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

  • Number of people using Facebook reaches 2 billion

    Tech & Science CTV News
    MENLO PARK, Calif. -- Facebook is reaching another milestone, announcing that it now has more than 2 billion users. CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the new marker was reached early Tuesday and in a Facebook post said that he's proud of the role his company is playing in connecting people around the world. Source
  • 'It's like WannaCry all over again': new ransomware attack infects computers across Europe

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A major ransomware attack on Tuesday hit computers at Russia's biggest oil company, the country's banks, Ukraine's international airport as well as global shipping firm A.P. Moller-Maersk. Moscow-based cybersecurity firm Group IB said hackers had exploited code developed by the U.S. Source
  • 'World's largest sleep study' seeks online volunteers

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Brain scientists at a Canadian university are aiming to get a better handle on how sleep affects memory, problem solving and other cognitive functions in what they are billing as the largest such study ever to be done. Source
  • Hackers strike across Europe, sparking widespread disruption

    Tech & Science CTV News
    PARIS -- Hackers have caused widespread disruption across Europe, hitting Ukraine especially hard. Company and government officials reported serious intrusions at the Ukrainian power grid, banks and government offices. Russia's Rosneft oil company also reported falling victim to hacking, as did Danish shipping giant A.P. Source
  • New data-scrambling cyberattack causes mass disruption in Europe

    Tech & Science CTV News
    PARIS -- A new and highly virulent outbreak of malicious data-scrambling software appears to be causing mass disruption across Europe, hitting Ukraine especially hard. Company and government officials reported serious intrusions at the Ukrainian power grid, banks and government offices, where one senior official posted a photo of a darkened computer screen and the words, "the whole network is down. Source
  • New cyberattack causes mass disruption globally

    Tech & Science CTV News
    PARIS -- A new and highly virulent outbreak of malicious data-scrambling software appears to be causing mass disruption across the world, hitting companies and governments in Europe especially hard. Officials in Ukraine reported serious intrusions of the country's power grid as well as at banks and government offices, where one senior executive posted a photo of a darkened computer screen and the words, "the whole network is down. Source
  • Nintendo opens pre-orders for SNES Classic Edition

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Nintendo's miniature retro console for 2017, the SNES Classic Mini, arrives from September 29 with a $79 tag and 21 games including "Super Mario World," "Donkey Kong Country," "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past," "Super Mario Kart," "F-ZERO" and "Yoshi's Island. Source
  • Nintendo's SNES Classic Edition slated for September debut

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Nintendo's miniature retro console for 2017, the SNES Classic Mini, arrives from September 29 with a $79 tag and 21 games including "Super Mario World," "Donkey Kong Country," "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past," "Super Mario Kart," "F-ZERO" and "Yoshi's Island. Source
  • Pesticides get most blame for bee deaths, survey suggests

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Canadians are concerned about the health of bees and blame pesticides for the dramatic deaths of bees over the last few years, according to a new poll. The survey, which was conducted on behalf of the environmental group Friends of the Earth Canada, suggests nearly seven in 10 Canadians are concerned or very concerned about the loss of the bee population. Source
  • Nintendo to release SNES Classic Sept. 29

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    Nintendo will soon release a miniature version of its SNES home console, with pre-loaded fan favourites, such as Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country and Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the company announced Monday. Source