the device.

All the current devices can be split into either a Rift type or Gear V.R type device.  Each method has its own advantages or disadvantages.  The Oculus Rift requires a wired connection to a P.C or games console.  This limits its mobility and flexibility but does enable  more  detailed and responsive graphics that a powerful Graphics Processor can give.  The Gear V.R  can be easier to set up and with not being tied to a P.C is more mobile both in the location it can be used and for the person using the device. Disadvantages of this approach are battery life, the power of the Graphics Processor (GPU) in the phone and that using the phone like this for long periods can cause the GPU to overheat so to protect itself it will scale back its output quality, either the frames per second or the detail that is shown.

Google took the Gear V.R approach to the extreme when it launched Cardboard at I/O its developer conference earlier on this year.  A cardboard kit that folds up into V.R headset and can accept a wide range of phones.  I recently bought one of these and was genuinely impressed at how good it is. There is a difference between what Cardboard can do and what the Rift can do but there is a place for both.  Rift can be such an immersive experience if you aren't used to it, it can be better to use sat down, I have seen people stumble around as they become consumed in the virtual world. Having taken Cardboard to work and letting a few people try it, it can be much more social experience passing the headset around and comparing and sharing experiences.  Less totally immersive, different but not less.

Similar to Cardboard is the DIY VR headset  also adds trucker cap mounting and inclusion of the Leap motion sensor as the Oculus Rift has done.  Headsets like cardboard and DIY VR will get more people trying out V.R, developing for it and thinking up ideas and applications, that can only be a good thing.

Other devices that fall somewhere between cardboard and Gear V.R are the Archos V.R Headset  and the Zeiss V.R One 

Don't worry I haven't missed the obligatory 3D printing and Arduino  mention here it is with the Adafruit V.R Headset 

The most well known of the other Oculus Rift type devices is the Sony Morpheus not yet released  and like the Rift will probably launch in 2015 but at the moment hasn't had the same amount of public testing.   Morpheus is intended for use with Sony consoles, though just like when the Microsoft Kinect was launched it was soon hacked to work on other devices as well , that could well happen with Morpheus.

Microsoft themselves probably  have a V.R headset in development but less is known about this and its currently more rumour than confirmed product.

There are lots of applications for Virtual reality devices.  Really it needs a separate post for them but a couple of notable ones are the Volvo app for Cardboard,   The Paul Mcartney app for Cardboard  and the Thomas cook 360 experience for the Gear V.R .  These aren't small niche ideas but large brands using V.R to demonstrate their product in new and interesting ways.

I've not heard much of V.R being used in museums or galleries yet except as an experience to try the technology. The only exhibition that I'm aware of using V.R is the De/coding the Apocalypse at Somerset house. Overall the exhibition is very good, it uses digital technology in a very restrained and grown up way, but the use of the Oculus rift didn't really work for me. I think mainly because it was tethered for i'm guessing security reasons and the cord was too short again guessing but for health and safety.  I wanted more freedom of movement.  Glad they tried though.  Looking forward to seeing more applications for V.R, given the amount of headsets available and software being developed will surely be some interesting concepts developed

Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality

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