2016 is set to be the year of virtual reality.

Are you excited? You should be.


As the Dauntless Agency's resident wordsmith, I’m intrigued by what this new medium could represent: for content, as well as the media we consume in a wider sense. But until the beginning of this week, I only really had vague, anecdotal ideas about it. Initially my thinking was: "well, it's just a gimmick, riding a massive wave of hype." As much as I love gaming myself, I was sceptical that it would prove anything more than another glorified peripheral for your PS4, Xbox or PC.

After all, hype is a bit like Uber rides: easy come, easy go.

But I decided to stop nay-saying for a minute, and start thinking about what the possibilities of VR could look like. Did some research. Clicked around. Among several articles I read, Mr. Zuckerberg had something especially interesting to say: that a major "new computing platform always emerges every 10 or 15 years that changes the way we do things, and VR is currently the most promising candidate.” If you cast your mind back to 29th June 2007, when the original iPhone changed the world, his statement is both exciting and has a precedent – one that's very familiar to all of us, and probably even sitting in your pocket right now.

Having read plenty around this new medium, I think he's on to something – read on for why...

"The Rift is the first headset capable of delivering presence, the sensation of feeling like you are inside a virtual scene, on a subconscious level."

Palmer Luckey, Oculus Rift Creator

Think About The Content You Consume

As a first example, now that Facebook own Oculus and their Rift, they’ve got big plans for how the technology will shake up video content within their own ecosystem. For example, over 1 million hours of 360° video have been perused on their platform by this point. And by leveraging this new technology going forwards, the social network plans to stream the quickest, highest resolution wrap-around videos possible.

Assume this will only grow in importance as time goes on: imagine how much more immersive 360° moving image will be. With a super high-res screen only centimetres away from your eyeballs, you won't be physically able to look away!

 

And What You Interact With

Next, imagine FaceTime, only with a VR twist.

Or really, video chat x100. We salute the Skypes and Google Hangouts of the Internet for revolutionising how we stay in touch with our nearest and dearest, and even our colleagues and clients. But talking at a computer screen will feel antiquated when you could feel as though you’re sharing the same space and conversing with someone. Even if they’re on the other side of the planet. Yup: soon enough, 360° VR phone calls will be reality.

Or, what about another example where your virtual presence – somewhere else entirely – could play a factor. What if you were confidently able to buy a house, without ever setting foot inside of it beforehand? I won’t go into the “newly emerging prop-tech sector” this time, but it’s food for thought nonetheless.

"A new computing platform always emerges every 10 or 15 years, and VR is currently the most promising candidate.”

Mark Zuckerberg

And Knowledge-Centric Content?

What about the VR effect on the industries we work in? Well, imagine you’re an aeronautical engineer, working with extortionately expensive equipment and machine parts. So what happens when you’re looking to train a new team? Having VR there to assist with equipment training and so on could revolutionise how industry-specific knowledge is shared. This could also be game changing for other skilled occupations and industries: think those connected to space agencies and exploration, those geared towards military purposes, and fields such as medicine.

In terms of education, VR could also massively impact both sides of the equation; the educators, and those in the market to be educated. Will it really matter that you live six thousand miles away from a world-class institution like Harvard? Just put on your VR headset and attend class that way. Or, could VR be a way in which to democratise the overall accessibility of higher education, at a time when intense competition for expensive university places is only getting more intense – not less?

Credit: Achievement Hunter / Rooster Teeth

The Bottom Line?

With VR, the sky's the limit. And this time round, I didn’t spend much time on social VR, nor did I really touch on the possibilities for video game entertainment. But hopefully these points have whetted your appetite. The best part is, in a just a few months time, you’ll have a few options:

First we have the Rift. Expected to ship later this month for £499 ($599 USD), it’ll have a 2160x1200px screen – so nice and roomy – with a refresh rate of 90Hz. It’ll also be the very first mass market headset available when it launches – though beware of potentially limited initial stock…

Preorders for the Vive went live today (Monday 29th Feb.) – priced at $799 (around £575). It may be the priciest thus far, but it’s definitely worth a look for the spatial awareness factor. That means that as you walk around a space with the headset on, the unit will be aware of this and factor your activity into the experience.

Sony’s offering, which should arrive sometime in Q1 of this year, also looks promising. It’s expected to be packing a 1920x1080px screen, with a respectable 120Hz frequency. Given a potential install base of approx. 36 million PS4 players, this also isn’t one to ignore. As it happens, Sony are hosting an invite-only press event in San Francisco very soon (15th March), so we should know plenty about it in good time.

 

For 2016, those are the big players you should know about: expect them to be making some serious waves. And that’s not all either. I have it on good authority that a colleague is preordering a Vive as I type, so check back here in April for our first impressions!

What do you think?

Is the the socially-geared Oculus Rift for you?
The motion-tracking Vive?
Or the more gaming-focused PlayStation VR?