Promise of virtual reality limited mostly to games

NEW YORK -- With the launch of Samsung's Gear VR headset a few weeks ago, virtual reality for the masses is finally a thing.

See Full Article

Now comes the next big challenge: Who, exactly, will care?

If you're a gamer, the appeal of immersing yourself in a virtual world might be obvious. Strap on a headset and you could find yourself in a three-dimensional death match with opponents who could -- almost literally -- creep up right behind you. Early trends look promising: The $100 Gear VR briefly sold out at many retailers. Research firm TrendForce projects sales of 14 million VR devices in 2016, mostly for gaming.

The rest of us, though, still need convincing. Sure, the idea of watching a basketball game from courtside seats -- without leaving your living room -- sounds pretty cool. But you're not going to be doing that any time soon, as there's precious little so far in the way of major sports available in VR. And while bungee jumping off a virtual dam could be a striking experience, it's also the sort of thing you might try a few times, then set aside as you look for something else to do.

The tech world has been down a similar path before. Just a few years back, manufacturers lined store shelves with 3-D TVs capable of projecting stereoscopic images into your living room -- and on those shelves the sets stayed. Among the reasons 3-D TV flopped: You had to wear uncomfortable glasses, and the experience made some people dizzy. Perhaps most important, there just wasn't much in the way of good stuff to watch.

Sound at all familiar? Virtual reality requires people to wear large headsets that block out the real world, and immersive video has made some viewers nauseous (although its purveyors claim to have fixed that). It's not exactly a friends-and-family experience, either. If you chafe when your companions are glued to their phones at dinner, you'll want to watch your blood pressure when they start wearing VR headsets in the living room, tuning out other people along with reality.

Another hurdle: VR's initial apps are heavily weighted toward games. Sure, one immersive video puts you on stage with Cirque du Soleil performers as they reach for dazzling heights; another lands you on the set of the horror satire "Scream Queens." But while they're fun to watch, many clips come off more as demos or promos than compelling entertainment in their own right.

Jason Tsai, TrendForce's wearable devices analyst, said companies are reluctant to invest in non-gaming VR media until they're sure there's a real market for it. And that's a big part of virtual reality's chicken-and-egg challenge.

Of course, it's remarkable that we're seeing VR systems at all, after years of flops and stumbles. Sega teased the Sega VR in the early 1990s, but never released it; Nintendo's handheld Virtual Boy was a commercial failure.

The new systems represent "science fiction coming to reality," said Gary Shapiro, head of the group that runs the annual CES gadget show in Las Vegas, which will showcase VR and related technologies in early January. What's changed? Screen and graphics technologies have finally gotten good enough to provide a realistic and responsive VR experience.

Many leading companies are betting on VR. Google, for instance, offers a low-rent, though still effective, virtual-reality system it calls Cardboard -- literally a folded-cardboard contraption that holds lenses and a smartphone for playing VR apps. The Samsung headset is a step above that; it also uses a phone to play video, but includes its own motion sensors to better track the movement of your head.

More sophisticated headsets are on their way. Sony's PlayStation VR -- formerly Project Morpheus -- won't need a phone and attaches to a PlayStation game console. Oculus, which helped develop Samsung's Gear VR, will release its own VR set called Rift next year. HTC's Vive is due by April. Prices for these systems haven't been announced yet, though most are likely to cost at least a few hundred dollars.

And the headset is just the beginning; you'll then need a phone or a high-end companion computer (a PlayStation console in the case of Sony's system). One more potential gotcha: If you buy one VR system and change your mind later, you might have to repurchase any apps and videos you've paid for.

VR's immediate challenge is simply getting people to try VR so they realize it can be much more than games. Bonnie To, a Los Angeles accountant, watched a few minutes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in VR during a lunch-break demo. She said the ability to look around the concert hall was "really cool" and thought the sound and picture quality was good.

But curiosity won't necessarily translate to sales.

