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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The future of ‘reality’ may soon be virtual

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Virtual reality is the future. We’ve heard this for years now, but it’s finally becoming a reality.

VR is a technology that’s no longer just for gaming but has come out of its niche to show its real-world potential in education, healthcare, entertainment and more.

From kids to adults, professionals to gaming aficionados, everyone can enjoy a virtual world of their choosing. But what is the cost? What will it do to society as we know it? And which VR headset should you buy? 

How’s VR used today?

Primarily, we see VR’s popularity explode in the gaming industry. Platforms such as Oculus and Playstation VR have made virtual reality a mainstream product that is accessible to many consumers around the world. We’ve seen games from Star Wars, Half-Life and even Tetris land on gaming headsets with positive feedback.

[PlayStation]
If you’re buying a VR headset today, chances are you’re doing so to play a game with it, but its use-cases are not limited to just that.

VR is currently used to enhance many fields today. The military in some countries including the US and the UK use it to simulate realistic training conditions.

In sports, it’s used by coaches and athletes to repeat events from a game and re-practise it over and over again. We’ve also seen companies use VR for medical and educational uses, and even for product launches and concerts.

This was further boosted in 2020 due to Covid.

As the entire world spent months at home, many artists relied on VR to host engaging concerts online. This includes John Legend who hosted a mixed reality concert last year.

Rather than attempting to replicate reality, VR concerts tend to feature ‘gamified’ elements with cartoon-like avatars in the show. Jean-Michel Jarre, a French artist, allowed fans tuning into his concert to interact with each other in VR and to even take virtual drugs that change the colour of the screen.

Which headset should I buy?

During the early days of VR, headsets were often large, clunky, wired and expensive. Now, we have a wide variety of headsets to choose from, with various prices and feature-sets.

[Google]
The most accessible entry into VR is offered by Google with a foldable cardboard headset. It’s not the prettiest or most functional one on the market, but for $10 it’s an affordable entry for beginners looking for their first VR headset.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, HTC’s Vive Cosmos offers the complete VR package for $699. It features an advanced motion tracker and high-resolution graphics. A more expensive version is available for $899 with even more precise motion tracking.

There are better VR headsets available for in the $1k range such as the Valve Index, but HTC’s Vive Cosmos works almost just as well and for a better price.

The sweet spot of VR headsets coming in the mid-range field. Sony’s Playstation VR headset is perfect for anyone that already plays games on a PlayStation. At $300, the headset is affordable and doesn’t require investing in a gaming PC too.

[Oculus]
Perhaps the most popular headset comes from Oculus, a Facebook company.

The Oculus Quest 2 comes at $300 and features a wide library of VR games made for the platform. A $79 cable can connect it to a PC to enable VR gaming on a PC too, expanding the headset’s already large library to include even more titles.

Oculus Quest 2 is our recommendation for the best headset available to most consumers right now. It’s also redefining the future of social media.

A virtually social world

After buying Oculus in 2014 for $2.3 billion, Facebook combined its resources with the VR company to reimagine how we will interact with each other in the future. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has repeatedly emphasised that the future of VR is social.

Read also: Spotify takes on Clubhouse with new live-audio chat app.

In 2019, Oculus announced Facebook Horizon, a social VR world. The experience is still in an invite-only beta, but it gives us an early glimpse of Facebook and Oculus’ vision for a social VR experience. We’ve seen the company experiment with VR social networks before, but Facebook Horizon seems to be the most comprehensive implementation of its vision so far.

[Facebook]
But is socialising in VR actually social?

That’s been a subject of debate by many in the industry. Critics have referred to VR as a secluded experience that takes people away from their environment. Mark Zuckerberg sees it differently though.

Saying VR is isolating because it is immersive is a very narrow view of the world you’re [developers] all building,” Zuckerberg says.

Currently, video games and social networks already face criticism for reducing real-life interactions between us.

Children talk on Playstation parties while playing Fortnite instead of meeting up and hanging out in real life. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. Every invention that demands our attention has faced criticism for making us anti-social. Even newspapers were once seen as an enemy of social interactions.

A social VR world is still social, but it is virtual in every sense.

Facebook wants to make this experience as realistic as possible with Mark Zuckerberg sharing that he would “love to get to the point where you have realistic avatars of yourself, where you can make real authentic eye contact with someone and have real expressions that get reflected on your avatar.”

We’re still in the early days of VR experiences, but it’s hard to imagine a future without them. One in five Americans have used a VR headset in 2020 and that number is expected to grow globally in the coming years.

Do you think that a social VR can successfully mimic real-life interactions? Or are social experiences only present in real life? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.


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