By Brian Klose
For some, the concept of virtual reality (VR) offers up limitless potential by creating environments out of thin air. On the other hand, virtual reality instills doubts in those worried about technological dependency, and those familiar with the popular TV show “Black Mirror.” These are two polorized attitudes that make navigating VR a complicated challenge.
Still, it is clear that the technology is a welcome addition to the growing market of digital media products. As the novelty grows into a more practical form of media presentation, VR has the potential to revolutionize the way people interact with their environments.
Until recently, VR was only found in high-end arcades and convention floors, or as an extremely inaccessible luxury. Over the past decade, game companies like Valve and Sony began to develop practical VR equipment for gaming purposes.
VR headsets and software are steadily growing out of novelty and into entertainment legitimacy. For example, Playstation VR, Sony Entertainment’s VR technology, has surprised its own company by exceeding sales expectations.
“Consumers had purchased 915,000 of the headsets as of Feb. 19, roughly four months after it went on sale,” said Nick Wingfield of The New York Times. “Sony’s internal goal was to sell one million of the headsets in its first six months, by mid-April. The company will almost certainly surpass that forecast.”
Playstation VR is the best example of a successful consumer version of virtual reality technology, but not the only one. The Oculus Rift, which released in March 2016, has sold nearly 250,000 headsets and is steadily releasing VR-tailored video games. Oculus also released Gear VR for Samsung’s family of smartphones. Gear VR turns the newest Samsung smartphones into virtual reality-ready headsets, giving the user higher quality video and a more immersive viewing experience.
Oculus became one of the first and arguably most well-known companies to operate primarily on a virtual reality platform. The technology made headlines in 2014 after Facebook purchased Oculus for $2 billion, marking the first notable step for VR into the mainstream.
In addition to media, VR is being used as training equipment for the military and as immersive drafting alternatives for architects and artists.
While consumer-level VR equipment is rapidly becoming more common, it isn’t without its shortcomings. The prices of headsets vary across different companies, but mostly range from $400 to $800, still a high price point for many. In addition, those new to VR are at risk of motion sickness and other disorienting conditions not common with most media platforms.
VR technology is also no stranger to controversy. In 2014, video game company ZeniMax sued Oculus for allegedly exploiting shared prototype headset designs, seeking $2 billion in damages and another $2 billion in compensation. Oculus was cleared of all charges in Feb. 2017, and ZeniMax was awarded $500 million in compensation, well-short of its expectations.
Virtual reality has a long way to go before it can truly be considered a mainstay in entertainment. The success of the Playstation VR and the growing trend of VR-smartphone integration point to a bright future for the ambitious technology.