VR makers are working with media companies to expand options for non-gamers, much the way radio maker RCA started the NBC network nearly a century ago to fill the airwaves. Eventually, they figure the new technology will produce new storytelling forms -- for instance, choose-your-own-adventure narratives that viewers can influence through their actions. But that's some time off.

For now, the hope is that early owners will show and tell their less tech-savvy friends about the potential of VR -- essentially becoming "a virtual sales force," said Richard Marks, who heads Sony PlayStation's research arm, Magic Labs.

Video games have grown so much they're no longer a niche market, says Diffusion Group analyst Joel Espelien, who argues that younger players will likely embrace VR. As they get older, subsequent generations may follow. "It's a decade-long story," he said. "Things don't happen overnight when you're talking about a pretty significant new behaviour."



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • AI, virtual reality make inroads in tourism sector

    Tech & Science CTV News
    A hotel room automatically adjusting to the tastes of each guest, virtual reality headsets as brochures: the tourism sector is starting to embrace new technologies, hoping to benefit from lucrative personal data. In a prototype of the hotel of the future on display at Madrid's Fitur tourism fair, receptionists have disappeared and customers are checked-in via a mirror equipped with facial recognition. Source
  • Insurers: Canadian weather getting wetter, hotter and weirder

    Tech & Science CTV News
    If it seems as if the weather's getting weirder, you're not wrong. An index of extreme weather in Canada compiled by the insurance industry backs that up. "Yes, we see definite trends that can't be explained by normal variability," said Caterina Lindman of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries. Source
  • More than 1,000 cold-stunned sea turtles wash into Florida bay

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TAMPA, Fla. -- More than 1,000 sea turtles stunned by unusually cold weather have been rescued from waters off Florida's Panhandle this month. U.S. Geological Survey sea turtle expert Margaret Lamont said cold-stunned sea turtles began appearing in St. Source
  • Facebook to emphasize 'trustworthy' news

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Facebook is announcing a second major tweak to its algorithm, saying it will prioritize news based on survey results of trustworthiness. The company said in a blog post and Facebook post from CEO Mark Zuckerberg Friday that it is surveying users about their familiarity with and trust in news sources. Source
  • Facebook to emphasize 'trustworthy' news via user surveys

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Facebook is taking another step to try to make itself more socially beneficial, saying it will boost news sources that its users rate as trustworthy in surveys. In a blog post and a Facebook post from CEO Mark Zuckerberg Friday, the company said it is surveying users about their familiarity with and trust in news sources. Source
  • Melted nuclear fuel seen inside second Fukushima reactor

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The operator of Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant said Friday that a long telescopic probe successfully captured images of what is most likely melted fuel inside one of its three damaged reactors, providing limited but crucial information for its cleanup. Source
  • Meteorite hunters find first fragments of Michigan meteor

    Tech & Science CTV News
    DETROIT -- Meteorite hunters who flocked to Detroit from across the U.S. after a meteor exploded are finding the fragments. The 6-foot-wide meteor broke apart Tuesday about 20 miles over Earth, NASA scientists said. Source
  • Zoocheck calls for strong message on ice-cream-eating bear

    Tech & Science CTV News
    An international wildlife protection charity says they hope the Alberta government sends a strong message as it investigates a central Alberta zoo that took one of its bears through a drive-thru for ice cream. The video, posted on social media this week by the Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, showed a one-year old captive bear named Berkley leaning out a truck's window and being hand-fed ice cream by the owner of the Innisfail Dairy Queen. Source
  • NASA bumps astronaut off June spaceflight in rare move

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA has bumped an astronaut off an upcoming spaceflight, a rare move for the space agency so close to launch. Astronaut Jeanette Epps was supposed to rocket away in early June, and would have been the first African-American to live on the International Space Station. Source
  • Adolescence now lasts from 10 to 24, scientists suggest

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Growing up will take a little longer if a group of new scientists get their way. In a new opinion piece in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal, a group of seven academics make a case for redefining adolescence from ages 10-19 to 10-24. Source