Time to look at VR again ?

When something new hits the scene, I’m often reminded of the Gartner hype cycle chart:

You can look at everything from the initial web 1.0 dreams that today are actually happening because we went from 100mm online users to a couple of billion. Or look at the medical fields and where we were with artificial limbs 30 years ago, and today’s amazing offerings.

So in that context, I think VR (virtual reality) might be hitting that “Slope of Enlightenment”.

In the early and mid 90s it was all about VR for gaming, military simulations, and I even remember seeing a demo for a shopping experience. There was a big bush for a 3D HTML called VRML that I worked on a bit for some clients, and Netscape bought a company called Paper Software that had a VRML browser plug-in. People were talking about how the Star Trek holodeck was around the corner. But quickly VR and the overall idea faded from the conversation.

Fast forward 20 years and quietly some cool stuff has been happening. A kickstarter project, Oculus Rift, looked to raise $250K for a developer VR kit, and received over $2mm when John Carmack gave it his unofficial blessing. CHeck out this video below:

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Then this evening I was reading over on Tom’s Hardware this hands-over review:

“Holy $#!+,” I blurted after the Oculus Rift VR goggles were slapped on my face. It had nothing to do with the device’s physical aspect – the Oculus Rift was surprisingly light on my head despite its bulky appearance. I just didn’t expect to see what my eyes were sending to my brain, and everyone in the dark room laughed at my sudden outburst.

I would have said more, but I found myself a little speechless thereafter, lost wandering the streets of the Epic Citadel demo. I knew the experience would be awesomely cool, but I didn’t expect to still be talking about it a week later to everyone I know.

If you were there when id Software and 3Dfx changed PC gaming, then you might know what’s coming for you. At the time, John Carmack and his gang turned the grainy, pixilated polygon-based world of 1996’s Quake into a super-smooth environment with believable lighting effects. Heck, I can’t even remember Quake without GPU support now, but I remember cursing the moment I saw what the difference dedicated hardware support made.

This will likely be the very reaction every PC gamer will have when they use the Oculus Rift. In the private demo held by the Oculus team, I was seated in a chair and given a gamepad. The goggles were placed on my head and I was asked to look up, look down, look left, look right, and then look over my shoulder for calibration. That’s right: you can see whatever is behind you without having to turn your virtual body.

So looks like it’s perhaps time to start paying attention to this field again 🙂