Virtual Reality is regarded by many as the most important medium of the future. As a result of “quantum leaps” in technology e.g. the computer, internet or smartphone, Virtual Reality is described as the next big step by many experts.
But what is really behind this technology?
And which applications will help VR make its breakthrough? Let’s take a look into the virtual crystal ball.
Every 10 to 15 years there seems to be new computer platforms that have conquered markets and won the hearts of the people. After the computer came the internet, and after the internet came the smartphone. And when it comes to predicting what will be next, Virtual Reality is often the development cited.
But is that true?
What is clear, though, is that it took some time for the previous technologies to reach their full potential – and it is currently the same with Virtual Reality. The required devices have been available for more than three years now. The first affordable and technologically usable head-mounted displays have long been available thanks to manufacturers such as Oculus, HTC and Sony.
The majority of people are still not fully convinced, though!
We have to be realistic here. Despite all the euphoria and advertising by Oculus owner Facebook, the absolute breakthrough of Virtual Reality has still not happened yet.
You have to be patient, though. After all, it took several years for the first “killer apps” to explode on the internet and on smartphones. The technology also had to come more sophisticated over the years in order to make essential functions possible.
So, if the future of Virtual Reality is bright, then these apps, which are so eagerly awaited in the industry, will probably begin to emerge sooner rather than later. But what exactly will these VR apps bring us? How exactly will they change our daily lives?
An important factor related to the future of Virtual Reality is the technological developments that make VR experiences better and better. This will also have a big impact on how we use Virtual Reality in the near future.
Admittedly, looking into the crystal ball almost always leads to mistakes. Forecasts about the future have rarely proven to be correct, even when made by true experts.
Just remember the world-famous quote from Thomas Watson, former chairman of IBM, who in 1943 thought that there was only a world market “for maybe five computers”. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was similarly wrong in spectacular fashion in 2007, mocking the iPhone because it was too expensive at 500 US dollars and because it wouldn’t “appeal to business users at all because it doesn’t have a keyboard.” He thought it was therefore not a very good “email machine”.
As much as these statements belong to some of the most spectacular misjudgments in the history of IT, we do have to be equally cautious when speculating about the future of Virtual Reality. Nevertheless, there is a whole series of VR applications that are already available today and that will bring about dramatic changes in some industries. Virtual Reality has already proven its worth several times at the beginning of its development cycle.
The big improvement that VR offers in contrast to all other currently available media is the high immersion levels it can provide. This makes VR the future medium par excellence.
Anyone who has ever set up a head-mounted display and immersed themselves in a virtual reality will know what we’re talking about. These worlds are an extremely intense experience for people, appealing to us on an emotional level and providing us with an even more intense experience than other formats e.g. the cinema.
The basic principle is this: The more immersive the experience, the greater the influence a virtual world has on its users. So, if film and other media are used to facilitate learning in areas such as gaming, museums and education, then it becomes clear that VR will sooner or later find it ways into all these areas as well.
Some experts are even convinced of what is perhaps unthinkable for many today, namely that in a few years using Virtual Reality will be as normal as using the smartphone today.
Considering the extent to which these pocket-sized computers have conquered our daily lives, this is a rather bold statement. However, this cannot be ruled out under any circumstances – especially given the pace at which technological progress is now taking place.
Let’s take a closer look at the technical development of Virtual Reality devices.
Apart from a few prototypes that were developed by the middle of the 2010s, it was only with the development of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive that a first generation of mass-produced VR devices was established. This only occurred in 2015.
These head-mounted displays have an appealing resolution in HD and deliver a usable frame rate that corresponds to that of movies. However, an expensive computer is needed in order to master these graphic processes and in order to create virtual realities that fascinate human beings.
The next steps on the way to mass suitability are mapped out: a few suitable devices that do not require any cables to a computer are already available on the market. This must be seen as an important goal. After all, a technology can only be successful if it doesn’t make everyday life more difficult.In fact, the opposite must actually be the case.
