I’ve worked in technology for over 20 years, so I’ve had a front-row seat for some pretty exciting new developments. Until recently, it’d be fair to say virtual reality wasn’t one of them.
We’ve seen virtual reality (VR) try and fail a few times before. Constrained by the limits of the technology of the time, a handful of efforts from the likes of Sega, Atari and Nintendo in the 1990s were swiftly confined to the tech graveyard. Their failure effectively condemned VR to over a decade of desertion.
It’s been almost 20 years since these initial efforts to approach something verging on fulfilling our sci-fi inspired dreams – but finally, it seems safe to say that VR has arrived.
My virtual world
My first experience was with Samsung’s Gear VR, which I picked up last year for just shy of £70 – although it’s now available for around half the price. Getting started is as easy as installing a few apps, so in less than 10 minutes, I was ready to dive right in.
First up, I found myself in a lobby of sorts – the kind of room you’d expect to see at a luxury hotel. Filled with comfortable-looking leather recliners, a giant fish tank, and some jaw-dropping ocean views, I spent the first few minutes looking around and marvelling at the fact that it genuinely feels like you’re there.
In front of me, like a series of floating flatscreen TVs, were my options. Should I play a game, open a virtual photo, browse the video gallery or watch a film on the 360 cinema? It was difficult to know where to start, so I thought I’d ease myself in with some photos.
By tapping the touchpad on the headset, I was soon browsing a gallery of locations from around the world. A couple of taps later I emerged on a luxurious palm-tree-laden beach in the Maldives and I could almost feel the sun on my face. Looking down, it felt strange not to see my hands and feet where I expected them to be.
I spent a good few minutes taking in my surroundings, but if I’d been so inclined, I could have put some music on, rustled up a cocktail and stayed for a lot longer.
Dipping into video content for other destinations, I took a swim with some sharks, nearly jumped out of my seat on an African safari when I turned around to see an elephant just inches from my face, and took a dirt-bike ride in the Canadian Rockies.
And as with the virtual photos, there’s a whole ton of content here – and it’s free, immersive (headphones are highly recommended to get the full effect) and genuinely exciting to experience.
But this is just the start. There’s far more you can do with VR right now, and amazing potential for future development.
After this first experience, I’ve dipped in and out of VR when I get some free time, and have already downloaded a fair few games and experience-oriented content from the likes of Sky and the BBC. Much of it is free, but what you do pay for usually only costs a few pounds, and there are often discounts to be found.
I’ll be honest – the novelty of experiencing VR for the first time was a big reason why it was so immediately engaging, and you do get used to these virtual worlds. But since the sheer range of content means there’s always something new to try, it’ll be a long time before I get bored.
What are your own experiences with VR? Do you think it has potential for the future?