The VR space has been ramping up for a while now, thanks in part to Oculus Rift and the fact that Facebook bought them for a VERY large sum of money a little while ago.
Since Oculus originally debuted on Kickstarter and then were subsequently purchased, a VR arms race was started. Everyone is rushing to get their solution out there, evident by the fact Oculus have been working on their headset for years, the problem of creating a decent functional headset is harder than it appears.
The reason it has taken so long is when Oculus development started, the screen technology was not there yet. A crucial key aspect of VR is low latency. When the latency goes beyond a certain level, when you turn your head fast and there is any kind of noticeable lag: it is a recipe for VR induced motion sickness.
Fortunately Oculus and other manufacturers thanks in part to great screens from JDI and Samsung’s own high resolution AMOLED screens, have been able to produce high resolution and low latency headsets (as witnessed by anyone who has an Oculus DK2 headset or has tried Project Morpheus).
Companies working on VR headsets include (and these are the ones we know about):
- Oculus Rift
- Sony’s Project Morpheus
- Microsoft HoloLens
- Valve Software’s HTC Vive headset (a collaboration between Valve Software and HTC)
- Samsung Gear VR
- Magic Leap (unannounced VR headset)
Most of these headsets have one thing in common: most of them have not released a consumer release product just yet, with exception of Gear VR.
Not only are major companies working on virtual reality headsets, but tonnes of Kickstarter campaigns and smaller indie upstarts are taking their shot at the VR crown as well.
Even though you can buy an Oculus Rift developer kit headset, they have yet to release a consumer-focused version of the headset aimed at the gamer or general PC user. Meaning you need a beefy PC with decent graphics card and GPU power to even run it.
Microsoft only just announced HoloLens, but it has been in development for years. It takes a different approach in adopting stereoscopic 3D and augmenting reality, not replacing it. We will most likely see HoloLens in 2016, although no release date has been announced.
While we’re not really going to see any VR headset make its debut in 2015, Oculus and Project Morpheus in particular are slated for release in the first half of 2016. I think it is safe to say the technology is definitely ready, but the content is not quite there yet.
It will be interesting to see what the virtual reality landscape looks like in 2016. Will we see fragmentation or perhaps a combined effort to produce content that works on every commercial available headset? Who knows.
Every company will want to lock consumers into their monetised ecosystem, but without the content, it would be a chicken and egg scenario where consumers would only buy the headset if it has the content and companies only producing content if the consumer numbers are there.
I am excited about the potential of virtual reality, it has been a long time coming and I am definitely ready. While initial releases will undoubtedly be great, it probably won’t be until 2018 when we see headsets really come into their own (leaps in screen tech and tracking).