Is far from a secret that I like technology. And it is also not a secret that my interest in technology is mainly related to entertainment: displays, computers, consoles, video games, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), extended reality (XR), etc. During the last few years, there has been a lot of money funneled to develop better technology, a lot of small and big companies using a lot of resources (not only money) in advancing the technology to reach the mass market and, as usual, change the world.
Do I think that this may happen at a very large scale? No, I do not think so. I believe that VR is far from being the next big thing. Which by the way, is not the same thing as saying that will be useless. Is just that will not have the same impact as the TV, for example. I will list now 5 different reasons that make doubt about VR:
1.VR requires a headset: what a wild guess, right? I know, I know… but let’s think about it, do we really expect to carry a VR headset with us? On the outside quite sure that we will not. But at home this is a possibility… if you have the space. Having a headset that also does not allow you to see around is also a strange situation. In general, it must be really comfortable to be used and probably detect walls…
By the way, I am just assuming all headsets working without cables.
2. VR faces very complex technical problems: as any other new technology, some steps are always difficult. However; VR has been with us for a few years and, although there is no doubt that advances has been made in the field, like increased resolution and refresh rate, VR headsets still have several challenges to overcome. When using a VR headset, the eyes should be able to focus to different points that are located (in theory) at different locations in space. This is quite challenging because when looking at different objects in the distance, in the real world the eyes are able to focus on each an see them clear while the rest of our field of view becomes blurry. With a VR headset, it is not possible to do that. The scene will not change when we look around. A solution using a multi-focal surfaces has been presented, but I am not sure how well that solves the problem.
Currently, there is not enough power to recreate virtual worlds that change as the real world does. However, I will argue that this may not be as a big problems as it may seem. The use of avatars has shown that it is not really necessary to see a realistic representation of a human to treat the avatar as a person. Similarly, multiple games have shown that it is not necessary to recreate a real world to tell a good story. At the end, immersion can be created without the need of ultra-realistic worlds. Also gaze tracking is suggested to reduce the required power so the image is only rendered at very high quality where the eyes are focusing, while the rest of the image is rendered at lower quality.
3. VR is an isolated immersive experience: even if you interact with people on the virtual world, VR is an isolated experience. Experiences are not really be made to be shared, like for example by streaming (which is very popular with video games) although some options allow for the possibility (and this is something that may change if I am wrong and this becomes mainstream).
4. VR is a good idea that has been tried before: and that is in my opinion the biggest red flag. VR is sold as the next step in many fields, so the general population is expecting a revolutionary experience that is not going to be at the level of their expectations (by far). If the idea of VR was so extremely powerful, it would have got traction already in the past. I don’t know how many people know or remember that Nintendo, SEGA and others already developed VR headsets, some of them were made commercially available during the 1990s, None of them were successful at the time. I think that this piece of history already indicates that the fundamental issue may not be only the technology. Let’s get an example: the first TVs did not have colors, but everybody wanted one (and ended buying one or more). I am sure that Philo Farnsworth thought about the possibility of making a color TV, but the technology was not there. However, people started to use TVs no matter what because the main added values were already there. And then, there was an incentive for companies, so the technology improvements happened (and are still going on).
No matter how bad it is, there is a fundamental difference between having a TV and not having a TV. The same can be said as having internet, a mobile phone, or not having it. That is something that does not happen with VR.
5. Number of devices sold tells the story: less than 5 millions of devices have been sold in 2018. It may seem a lot, but when you know that almost half are sold by Sony, things look different. Sony has a complete control of a full ecosystem for VR. However, they sold around 16 million consoles and 2 million VR headsets. That already indicates that there is some interest because is a cool thing, but not a really push from players to have one. If you add that no business will see (in general) any reason to use VR, I think that it strongly indicates that the applications of the technology are quite limited.
Now, there is one important thing to note: there are multiple applications where VR is very useful, for example for a training simulation in dangerous situations. I am sure that many entertainment applications can found as well. So VR technology is necessary and useful, but I doubt about the idea that is going to be the next game changer.
By the way, probably nobody will see the next game changer coming.
And you? what do you think? you can make your comment below.