Editorial: Are we ready for VR?

VREditorial

VR has always been something of a mythical goal in gaming. “Back in my day”, Virtuality and even a prototype headset for the Atari Jaguar were the most tangible attempts at something real, but the tech was pretty basic, not only in the headsets but the hardware driving them as well. Fast-forward to 2012, and the initially crowd-funded Oculus Rift revived the long lost dream of total immersion in a virtual space.

The Rift is not only an effective technology, but it’s also the most affordable entry that’s ever viably come to market (even though the retail units have still not been made available.) Also, it’s the first VR Headset that I’ve ever worn that’s actually light and comfortable enough to actually encourage use for more than a few minutes at a time. But it seems like actual reality is beginning to set in again, as reports that the parts used to build the development kits are becoming scarce because they’re so old. So now this begs the question if the model that we all know will even be the model that actually hits retail? Oculus has already talked about a new model and what features have been improved, so has it now taken so long for them to “perfect” their design. and/or get enough developers to take the technology seriously? Sure, there are some pretty cool tech demos, but there are an equal number that, quite frankly, are incredibly underwhelming. Both Josh and myself tried the Rift out at NYCC, and both of us came away pretty underwhelmed.

Even though there have been rumors for at least a couple of years now, there have been a few very distinct and believable leaks and rumors in the past few weeks that point to the probability of us actually seeing something from Sony. The TV division dabbled a bit in this market in the past, bringing to market a head-mounted display that emulates a huge screen, even though it’s mere inches from your eyes. The difference in that example is that there was no head-tracking included. Now, with VR making a comeback, Sony seems to have a desire to get ahead of the competition and bring a viable option to retail, and from the rumors so far, they may surprise many people, and maybe as soon as next month if they, as the rumors suggest, unveil their technology at GDC in San Francisco. Techradar.com posted a report a few days ago that they have it from “a reliable source” that this will happen, and I’ll say that I too have heard some rumblings from some pretty reliable sources for a while now that the headset exists.

But here’s my concern. I’ve said for over a year now that even though the Oculus Rift is the best attempt at bringing VR to the masses so far (in my opinion,) that I still don’t believe that it will make anything more than a whisper at retail. Even with specific and very vocal tech writers lauding the Rift at every opportunity, I personally just can’t see many people plopping the money down for one, and out of the people that do, how many of them will actually use them on a regular enough basis? Look at some of the gaming peripherals that have shown so much promise in the past, only to either show that after a certain “shiny new thing” period, or because developers abandon it because it wasn’t worth developing for. The Wii sold like mad, but how many people other than their 6-10 year old children actually still play with it? Even PlayStation Move and yes, even Kinect probably aren’t actually used as much as Sony and MS would have you believe (even though they shove it down our collective throats as much as possible.) One last though, do you really want to wear something that still requires you to tether to a breakout box of sorts? My PS4 actually sits in another room behind my living room, so most likely, I wouldn’t even be able to use one.

Look even at PS3 games that support 3D displays, which currently sits at 72 out of 795, in other words, less than 10%. Yes, most of those games are quite impressive in 3D, but at that rate, is it anything more than a passing folly? You don’t need to go any further than the PS4 to prove this, with 3 games available that support 3D, and the fact that the system still doesn’t even support 3D Blu ray’s. Was Sony’s push to support 3D merely because of their corporations push toward brand synergy (since they offered many Bravia models with 3D support?) Yes, that’s one of the main reasons, truly. They’ve said that the PS4 will support 3D Blu Ray’s in the future, and that we’ll see more games that support the technology as well, but it’s still not a mainstream feature.

So, VR. Is the market actually demanding this new technology? Personally, I still say ‘no’. It’ll be another option, that while “really cool” probably won’t make a dent in terms of connect rate. Let me caution all of you then, if it is in fact revealed at GDC next month, and I actually get to try it out, please don’t misunderstand if I declare that “it’s really cool.” Unless Sony announces something completely out of left field (like it’s only $150 or something crazy) I’m probably still not going to believe that it’s worth having. In my mind, it’ll be another bullet-point to show that the PS4 offers one more thing over its competitors, and to show that Sony is a leader instead of a follower in technology. And no, I still don’t see how the Oculus offering will be successful when it finally hits retail.

Written by Glenn Percival

Glenn Percival

Just a guy that loves games, movies, Golf, Football, and Baseball.

Podcast Co-Host, Editor-in-Chief, Video Producer, and whipping-boy

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