The Future of Virtual Reality

5/29/2017

Which new peripheral devices should we expect for games? Could they help to propel our gaming experience to the next level? Virtual reality is on the advance, although it has not quite reached the mass market yet.

Today we will look at which VR devices are currently being developed, which further VR developments we can expect in the near future and what gamers have to look forward to. Furthermore, we will take a peek at what we might expect further down the line, which senses can be engaged by virtual reality and what the gaming world of the future will feel like.

New technologies in Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is not limited to headsets and optical devices. After all, “VR” means that elements of reality, with physical features, are used in real time within a computer generated world.

For that reason, VR technology should not only engage our eyes, but will ideally also involve our movement or speech.

A whole variety of technologies can be used to make this possible. Stereo projection, optical tracking systems and force feedback are just a small selection of the technologies developers are making use of. As these are gradually becoming more refined, virtual reality reaches players more readily, becoming ever more impressive and versatile.

VR headsets and Motion Controls

VR in games

Despite having received a lot of attention upon its release, the VR headset’s popularity was ultimately rather limited. Virtual reality via wearable headsets was copied extensively even before Oculus launched its pioneering model. The relatively high price certainly didn’t help and put off many potential consumers.

In spite of this, VR headsets are an impressive VR device. They let players experience game worlds up close and in a radically different way. The headsets feature an extremely wide field of vision, which gives the player the sensation that they themselves have become part of the virtual world. Turning your head when wearing VR headsets, you automatically find yourself looking around the game world. It’s a great invention that opens up completely new world of gaming - except for the fact that it’s still pretty pricey (VR headsets for mobile devices are cheaper, but also significantly less powerful).

Alternatives to the high-performance Oculus Rift model include, for example, the HTC Vive and the PS VR - although the latter is only compatible with PlayStation 4.

The Oculus Rift is equipped with “touch” controllers, which allow the additional use of joysticks and keyboards as well as game control via gestures. Meanwhile, the HTC Vive offers considerably more accessories; a headset, a controller base station and a tracker can be purchased separately.

Another model is the Sulon VR headsets, however, they never gained widespread popularity. Other manufacturers include: Durovis, Avegant and Gameface, though many of these companies’ products are only available for the mobile market.

Even before VR headsets were launched, devices such as Kinect had been elevating game control to a new level. This technology was the first that allowed players to control games via movements - in particular, hand gestures.

This opened up completely new ways of gaming and truly changed gameplay in many homes. Nintendo’s Wii also utilized this type of gaming control. It made it possible to create a whole new game experience when playing tennis, bowling or even boxing, as the optical controls required the correct movements, rather than just the push of a button.

In combination with this kind of motion control, VR headsets create the perfect conditions for a type of virtual reality which can be experienced by engaging the human sensory and motor systems.

Why VR isn't popular with gamers

If VR technologies of this type are already available on the market, why do we not find them in every living room yet?

Reason #1  is cost - until now, VR devices for the home still cost several hundred dollars.

Although some cheaper alternatives are available, they haven’t managed to win over buyers.

virtual reality hasn’t really caught on

Reason #2 is closely related to this: Not every game can be experienced as virtual reality with these devices.

Only new games which were designed to use this technology during the development phase can be enhanced with VR headsets or other VR devices. So it’s up to the gaming industry to consider VR technology in game development and provide the consumer a wide variety of game options. However, this is a slow process, since VR can’t be integrated into a game overnight. Game developers first need to explore these new possibilities, and find appropriate ways to deploy the technology. By now, some games that use VR technology already exist, however, most new big releases still lack this functionality.

Reason #3 is the hardware requirements for VR headsets and other VR equipment. Not every gamer owns a device with cutting-edge hardware. This is especially true of PC gamers. Once you factor in the cost of upgrading components (or even buying a new computer) in order to be able to support VR devices, the price increases substantially.

Last but not least, there is a fourth reason why virtual reality has not managed to reach all gamers yet. Global novelties are always a tough sell in the beginning - because they require further explanation.

Unfortunately, you can’t just plug in the devices and be play any game with them right away. Or at least that’s what many gamers worry about. So some consumers are still skeptical about whether these devices will be compatible with their system and how or if they will get the VR devices to work.

Next Steps in VR Technology

We already mentioned VR headsets and motion control for games. Let’s take a deeper look into the future of VR technology.

Ideally, to create the strongest effect, virtual reality should engage all the human senses. However, so far we have only seen VR headsets, which engage the eyes, and a few motion-controlled systems that use our hands and a selection of movement patterns.

What would virtual reality be like if it engaged our whole body and all senses? Cyberith is trying to make this happen with its Virtualizer. For this VR technology, the gamer is strapped into a frame. In this frame, they can jump, duck, walk and even run. All this is possible in 360 degrees. When you are walking within the frame, you are also moving inside the game. Sensors can project movement with a game weapon to the game, instead of the player having to use a classical game controller. This way, the game is controlled with a whole range of movements, including aiming and pulling the trigger. VR headsets support this device and make for an even more realistic version of virtual reality.

The future of VR

So will gamers of the future be able to play and experience games entirely by moving their body? The answer is yes! Obviously, the main question - that of cost - remains.

It will be interesting to see to what extent, in the future, VR be expanded to interact with other humans senses. It would be fascinating if we could touch, smell and even taste what we experience in games.

Work on this is already underway with a project called FeelReal. These developers are working on two products, the FeelReal VR as well as the Nirvana VR. The FeelReal VR is wireless, and compatible with most VR headsets. It can trigger sensations of wind, vibrations, water mist, hot air and much more. Furthermore, the device can emit seven different smells. The Nirvana VR is a mask that covers the entire face, which adds further to the range of sensory stimuli.

Other VR technologies include, for example, the VR Dome and the VR Cave, which make use of an entire room to create a virtual reality environment.

The Fate of Virtual Reality

A lot has happened in the realm of virtual reality in recent years. The first VR devices have been launched and opened up a completely different gaming experience.

VR at home

Although these were expected to revolutionize the world of gaming, this hasn’t yet been realized. There are many different reasons for that - some economic, and some psychological.

Many are still skeptical about these technologies, since their use and functionalities are not immediately understood by everyone. In order to convince gamers, VR devices should be demonstrated, explained and be made available for testing.

In addition, the high prices keep them unavailable to many gamers, which concerns the gaming industry.

Ultimately, acceptance and trust need to be increased and more new games with virtual reality functionality should be developed. If these barriers can be overcome, nothing should be able to stop these technologies. It’s simply a matter of time until we find VR technology in every next gamer’s home.

There is already a lot being said online today about what else will be possible with Augmented Reality in the coming years. However, with its price of several thousands of dollars, Microsoft’s HoloLens remains unaffordable for most.

That being said, this technology is advancing rapidly and should be available to everybody sooner or later.

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