Let us begin with a quick primer on the history of VR. VR was made in 1965 by Ivan Sutherland – he created the”Ultimate Screen”, a system that could overlay wireframe insides on a room. The army was concurrently investigating and investing in VR’s potential for flight simulation and training.
The VR industry continued to grow during the next few years, but appeal was confined to just the most ambitious engineers and early adapters because of the cost of elements, and the computers that powered them. In the early 90’s, the cost on a good virtual reality apparatus was over $50,000.
Fast-forward 40 decades and Palmer Luckey (the inventor of the Oculus Rift) made his first VR prototype at age 18 in his parents basement. Luckey finally developed the product that would come to be called the Oculus Rift.
The statement of the Oculus was followed closely with technology insiders, programmers, and early adopters, all of whom had been chomping at the bit to experience this new frontier in VR development. It was not long before heavy-weights such as Facebook, Google, and Samsung took note and started investing heavily in VR with the hopes of making the initial consumer ready device. Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg said that he sees the purchase as a”long-term bet on the future of computing.”
The current lineup of VR products run the gamut in terms of accessibility and price. You can get your feet wet with Google’s product (aptly called Cardboard). Cardboard is extremely inexpensive, approximately $20.00. Rather than a built-in screen like the Oculus Rift, this item is powered with any Android cellphone running 4.1 or higher (simply slip your phone into the”headset”). You build it all yourself, after Google’s step-by-step directions with pictures.
The phone powers the whole encounter with software found in Google’s Cardboard app shop ). There are no external wires or clunky hardware to deal with… only the Cardboard case along with your own Android phone. At Primacy we recently built one to check out at house – the whole build took about 5 minutes from start to finish.
Given the present pace of innovation it is a safe bet that both the hardware and software for Facebook’s Oculus technology is only going to get better in the months ahead. The consumer version, although not currently available, is expected to be published mid 2015. The programmer model (DK2) costs $350 and comes packed with a very low latency screen (the same used at the Samsung Galaxy Note 3). The unit also comes with a gyroscope, accelerometer, magnometer and a near infrared camera for mind and positional monitoring. Programs are run on a computer that’s connected directly to the headset via an HDMI and USB cable.
Samsung saw a chance to jump in the VR mix and partnered with Oculus. They have produced a headset that resembles the most consumer-ready device so far. Samsung’s Gear VR Innovator Edition is precisely what you would expect from the tech giant both in terms of usability and quality. It is also the most expensive alternative, coming in at an msrp of $200 for the headset + $750 (off-contract) for the telephone necessary to power it. Unlike Google’s Cardboard, the Gear VR only works using a Samsung Galaxy Note 4, so if you are fortunate enough to already own one you can save yourself a substantial quantity of money.
The headset itself is very well designed and very intuitive. There is a volume toggle, touchpad, and”back” button on the right side of the headset which can be used to navigate through VR experiences and software. The top of the headset retains a focus wheel which is used to adjust the attention to optimum range to your eyes. Two straps hold the unit firmly in your mind which seals off your vision from the external world to enhance the feeling of immersion. Plus, not having any wires tethering you to a computer helps make the experience more pleasurable and mobile.
There is no need to take the device off your head so as to download or change software… everything can be accomplished through the Oculus Home menu or Samsung’s program library after the initial installation and configuration. There are a small number of interesting and useful programs included out of the box such as Oculus Cinema – for watching videos and movies in a digital cinema, Oculus 360 Pictures – for viewing panoramic photographs, and Oculus 360 Videos – for watching panoramic videos. Samsung also recently published a market called Milk VR that’s essentially YouTube for VR.
Samsung Gear VR
We’ve found that a lot of the applications available today are graphics heavy and the experience can degrade quickly without a fairly good graphics card. It’s worth noting that encounters between 3D graphics and rapid movement can quickly become nauseating to some people because of frame-rate or GPU limitations and a phenomena called”judder” (if the pictures become smeared, strobed or otherwise distorted), so it’s actually the responsibility of programmers to make”comfortable” experiences which aim to minimize judder. Regardless of the downsides – when used in tandem with a computer which has a high end GPU, the result is a feeling of immersion that 10 years ago would have seemed impossible. The PC SDK is designed for the Rift DK2 where-as the Mobile SDK is meant for Oculus powered apparatus which leverage cellular phones.
We’re just beginning to crack the surface with VR. The development of panoramic video and photograph is making it effortless to”teleport” audiences to places they could never physically be.
Imagine a front row seat to watch your favourite band play live… with the freedom to check in any way in real time. Imagine sitting in a seminar room half way round the world and interacting with other people as though you were actually there. These are simply a couple of the incredible applications that VR devices such as the Oculus Rift enable. So stay tuned – if present progress is any indication, virtual reality is here to stay, and it is going to be invading your living room or office much earlier than you may think.