Virtual Reality – The New Medium for the Next Generation

When virtual reality appeared in the display world, there was a clear application for the Sony 3D Viewer, the Zeiss Cinemizer and other devices as a personal viewer of movies. This means we were watching a standard video on a headset rather than a display in front of us. When we discuss display technologies for home entertainment it is mostly about the quality improvements and size of this display in front of us.

Virtual headsets took this development to an extreme. The display was very small, but really close. As history taught us, neither was very successful.

The image above demonstrates this approach very clearly. There are many reasons for this market failure, but the technology did not just die, it moved on. Taking hints from the helmets of jet fighter helmets, augmented reality was trying to enter the consumer world. Many device generations later, Google showed us a prototype that could actually work in the real world. As we all know, they just pulled the plug on selling prototypes caused by some backlash from social awkwardness. As life is always unpredictable, just as that happened, Microsoft came to the rescue of the augmented reality idea.

Parallel to the struggles of augmented reality, Oculus Rift appeared showing prototypes of head mounted displays to game developers. Oculus focused on making the optical performance a little better by increasing the field of view and paying attention to what virtual reality can do to the mind of the viewers. Motion sickness is the easiest one to observe first hand, just by wearing some older headsets, combined with the wrong content. For some unknown reason, virtual headsets have to show extreme roller coaster rides to grab your attention!

Oculus was soon bought by Facebook, a move that few saw coming.

So what is the whole issue with virtual reality anyway? First of all, we all use images to create a non-existent reality in our brain. Whether it’s a picture to bring back the memory of our last trip to the mountains, or a movie to take our minds off the day to day grind. All create a new reality for a short period of time. Cinema has so far been the ultimate in this field as the dark environment focuses our vision system on the screen in front to create this “make believe” reality. In recent months more and more people have used the virtual reality vehicle to do the same.

While Oculus Rift was originally a gaming device, we have seen Nurulize come out with a virtual reality environment and now Oculus Story Studio has created a story telling environment that can be enjoyed by users at home or any other location. This is different from games, as in this implementation the user doesn’t have an objective, he just observes. The differences are rather small and the differentiation between a a game and a movie may become smaller and smaller in the future due to this development.

The following movie describes the goal of Oculus Story Studio pretty well. It creates environments, not games. The viewer can wander through the environment and look around to allow a 360 degree view of the scene, not just what the camera is capturing. Interestingly, we are also seeing quite a few 360 degree cameras being developed to capture just such environments from the real world.

This is amazing, new technology and hardware is developed and without even being available to the consumer, new content creation models come out from nowhere. This is reminiscent of the very early days of movie making. Making the first movie was a technical challenge – how to make money with it was a complete different story. This is exactly what Oculus Story Studio is saying, virtual reality is a new medium, not just a new headset.

Of course, some will say that this is the end of our society as we know it and they are absolutely right. However, every groundbreaking technology throughout history did exactly that. They all shattered the existing status quo, such as the printing press, telephone, fax, internet, etc. You get the idea; whenever we develop a groundbreaking technology the consequences are much more far reaching than anyone ever imagined. Virtual reality may just be such a technology. – Norbert Hildebrand