The hype train is back on. There is a new tech here to keeps us guys busy and drooling over. And companies are in glee seeing its capabilities and the money-making potential it has. It’s called Virtual Reality (VR).
Almost every big company including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Samsung, Sony, HTC and Steam is touting this as the next big thing, for both smartphones and computers. But before we dive any further, lets first get a sense of what VR is, and why it’s the ‘Hail Mary’ for an increasingly stagnant mobile and PC hardware industry.
Virtual Reality is a computer generated four-dimensional (4D) environment which can be viewed by wearing a special VR headset which feeds image to the user’s eyes through special lenses. The noteworthy aspect of this technology is that the environment created is interactive. The reason being that it is sensitive to the eye and body, meaning that it reacts and generates appropriate images and sound based on their movement.
“When anything new comes along, everyone, like a child discovering the world, thinks that they’ve invented it, but you scratch a little and you find a caveman scratching on a wall is creating virtual reality in a sense. What is new here is that more sophisticated instruments give you the power to do it more easily. Virtual reality is dreams.” – Morton Heilig, Virtual Reality and the Exploration of Cyberspace
To put it in a non-nerdy way, this technology will enable you to escape your reality and enter new and exciting worlds. You can ride dragons, kill zombies, go trekking on Mars or fight aliens in your living room, not through a screen, but by actually experiencing it (or so you will believe) with your own eyes and by using your hands and arms.
Although there is some work still left, the technology has matured quite a bit in recent years thanks to improvements led by giants like Facebook and Samsung. The prototype models of the VR headsets for developers and early adopters are already available with the first consumer device ready to hit the market in 2017.
The VR experience is available on mobile, PC and consoles. Google and Samsung have headsets which work by strapping in a smartphone. Facebook and HTC have headsets which require users to tether them to powerful PC hardware. And Sony, for now, is the only console maker offering a VR experience, with its headset requiring to be plugged in the PS4 to work.
But there is one catch with these VR devices. They work only with the most powerful of devices. The phones, consoles and PCs will have a label ‘VR-Ready’ to guarantee that they can provide a smooth VR experience. Anything below the minimum requirements will simply not work.
Why? Because the technology is ‘immersive’. It is going to hinder your two main senses: sight and sound, which means you can’t see and hear anything while you’re immersed in VR. And to make not sure to harm your eyes or body, you need powerful hardware for the headset to respond in sync with you body.
The screen will be an inch from your eye and the computer generated environment will have to respond extremely quickly for you to avoid VR sickness. It is said that games and media have to be optimized at a bare minimum rate of 60 fps, but 90 fps being recommended if possible. Also, as mentioned above, the screen will be inches away from the eye, essentially making it a requirement for them to have high resolution and pixel dense displays.
So what does this mean? Well, to render graphics and media at this much quality and that much fast a rate, you will need seriously spec’d devices. Here’s the minimum requirement for a VR compatible PC machine and smartphone:
There are no concrete specifications for a VR ready smartphone. But Google is developing a VR headset with its own virtual environment called ‘Daydream’, which has support of some big media companies such as HBO, NBA, Ubisoft and Netflix.
Daydream-Ready phones will need to have highly responsive displays, appropriate sensors, the latest chipsets and loads of RAM. And none of today’s high end smartphones will be compatible, as confirmed by Google. So, if you want a VR experience on a phone, consider waiting and upgrade only when Daydream ready phones are available, of which Samsung, HTC, Huawei and Xiaomi are already making.
Both Microsoft and Sony, the big guns in the console industry, are breaking the rules and releasing new and updated models of their current-gen consoles, just after a few years. But they assure not to offer any other exclusive features over their predecessors other than VR compatibility and better graphics.
Microsoft has officially confirmed working on a such device codenamed ‘Scorpio’. On the other hand, while Sony hasn’t officially confirmed working on a VR compatible console, but a device named PlayStation Neo has been leaked from reliable sources.
“Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming.” – Mark Zukerberg, Facebook
As we can see, the spec race is back on. In the last couple of years, having the latest mobile phone or PC didn’t feel as important as it does now. A decent 400-500$ PC or smartphone would last for a year or two without breaking a sweat. There were no noticeable improvements or exclusive features other than better graphics to make people want to break the bank.
But VR is here to change that. It’s here to give you a reason to upgrade to the latest and greatest again. With a plethora of great entertainment on the way, there’s no reason you shouldn’t start saving up for VR in 2017. With big game titles like Batman, Star Trek and Resident Evil coming to thrill us, iMAX planning to open six virtual reality movie theatres, and Google providing us with VR entertainment on the go, with support from companies like HBO, Ubisoft and NBA, it’s hard to imagine what new horizons will open up when VR actually gets there. And we better be there for the ride, for better or for worse.
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