My family finally did it. After experiencing Virtual Reality (VR) in a variety of venues over the past year, my two sons (aged 10 and 13) spent several months saving their allowance in order to be able to buy a VR headset for our home. The headsets aren’t cheap, and even less cheap are the powerful computers needed to run the VR software that powers the headset - but I told them that if they got the headset, I’d take care of the computer part.
Set up was easy, taking turns not so easy…
All of that saving and scheming finally paid off recently, when we emerged victorious from our local computer shop, armed with a mighty laptop and the VR headset of choice. Happily, it turned out to be very easy to install, and we had the entire rig set up and ready to go in under 30 minutes. (The most complicated part was figuring out how to place the external wireless sensors that cover the playing area – luckily, we had shelves in just the right places. Setting up VR in places without that pre-existing luck requires installing brackets or using tripods for the sensors, which is not difficult if you plan for it. Not all VR headsets have this requirement, however.)
After connecting the computer, VR headset and getting the sensors in place, the rest of the setup is done within the VR itself. One of my sons volunteered to be first into our magical new realm, and immediately after putting on the headset, we heard yelps of delight. “Wow! This is unbelievable! It’s so real! Look what I can do! This is AWESOME!!!!” The rest of us had to wait our turns to find out what he was experiencing, and I guarantee you that each one of us echoed the same sentiments, because, it was indeed AWESOME.
So what did we see that warrants all those capital letters? Well, in the specific VR universe we’ve joined, when you put on the headset for the first time, you enter a livingroom-like lobby with an outside terrace. The sunlight is bright, birds are flying overheard and singing, and it’s a beautiful, peaceful place. On the walls are large screens that show you which VR games and programs you have access to, as well as links to different game stores, chat rooms, and customization settings. It’s all very civilized, very Zen. And the controls are ultra-intuitive, with plenty of little surprises and delights along the way as you find out just exactly what you can do in this imaginary world.
In VR, connectivity is King
From there we could leap into the various games included in our original package, plus a few that we bought. Every single one is absolutely amazing, from the quality of the graphics, the creation of the different environments, the intensity of the game play, and just the sheer thrill and joy of it all. On that first night, we explored new worlds that included outer space, cycling along the California coast, spaceships, a virtual mockup of the lobby of the VR software company’s office, futuristic cities, escape rooms, sports arenas, and so many more. Ultimately, we had to use a timer to monitor turns with the VR rig - everyone wanted to keep playing, exploring and creating.
What you DON’T experience is also key
With VR, it’s important to note what we did not experience: 1) Dizziness or nausea. There was one isolated moment when our connection was slow and the VR world kept repainting itself, which was irritating and unpleasant, but more disorienting than anything else. We do have high-speed internet at home, which has generally ensured that we haven’t had lagging or buffering issues. The takeaway is that VR clearly requires superb connectivity. This is great news for all those fixed providers out there, plus all those high-capacity fixed-mobile substitution providers. 2) Social isolation. Even though only one of us can be in the VR rig at a time, the rest of us can see what the “VR person” is experiencing on the laptop screen. We cheer, applaud, and comment on whatever he/she is doing, because, of course, we’re there hanging around waiting for our next turn. 3) Boredom. VR is so overwhelmingly absorbing, and there are so many wonderful places to go and things to try, that I feel much like I did a couple of decades ago when I experienced the World Wide Web fpr the very first time. There are literally thousands of VR games and apps already out there, and this market is just getting started. This is going to be big. Really big.
Now that we’re a couple of weeks in to our VR life, I can report that of all the options out there, my favorite VR apps are the fitness applications, particularly one that pairs with a stationary exercise bike. I didn’t even realize that this was a VR genre, but it is, and it’s magnificent – there’s nothing like gameifying exercise to make you forget you’re exercising at all. When you’re trying to gallop fast enough to catch that horse thief, you’re not thinking about anything else, and you cycle like crazy! I’ve already lost two kilos…
Enterprise VR is taking off
The word from the world of Enterprise VR is that it’s already being used heavily for relatively inexpensive, immersive training for everything from insurance adjusters to airplane pilots to chicken fry chefs. That makes sense – when you’re in VR, you absolutely feel that you’re in that environment, so it offers a cost-effective opportunity to recreate specific training situations that would be expensive to supply in the real world. As for consumer VR, however, what we keep hearing is that it just hasn’t taken off yet. That’s fair. It’s largely because of the hardware cost required for entry (though Facebook is trying to address that with their just-announced, more affordable Oculus Go), and because the number of early adopters is still low, so we haven’t yet reached a moment of market buzz. But – we will. We most certainly will.
What does this mean for our industry? The need for powerful residential speed and capacity, whether by fixed or wireless, will only continue to increase, so be planning for that now. And if you ever get a chance to try VR, take it. Get thinking about its possibilities, long-term as well as today. I don’t know if we’ll ever end up building a parallel universe like the Oasis in the film Ready Player One, but I do think that the world of VR will eventually become a source of massive expression and inspiration for millions, and I know already that I want to be part of it.
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