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Price, interface issues: Obstacles for VR adoption

12 Apr 2016  | Rick Merritt

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These days, more and more virtual reality (VR) devices have appeared on the market. The potential that this new technology can provide is tremendous, offering novel means of media consumption and consumer electronics interaction with the user.

I have seen the future of consumer virtual reality and it's really, really cool...but I'm going to wait for costs to come down and the quality of graphics and user interfaces to come up.

I'm no early adopter. Indeed I got my first flat-screen HDTV less than 18 months ago, a 32in Samsung model. I know the early adopters are already buying 4K ultra high def sets. I'm not a gamer. I once got a review copy of the Nintendo64 and briefly became addicted to Mario64 and other games. These days I sometimes play along on the Wii with my girlfriend's 10-year-old son, but I'm still learning the functions of the different buttons on the controller.

I suppose I am somewhere between a late adopter and a Luddite. But I am curious.

So I stopped into the VR Experience at the recent Nvidia event. I wanted to take a look at the Mt. Everest environment showcased in the keynote. The cinematic teaser was pretty cool.The Nvidia employee manning the demo used to work on the Shield, Nvidia's portable Android game machine. But that project has a lowered priority in these days of VR, a high end app Nvidia needs to own. So he now mainly does demos and other work on third party VR headsets.

I asked him what he thought of the Oculus Rift vs. the HTC Vive (he has not tried the Playstation VR). He said the Vive does a better job of interactivity but the Rift has a lighter more comfortable headset and better graphics.

My demo was on a pre-production version of the Vive. The Everest environment was very cool. Looking down from the peak made my legs quiver, but I didn't get the infamous VR nausea.

Everest VR environment

Figure 1: The Everest VR environment is due out this fall. (Image: Nvidia)

Knowing what to look for in the environment and using my Vive controllers was usually less than intuitive, at least for this non-gamer. Nevertheless, I could see how I could enjoy spending more time on Everest. This is a type of killer app for VR as far as I am concerned, take me somewhere real I cannot usually or easily go and let me experience it.

I had the choice of a few other titles to preview and picked one on the International Space Station. I'll never get there but love documentaries about it.

Here I got a real work out with the Vive controllers, trying several of their buttons. Several times I got confused which button was for what feature and what feature controlled what function. Thank God for my demo guy/coach or I might still be Lost in Space!

I got to stand in that famous cupola viewing Earth, and I got to do a spacewalk. Unfortunately, Google Maps satellite view and Google Earth have spoiled me. This environment's visuals of Earth were crude by comparison, though the 360-degree views were very cool. I could see doing a spacewalk after a hard day's work.

All in all, I'm not going out and plunking down $1,000+ for a new headset and high-end PC to run it anytime soon. I'll wait until, like my 32in Samsung HDTV, the price is more like $350.

By that time the graphics should be much better and the clunkiness of the user interfaces should be worked out, too. Though, no doubt, I will still be learning what all the buttons are for as I step up to the top of Mt. Everest from my own living room in say 2020.

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