Friday, June 19, 2015

Taking VR headsets needlessly far

The Oculus Rift virtual reality headset has been in development for over 3 years now. There's nothing wrong in that. It's better that they polish the technology to be as perfect as is possible with current (and affordable) technology than to rush a half-baked product which will be clunky and work poorly, and then have upgraded versions coming to the market as they develop them.

Those years of development have not been for nothing. The headset has developed quite a lot compared to its first prototype. It has become smaller and lighter (although that has always been their goal), more responsive and accurate, and with additional features (such as detecting head tilting, and the physical placement of the headset, rather than simply its orientation, neither of which the original prototype supported).

Other companies have quickly jumped onto the bandwagon, even before the OR has even been released. (For example Sony has been developing their own version for the PS4. We'll see if that pans out.)

There is one trend in the development of the OR (and the competing products as well), however, that worries me: Too much effort put into gimmicky features. The kind of features that may make awesome presentations, but which are ultimately completely useless for 99.9% of users.

There's name for the completely useless gimmick I'm talking about: Augmented Reality.

"Augmented Reality" is the gimmick of the VR system taking live video of what's in front of it, and then adding CGI to it.

For example, they have hyped quite a lot about how you can set up the system so that you can walk around your room, and interact with CGI elements added by the system. It would be almost like walking in a Star Trek style holodeck, with the computer creating virtual objects and such for the user to interact with. Not only are they hyping this as a gaming gimmick, they are also promoting it as a designing tool eg. for architects, and other types of jobs requiring 3D modeling.

The thing is, Augmented Reality is a completely useless gimmick for the the vast majority of consumers. 99.9% of players will perhaps play with it for half an hour and then get bored. (In fact, I have my doubts about its usefulness in more serious applications as well, but since I'm not an expert on those, I can't comment.)

The OR (and other similar VR headsets) have a great potential for playing traditional video games in a significantly more immersive way. (Although it will certainly have its problems. Motion sickness is the most prominent of them. If you get motion sickness from just playing a normal first-person shooter, then you'll get it fifty times worse with a VR headset. You'll probably get motion sickness even if you are an experienced first-person shooter player. It's probably something that one gets used to, though.)

And that's what they should be focused on: Playing traditional video games when sitting on your couch. Not this Agumented Reality crap. AR is a useless gimmick and the vast majority of people will not use it for anything. The vast majority of people will want to play actual games with the headset.

Why is concentrating on AR crap a problem? Because it needlessly increases development time, possibly the complexity of the hardware, and, consequently, the price of the device. You will be paying for a completely useless feature.

I appreciate that they are taking their time and want to make it right the first time, rather than publishing half-finished products and using the consumers as beta testers. However, I do not appreciate them spending time, effort and money on useless features that will only make the device more expensive for no benefit.

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