Virtual Reality: The Next Frontier

Terrance Balousek

Staff Writer

 

It’s increasingly evident that humans wish to escape the constraints of the physical world. Why else would we have spent generations trying to make virtual reality a success? 

In loose terms, interest in virtual reality began in the mid-1800s with the development of stereoscopic photos and viewers that placed two images side-by-side to create a 3D effect. These viewers were used to alter the way in which users view images and the world. Jump to 1929, when Edward Link created the “Link Trainer,” which was the world’s first commercial 3D flight simulator and was used for training purposes by the US Air Force. The first head-mounted VR display came with the invention of the “Telesphere Mask,” which provided stereoscopic 3D visuals and stereo sound. Although this was a major leap in technology, it did not include any form of motion tracking, which helps to promote user immersion. At the end of the 20th century, most VR developments happened behind the scenes after failed product launches by both the Nintendo and Sega gaming consoles. In recent years, there has been a strong resurgence in the acceptability and usage of consumer grade virtual reality for gaming, learning, and socialization. 

In 2012, a VR startup out of Silicon Valley managed to raise more than $2 million in seed funding from micro-investors and presales through the fundraising site Kickstarter. Later that year, the Oculus Rift was released to the masses and launched the modern virtual reality revolution. It represented an exciting leap forward for the virtual reality industry by satisfying many market desires that had been previously underutilized by household virtual reality brands. The Rift not only sported realistic graphics, immersive motion tracking, a comfortable head-mounted display, and a reasonable price tag–it was also easy to use. 

For the remainder of the decade, Oculus managed to stay at the forefront of virtual reality development courtesy of funding from its parent company, Facebook, which acquired Oculus in 2016 for $2 billion. Today, Oculus is the most innovative, widely used, and fastest-growing VR company in the world.

To further illustrate the growing prevalence of virtual reality in the consumer market, let’s examine industry growth. In 2016, the global augmented and virtual reality market reached a milestone: it broke the $6 billion mark. In 2020, the market has more than tripled, with estimated global sales expected to exceed $18.8 billion. Much of this success is attributed to the rapid advancement of technology that has made displays capable of higher-quality visualizations and accurate motion tracking, ultimately making e virtual worlds more immersive. Remarkably, these developments have occurred in parallel with continuously dropping product prices. 

If you’re not already excited about the emerging virtual reality industry, you may want to rethink your position. In October 2020, Oculus released their next-generation virtual reality headset, the Quest 2. The new model sports significant performance enhancements across the board and a lower price tag than its predecessor, the Oculus Quest, which is currently considered the best consumer-grade virtual reality headset on the market. In fact, the Quest 2 has 50% more pixels per eye than the original Quest, a multi-generation leap in power attributable to the 90Hz-capable Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 processor and an “inside-out” tracking system that can sense user movements with less than a millimeter of error.

On top of its superior performance, the Oculus Quest 2 provides convenience. Whereas most industry competitors need to be connected to a computer and within view of multiple wall-mounted motion sensors, the Quest and Quest 2 can be used wirelessly. This means that users can now use their headset wherever they want, which could create an opportunity to transform VR from an isolated user experience into a social one. 

Whether you’re looking to upgrade your previous virtual reality headset or venturing into VR for the first time, now is the time to do it. With a rapidly developing VR industry, noteworthy headset advancements, an immersive world development boom, and a price tag of only $299 the possibilities are endless. Modern VR can revolutionize the way we play, learn, and socialize.

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