Virtual reality only semi-real

By Grady Flanary

Despite the fanfare leading up to the March 28 launch of the Oculus Rift virtual reality system, VR fever has not yet reached a boiling point. The current VR technology’s lack of features and functionality guarantee that only enthusiasts are likely to adopt the fledgling technology.

Despite the hype about a potential broad range of personal and business applications, since its inception, VR has focused on entertainment. The design of the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, launching April 5, and the PlayStation VR, set to launch in October 2016, favors video games more than video conferencing. 

Nevertheless, Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus VR and creator of the Oculus Rift, said in a March 28 NPR interview that one of VR’s potentials is the ability to help users communicate face-to-face in a virtual environment.

Luckey said despite the convenience provided by media such as email, Facebook and Twitter, they are not the best ways to communicate and VR could be a more efficient alternative.

If that is what Luckey views as the future of the technology and the best way for it to be more readily accepted by consumers, the current Oculus Rift is a far cry from his goal. Without improved functionality, the Oculus Rift is unlikely to reach this potential.  It will be stuck being a novelty item or a state-of-the-art toy.

Unfortunately, the Oculus Rift fails even in that respect. A 2015 Wired article said motion sickness was especially prevalent when using 360-degree video, as the medium is “inherently limited.” Even something as small as the slight movements made when turning your head are missing in 360-degree video, and there is no way for the cameras to solve this problem at present.

There is also the issue of cost. The Oculus Rift is currently priced at $599, and the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR will be sold for $799 and $399, respectively. Along with to the cost of the peripherals is the associated cost of purchasing a computer capable of effectively running the software. The cheapest recommended prebuilt PC for Oculus, for instance, costs $1,199.

Skimping on the processing power associated with these luxury computers will likely result in a display with a low frame rate—the frequency at which images on the screen refresh—which has been associated with nausea. 

Virtual reality technology has great potential both as a tool and innovative form of entertainment, but without sufficient innovation from both the manufacturers and program developers, it will not find a home outside of enthusiasts.

While it may be a long time before we are truly living in a VR world, it would be best to keep a watchful eye on VR. Regardless of whether the technology fulfills all it promises and more, it will be interesting to see where it goes.