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Why should I be concerned about virtual reality?

30 Mar 2015  | Jessica Lipsky

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This is some Matrix-level stuff, and I never even cared to watch that movie. Still, I was fascinated by a series of visual tricks Abrash demonstrated—most of which had to do with perception of colour, size, shape and direction. Our brains and eyes are constantly correcting and adjusting to create our world—and these adjustments are often incorrect. If the science is right, and it usually is, we each have a set of tragic flaws that can't be corrected by prescription lenses.

Using virtual reality to fix problems that actually need solving such as vision degradation really appeals to my practical side. Will I invest in a several hundred dollars' worth of expensive equipment so I can hang out in Facebook's courtyard or play a cool video game? Probably not. Would I be slightly more inclined to pay for something that augments my current reality if it supplements my vision and corrects for errors? Maybe.

Acceptance of virtual reality, even for sceptics like me, is inevitable according to Abrash. Compared to virtual reality attempts in previous decades, today's technology is far enough along to be compelling to consumers, and broad industry participation will push invention forward. While better audio, visuals, haptics and tracking that would allow you to see yourself in the virtual world (right now, you can just look around) are still in the works, there are some seriously compelling demos.

The next-generation Crescent Bay Oculus demo showed me seven scenes that both delighted and scared the hell out of me. My favourite put me high on a plank above a Gotham-esque cityscape, with planes buzzing overhead. As I leaned down, I could see what seemed like 100ft below me. Two scenes featured a dinosaur that roared in my face with a ferocity that brought me back to Jurassic Park. The piece de resistance was a fight scene developed by Epic Games that literally made me jump—the flying bullets, explosions, cityscape and aliens were so real.

Crescent Bay, the next generation of Oculus, is lighter with integrated audio and 360 degree head tracking. Oculus did not provide specs on display, but Abrash said pixels were "strobed at 90Hz." Whatever the image quality, the visuals were vivid and tactile.

This all makes me think that maybe, just maybe, these folks at Facebook, Microsoft, Samsung and the like may be onto something. In a year or two when my brother has purchased a pair of virtual reality glasses, I'll actually be stoked to try them on.


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