Virtual Reality (otherwise known as VR) is two words you have probably heard creeping into your conversations over the past few years. But what exactly is VR and why is it only beginning to gain momentum now? In this article we will be exploring the ongoing development of VR Headsets, the influence of the gaming industry and a court case involving a major social media platform.

The definition of VR is an artificial environment created using a computer-generated simulation of three-dimensional image, to immerse a person in an environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way using specialised equipment. The concept behind virtual reality was born in 1935 from science fiction and throughout the past 83 years has grown to become what we know today.

The reason that VR is only gaining momentum now is due to the rapid development of technology in the 21st century. As technology is becoming more powerful, developers are able to use this to their advantage to create infinitive new inventions thus bringing their ideas to life. Without a doubt 2016 has been a key year in the virtual reality industry. Three major companies released their first VR Headsets; these companies are Oculus/Facebook, HTC/Valve & Sony.

There are two different types of headsets, tethered and mobile. The VR headsets that these companies released are known as tethered headsets. They are physically connected to a PC. The cable makes them a bit unwieldy, but putting all of the actual video processing in a box you don’t have to strap to your face means your VR experience can enhance your experience in VR. Mobile headsets are shells with lenses that you place your smartphone into. The lenses separate the screen into two images for your eyes, thus turning your smartphone into a VR device. We must take a closer look at the characteristics of the devices to understand the differences between them:

  • Technology – Tethered has a lot more technology than mobile. Not only does tethered make use of a dedicated display; it uses built-in motion sensors and an external camera tracker that drastically improves both image fidelity and head tracking.
  • Processing Power – The processing for mobile headsets is done within the actual phone; however no leads are needed to connect to the device. Whereas with tethered, the PC does all the processing and leads are required to connect the two devices. A noticeable difference in quality can be seen whenever the two are compared, tethered being the superior of both.
  • Cost – Everyone has a mobile phone, but if you have a Samsung or Google device then you should be able to use them with the VR headsets. Mobile headsets cost between £44 (Samsung Gear VR) to £85 (Google Daydream View). It is a cheaper alternative than buying a tethered headset which is more expensive in comparison.

Overall we can decipher that mobile headsets are a good cheap option for those who wish to try VR, but it is not the full experience which tethered headsets provide.

VR does sound like an amazing experience but there is one simple problem. Money. VR headsets are expensive. Extremely expensive. If you are willing to fork out at least £400 for this experience, it will be well worth it. This is actually the cost of Sony’s Playstation VR. The Oculus Rift follows that price tag at £500 and the HTC Vive tops the list at £800. Unfortunately we will not be looking at the advantages and disadvantages of these headsets in this article; we will be writing a follow up in the next few weeks that will educate you on everything you need to know before you buy.

We talked about how technology was allowing for advancements to be made within VR, but what is driving the development of it? Believe it or not, the video game industry is the main reason that VR is moving forward. VR enhances the gaming experience for players and puts them in the virtual world that they have longed to live in. It is a new and exciting experience that developers and companies alike are jumping at the chance to capitalize on. Whenever VR headsets first arrived, there weren’t a lot of games released. Instead demos were released as an experiment by developers to see what would work.

These demos were used to see how players would respond to controls, how they would interact with their environment and how they would respond to different scenarios. From these demos, developers received the feedback needed before going on to develop full games. One of the consistent problems in VR is motion sickness. Since release, motion sickness from movement within VR has resulted in players only playing for short periods (20 minutes to 30 minutes) before having to take a break. Developers have tried to combat this with different solutions. In a game called Rec Room, you have to point and click to where you wish to move. In Super-Hot VR, you are stuck in one position, meaning you move using your body and the motion controls. These methods are effective and players commended the games for dealing with the problem.

The most recent game that released exclusively on Playstation VR was Resident Evil 7 (RE7). This is the first major triple A game which gives players the option to play through the game entirety in VR. For those of you who don’t know, RE7 is a tense survival horror; this is not for the faint hearted. As it is already a horror game, the immersion the headset provides enhances the tension. The experience is more stressful and it’s terribly frightening whenever you can’t look away. A way to stop yourself from kicking over a vase or running into a wall whenever you have the headset on is to close your eyes. A simple way to save yourself from those cheap but effective jump scares.

The video game industry is not the only one that is making use of the VR as other industries look to utilise the technology too. Photography companies are trying to refine and develop omnidirectional cameras (otherwise known as 360 cameras) which will record/capture footage in every direction. This would allow pictures and videos to be created and viewed in VR. This type of technology could be used at sporting events and concerts, putting you right in the front row to get a first-hand look at the action. YouTube and Facebook have supported both of their websites.

Speaking of Facebook, the company was caught up in a lawsuit recently because of Oculus (Facebook bought Oculus in 2014 for $2 billion). The jury found Oculus had breached a contract with video game developer ZeniMax whenever it was developing the Oculus Rift. ZeniMax had argued that its early innovations in virtual reality were unlawfully copied whenever the Rift was being built. A US court awarded $500m (£395m) to ZeniMax but for them, that isn’t enough. ZeniMax are trying to get a federal judge to bar Facebook from using or distributing the Oculus until the part of the disputed code is removed. The decision is likely a few months away but ZeniMax have a decent enough chance at getting the order. For Facebook this would mean they would face a tough choice between paying a large fine or fighting and possibly risking their reputation.

If we have any more developments on the ZeniMax story, we will keep you updated. Unfortunately we won’t have our normal discussion article next week; instead we will have a special review article. However if you have any topics you would like us to cover, please feel free to email us at sound@queensradio.org!

Head of Sound

Our Head of Sound & Technology here at Queen's Radio. You'll probably find him in the studio fixing something that's broke again...before you ask, have you tried turning it off and on again?

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