Saying that there’s been a lot of movement in the Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) space in the last few weeks might be somewhat of an understatement. Sci-Fi writers have been dreaming up this type of stuff for decades but only now does it finally look like it might be on the cusp of becoming a mainstream consumer technology.
On Thursday, the Facebook-owned Virtual Reality headset manufacturer Oculus finally announced the details of the mass-consumer launch of it’s flagship VR device. The Oculus Rift has been in the mainstream tech aficionado’s conscience for the last couple of years but has not been readily available on the consumer market as of yet. The headset will be available to the general public from early next year and will run content from only Windows machines and the Xbox from the outset (not good news for Apple and PlayStation owners). The fact that the device will be packaged with an Xbox One controller even further suggests that this will be a Microsoft-exclusive for the near future at least.
The Oculus Rift is rumoured to cost around $500 but will need a relatively high-end PC to run it’s games so the cost of ownership could mount up. Don’t worry though as Google also addressed VR in their I/O developer conference at the end of last month. The company detailed how they are bringing virtual reality to the masses via their Google Cardboard foldable case that turns any smartphone into a makeshift Oculus Rift when paired with one of their VR apps. These cases retail from $10 so you won’t need to shell out a fortune to experience Virtual Reality for yourself. In my experience, there isn’t even much of a difference between the quality of a decent phone screen in one of these cases, and the higher-end Oculus Rift, although this may change when the updated version of the Oculus hits shelves next year. Google also revealed details of their 3D camera rig collaboration with GoPro which helps produce the actual content used on these Virtual Reality devices.
Also earlier this month, Magic Leap, the Google-funded Augmented Reality system manufacturer announced that it’s almost ready to let developers start building for its platform. The Magic Leap headset manipulates light to create the illusion of real objects in front of the wearer and has been wow-ing people since it’s announcement earlier this year. While no details of the headset’s hardware have been made available as of yet, the software development kit will be released to developers shortly so they can get to work creating all sorts of games and applications for it.
In addition to their partnership with Oculus, Microsoft are also readying their own Augmented Reality offering, Hololens, which has some amazing potential as well. The Hololens Minecraft demo at this week’s E3 show in Los Angeles shows just what’s in store when this finally hits stores. Prepare to be blown away.
With Microsoft, Facebook and Google all jostling to hit the mainstream consumer market with something revolutionary, one thing is for sure – this is a very exciting space at the moment. While all this might seem very Sci-Fi, this technology will change much more than just the way people play video games. The implications for everything from medicine, engineering, education, and even online retail, are far reaching.