Are Virtual Reality Headsets Just A Gimmick? | TechTuesday

Virtual Reality (VR) is a genre in technology that I’m beginning to hear more and more of recently. VR promises to be a new and immersive form of multimedia and VR headsets are the devices we’ll supposedly strap to our faces, with a screen for each eye, to enjoy the entertainment. It’s said to be a “game changer”, but will it be?

Who’s Interested In VR Headsets?

In 2014 Sony announced that they are working on Project Morpheus; a VR headset which they aim to make fully functional with the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. In the same year, social giant Facebook quickly snapped up Oculus VR (who make, arguably, the most well-known VR headset: the Oculus Rift) for a cool $2 billion. Samsung then launched the Samsung Gear VR (powered by Oculus) to the consumer market.

And, of course, Google is doing something too. At the 2014 Google I/O conference they announced Cardboard – a super cheap, super basic, make-this-at-home Blue-Peter-style VR headset made out of, you guessed it, cardboard. Once you’ve made it, you just slot your phone in and it’ll display a different picture for each eye, which then creates virtual reality. Google then purchased Magic Leap;  a US startup working on a similar technology for head-mounted devices.

HTC is also working with Valve on their own headset.

So, there’s plenty of tech giants involved here, and we can’t expect their competitors to just sit around and do nothing. Cardboard, supposedly just for developers, was actually so successful that Google is changing it’s Android platform, so that it can power virtual reality headsets.

What’s It For?

The biggest use, clearly, is for entertainment. A VR headset will give consumers a whole new way of experiencing games, movies and other form of media. By only allowing the individual to see and hear this media, their brain will be tricked in to believing they are part of this virtual world. That, right there, is the game changer.

Other uses include scientific research (a camera streaming video footage to a VR Headset will allow scientists to see areas they couldn’t previously, such as inside the human body), therapy (helping with anything from phobias to post-traumatic stress disorder) and even training (flight simulation in the Air Force, for example). There’s all kinds of possibilities.

Is It Enough?

Now, the latter part of that previous section is quite exciting. Virtual reality is actually working as a fantastic tool for these environments in order to make a positive change – brilliant. Although, I can’t see huge spending on these technologies immediately in the public sector (NHS, public schools, etc), I can see it being useful and becoming a regular tool in many cases.

However, for consumers that “game changer” just isn’t enough for the drawbacks. I think it’s a gimmick. Now, sure, people are very interested and hard-core gamers/excitable developers are already jumping on the VR hype, but I think that’s it for now. I think most consumers will think it is an innovative and exciting new piece of kit, but that’s as far as it goes.

The 3D Flop

So, I think it will go down as a novelty – just like 3D television did in the home.

At first, I think consumers will be put off by the price versus the lack of content. Why would they shed out a couple of hundred to only play a few games/watch a few movies? Whilst I imagine a price drop and increased content availability is somewhat inevitable (even if developers are just exploring possibilities and aren’t intending to make content for this platform forever), this will be a huge concern for most consumers. Years after the 3D at home hype: Is there any new content? No. Does anyone use it? No.

Then you need to consider, if not by anything else, consumers will be put off by the idea of attaching a huge, bulky device to their heads through fear of look like a bit of a twat– the same problem 3D has. I feel like an idiot sticking a pair of 3D glasses on in the cinema and I feel like more of an idiot sticking a pair on at home because the technology is different and the glasses are very bulky. In fact, I tried it once and now I never watch 3D at home. Ever.

Maybe companies can make some dough out of the VR hype. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll become a public attraction like cinema, but I personally feel as though it will just fade out. I feel like companies are only getting involved because they have the money to play with and they need to seem like innovative companies against their competitors.

Image Credit: By Pestoverde on Flikr [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons