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Technology Trends: Virtual Reality - Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: Virtual Reality

Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is not new. Anyone paying even casual attention has seen pop-culture representations of the headsets that look like high-tech ski-masks, strapped to someone’s face to provide the illusion of binocular vision and 3D space. Video game manufacturer Sega announced twenty-five years ago its intention to release its Sega VR, and although this product never made it to market, its rival Nintendo did release the Virtual Boy in 1995, a tabletop device with a handheld controller that was a commercial flop by every measure, and discontinued only a year later.

But when Facebook purchased a VR company called Oculus Rift two years ago for two billion dollars after a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign raised more than two million dollars, it signaled what many predict will be the real explosion of VR in the consumer space. Set for release in just over a week, the first of Oculus Rift’s consumer devices has been taking pre-orders all year, with demand so high that even most pre-orders aren’t expected to ship until well after the release date. With a price tag of $600 and multiple firms displaying their own VR offerings at the recent Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, many pundits predict that this is the next big thing.

As in any new tech space, there’s a lot of elbowing for room in how the hardware will deliver its experience. Oculus seems to have an early lead in the market, but it’s not a standalone device, requiring connection to a PC. While the ubiquity of home computers makes this seem to be something of an advantage, the dominance of standalone game consoles in the world of gaming should inspire at least some doubt. Sony’s PlayStation VR (coming in October) will work similarly with its PlayStation console. Other VR devices, such as Google’s Cardboard and Samsung’s Gear VR, run right from mobile phones. Cardboard’s headset holds a phone in place while the user looks through lenses at a projected display from the phone itself, while Gear’s strap-on headset pairs with a Samsung smartphone via Bluetooth. HTC’s Vive, also set for release in the coming weeks, will come with two laser-pulsing base stations, sensing the user’s whole-body movement within a room.

It seems only months ago that VR was clearly a niche market within the gaming space, but Facebook’s investment, plus in-development products from other designers, indicate a wider target: social media. The technology that lets you blast your friends out of the sky while each of you plays from your homes hundreds of miles apart can bring you together for less competitive purposes. Combining the best functionality of social media interaction with a real-time, same-space experience found in such games as Second Life and World of Warcraft with virtual reality presents what could be limitless possibilities not only for friends liking each other’s cat pictures, but for meetings, education, and group social communication.

It’s impossible to tell whether this new wave of VR technology is the beginning of a new world of experience across a wide swath of online connectivity, an amazing disaster like the Virtual Boy, or something in the middle with a segment of its target marketplace, but with so many prominent players putting out so much product at once (with prices initially ranging from $99 to $600), it’s going to be fun to see what developers come up with, and how consumers will respond.


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Technology Trends: Virtual Reality - Executive Leadership Articles

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