Virtual Reality (VR) is something I’ve dreamt about for a very long time. If I had to pinpoint when I started getting interested in it, it was when I first saw the Holodeck1 on Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s one thing to read about some fantastical world in a book and another to see that world come to life in a movie or even a traditional video game. It’s an entirely different experience to experience that same world yourself in VR.
In VR, there is the notion of “presence” – the sense that you’re actually there existing as part of that virtual world. It’s hard to describe until you experience it yourself, but one tiny, but powerful example is the Oculus Henry trailer.
In this trailer, you meet the star of the movie Henry, a little hedgehog. He comes out of the shadows and stands in front of you and puts our his arms for a hug. This trailer is interesting because of two reasons. First, Henry certainly looks like he’s standing right there in front of you due to the quality of the 3D rendering. Second, and more importantly, Henry knows where you’re looking2 so he actually makes and maintains eye contact with you as you look around. That makes it feel much more “real” than any other 3D I’ve seen.
You’ll see people compare VR to 3D TVs and 3D movies. While VR and older 3D content such as that certainly share a few things in common, most notably, the notion of depth, that’s about the only thing they have in common. With older 3D content, everything you saw was from a fixed viewpoint…you couldn’t move your head to see around an object or look in a direction the director didn’t intend. When you add in the freedom VR hardware gives you, it’s such a different experience.
The first VR experiences will be mostly games and entertainment experiences, which will certainly be great, but I’m most excited to see what other industries adopt VR. In particular, I think there is a ton of potential in the education space. One of the demos I tried put me in a classroom talking about dinosaurs and then it took me back in time so I could see the dinosaurs as I learned about them. Content like that will be amazingly powerful once VR becomes much more accessible & cheap.
I’ve experienced a ton of 3D content in my life and I can honestly say, nothing compares to the experience of VR. The VR that exists today is the first major step into the future. I can’t wait to start experiencing the amazing new content that is now possible and I’m even more excited to see what comes next.
- Yes, yes, I realize the Holodeck isn’t VR, nor is it augmented reality (AR). It’s practically a universe simulator in many ways and that’s quite a few steps from where today’s technology stands. ↩
- Technically, the consumer technology out there now doesn’t know exactly where you’re looking, it only knows where your head is pointing. If you keep your head pointing straight ahead, but look all the way to the left or right with your eyes alone, today’s VR hardware doesn’t know you’re not actually looking straight ahead. This will change in future hardware versions, but for all practical purposes, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re looking straight ahead so the effect works really well even without this detailed eye tracking. ↩