by TYLER YORK//Editorial Assistant
Virtual reality has the potential to be much more than a toy for rich kids.
It may seem these days like a gaming gimmick or a staple of science fiction dreams of the future. But in reality, VR has existed in various basic forms since the 1950s.
One of the first known uses was a machine known as the Sensorama. It was about the size of an arcade cabinet with a wraparound screen that played a movie in stereoscopic 3D. It was a futuristic marvel at the time for engaging not only the viewer’s sight, but also sound, smell, and touch. As amazing as the technology was for the time, it failed to gain popularity due to a lack of funding.
As technology has progressed through the decades, the idea of a “virtual reality” has peaked and plunged in novelty. Within the past five years though, VR technology has finally settled into a niche in gaming. It currently remains strong enough to cement itself in pop culture for at least the immediate future. But dismissing VR as a plaything for games is missing the true potential of the technology.
Imagine a near future when a doctor could use a VR headset and controller to study. They can now practice surgical techniques without the pressure of operating on a living person. Or a pilot tests out flight patterns and maneuvers without needing any fuel, or even lifting a foot off the ground. These scenarios used to be pure fantasy—but they’re closer to reality now than they ever have been.
If you haven’t experienced VR for yourself yet, there are a few consumer devices that are available right now for anyone who has an interest. While you definitely pay for what you get, the wide variety and range of functions and immersion allow for almost any budget.
On the higher end are the big names in gaming VR such as the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. Both of these products come from major technology players: one from Facebook, a social media giant, and the other from Valve, the creators of the most popular PC gaming distribution platform on the planet. Both of these systems represent the current cream of the VR gaming crop. High resolutions, head movement tracking, and motion controls let you feel as though you’re reaching right into the virtual space around you.
Both also come with the price tag of several new game consoles combined. Not to mention the added cost of needing a computer with the specifications to handle such a high resolution and frame rate for two eyes at once.
Thankfully, several companies have also created headsets designed for smartphones. This allows for a much easier point of entry into VR for the public. The big names in this area are headsets such as the Samsung Gear VR, the Google Daydream View, and if on a shoestring basically-nothing-budget, the Google Cardboard. The latter is even possible to print on a home printer. The much lower price also means reduced capabilities. But for those who don’t plan on spending many hours or dollars on a high-end setup, the trade-off is well worth it. The result is the feeling of living in a future past generations could have only fantasized about.
It’s hard to predict where a technology can end up before it happens. A modern smartphone would baffle early mobile phone users, in the same way that modern computers would be inconceivable to the creators of the first word processors or calculators. It’s the endless possibilities that keep us working to create and testing the limits of what “reality” can actually be. And as long as we never lose the drive for innovation, there’s no telling where the future will take us.