The Matrix is No Longer Science Fiction
It’s extraordinary to think classic movies like Avatar and The Matrix won’t be in the science fiction genre much longer. What were once thought to be futuristic movies are closer than ever to becoming “realistic” thanks to the next wave of game-changing technologies like virtual reality (VR) on its way right now. VR is on the cusp of revolutionizing the entertainment, education, medical, retail, and transportation industries in ways that will affect each and every one of our lives sooner than one might think. The past 12 months have seen unprecedented growth in the adoption of VR head-mounted displays (HMDs) and the creation of new VR content. It all began with the launch of the sub $100 Samsung VR Gear. Then came the more powerful Oculus Rift and HTC Vive which have both created a much richer VR experience despite still being tethered. These new and improved devices paired with great entertainment and educational content have been the catalyst for the adoption of VR from almost zero to one million monthly active users in such a relatively short amount of time.
Despite technological and commercial challenges, VR popularity is growing at a very healthy rate. Now with Google, Facebook, HTC, Microsoft, Sony and potentially Apple putting their tremendous resources behind VR, the toughest technological and commercial challenges are being rapidly addressed. So much so, in just one week not too long ago (the first week in October 2016 to be exact), Google, Oculus, and Sony all showcased some great progress under these four main points:
1. More immersive experience: VR is all about an experience, and to truly immerse a user in such an experience, visual stimulation is not enough. We need to address more senses of the body like touch and sound. In doing so, the body will better “feel” the experience instead of just observing. Oculus has addressed this problem with unique headsets designed to provide spatial sound effects with the capability of modulating sounds with different distances and angles. Also, the Oculus Rift now comes with a room-sized tracking feature, so users can move throughout and interact with the virtual world they’re living in. Take a step forward in your living room and you’ll now do the same thing in the streets of Paris or wherever users decide to visit that day.
2. Touch Sensors: We are now able to see, hear and move in virtual space. But what about receiving feedback from the VR to our sensory organs? I want to “feel” as if I’m really there. For example, if I am playing tennis, as soon as my virtual racket hits a virtual ball, my hands should feel the impact and send signals to my neural networks. Or say in a shooting game, my hand would feel the virtual gun’s recoil effect.
With the Oculus Touch hand controller’s haptic feedback system, developers can send back and forth vibrations and motions thus taking the immersive VR experience to another level.
If you think this is great progress, just wait because there are even teams working on smell effects. (Wouldn’t it be nice if you could smell the forests and waterfalls of Pandora in James Cameron’s Avatar?)
3. Accessibility & Affordability: There are 2 main costs associated with VR:
a. The Price of Head-Mounted Displays (HMD)
With Google launching the Daydream feature in Android Nougat along with the Daydream VR headset for just $79 and Samsung reducing their Gear VR headset down to $59, millions of Android users can now affordably experience VR with most models of Android phones.
b. The Price of a Computer to be Plugged into an HMD: To experience the full VR experience, Oculus Rift has to be connected to a computer with a powerful GPU and processor. This is mainly because the content has to be delivered at 90 frames per second and render constant 360-degree view content with the ability to instantly change perspective all while avoiding motion sickness.
With the advent of “Asynchronous Timewarp” to fix directional jitter and “Asynchronous Spacewarp” algorithm to fix positional jitter, frames can be derived synthetically so it’s enough if computers generate 45 FPS as the other 45 frames are generated synthetically by calculating the difference between 2 real frames. This also reduces the number of frame drops by 50x. These 2 algorithms have reduced the required minimum GPU and chipset configuration of a VR ready computer substantially thus making millions of existing PCs VR compatible. Users now only have to invest in an HMD thus making the VR experience more accessible and affordable to everyone.
With the launch of PlayStation VR, millions of PS4 customers can experience the power of VR by only investing in HMD and at fraction of the cost compared to an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.
4. Investments: With deep-pocketed companies now seriously investing in VR, access to funding is much more available. HTC has set up a $10 billion VR capital alliance fund, the South Korean government has committed $360m over next 5 years for VR development, and Facebook recently announced another $250M investment in addition to a previous $250M investment to help the VR content ecosystem grow. Recently, Baoboap raised $25M for their VR story series.
With great strides in technological and commercial advancements in addition to an increase in funding, truly immersive VR is within the reach of the world. Just a few months back, it was estimated VR would be $30 billion industry by 2020. With such great progress, new studies have suggested the VR hardware market alone will be worth an estimated $50 billion by 2021 and reach 90 million users by end of 2017 before reaching 171 million by 2018.
So are you ready to explore the vast world of Avatar’s Pandora yourself?
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