Many manufacturers are already working on implementing the upcoming technological leaps in order to take Virtual Reality to the next level:
Most head-mounted displays today have a maximum resolution of 4k. However, in order to conjure up a truly realistic world on the screens, a significant increase in resolution is necessary. Things only start to get really exciting when 8k head-mounted displays come on the scene. Such devices from manufacturers such as Pimax and Huawei are expected to be released soon.
The overarching goal is clear: Virtual Reality should not provide people with a qualitatively lower experience than “analogue” reality is able to offer. So, Virtual Reality aims at creating the perfect illusion; whether the illusion is of alternative realities or whether it creates the experience of being in another real place.
Have you ever thought what it would be like to walk on the moon? However, an actual trip to the moon will probably remain unaffordable for you and many others during your lifetime.
A virtual journey to the earth satellite, however, with the help of a VR application, will be something that everyone can afford in the near future!
When we consider the somewhat more distant technological future of Virtual Reality, we find that real VR geeks have long been dreaming of the so-called Holodeck.
This is a special place known from the famous spaceship “Enterprise”. The Holodeck is often used as a place of retreat and recreation because it creates extremely realistic virtual realities that can not only be admired, but also touched.
Such a Holodeck can present a virtual world without a display or any other aids and is able to create a very realistic experience using optical effects and energy fields.
Do you think the Holodeck belongs to the realm of science fiction and is totally out of reach? A company in the USA thinks differently and has already made such a Holodeck possible with The Void. The Void is already a reality in four countries at more than 15 locations. The experience doesn’t come close to that of the Starship Enterprise at the moment, but sooner or later it will do.
If you look at the industries in which Virtual Reality is likely to have the greatest impact, then gaming is certainly high up on the list. Anyone who has seen the Hollywood blockbuster “Ready Player One” knows what we mean.
Virtual Reality makes gaming an experience that can hardly be surpassed when it comes to intensity. The film, produced by Steven Spielberg, is set in 2045 and shows where the journey could actually end up.
In Ready Player One, the entire world is immersed in the “oasis”; a virtual reality that essentially enables everyone to lead a paradisaical, albeit virtual, life.
Although the film may not necessarily reflect the development of society (which would probably be a rather sad development), the possibilities that could be created for humans by deceptively real VR worlds make us want more: we want to travel to foreign planets, take part in car races, dance weightlessly and get to the beach at the push of a button. The possibilities of perfect VR production are truly limitless.
Another area in which VR already delivers great benefits is learning, education and training. The underlying principle is that language learning is much easier when travelling than when sitting in the classroom.
And travelling in VR worlds is possible at the push of a button and at very low costs – unbeatable arguments for VR. A good example of this is a development by mobfish in cooperation with the Dutch language institute Regina Coeli, where users complete parts of the language course in a VR environment.
It is also being used for training in the business world. For example, there is a Deutsche Bahn program that trains employees to perform technical tasks on virtual trains. This enables the company to save millions of euros. Still have questions?
The cinema has always been a place where you can immerse yourself in alternative realities. Virtual Reality could also help the cinema to be raised to a new level. Films in which the viewer can move freely and decide where to look for themselves – this is realism in its purest form.
From a psychological point of view, too, the virtual, self-chosen perspective that a viewer can enjoy in a VR world represents a quantum leap in cinematography. It will be interesting to see when cinema, as it exists today, will be viewed in a similar way to how we today regard silent black-and-white films as old-fashioned.
Shared experiences present a particularly exciting outlook on the future of Virtual Reality. Massive multi-player online games like Fortnite or Player Unknowns Battleground are already huge hits that are enjoyed by millions of players across the globe.
The social aspect of these games is crucial to their success. After all, you’re always playing together with other people. Whether you’re playing against friends or strangers, winning the next battle is not all that crucial.
If you now apply this trend to Virtual Reality, it becomes clear what is meant by shared experiences i.e. experiences that you share with others.
Imagine a situation where you could not only play in the form of avatars together with friends who are somewhere else, but also actually “project” yourself into a common world. The idea is that you can travel together, play sports, play games and so on – without actually ever meeting each other.
Another conceivable shared experience is an evening meal together with the whole family, where the shared dining table is located in virtual reality. It would also be conceivable to participate in events such as rock concerts or major sporting events via a VR display. With the help of VR, a football stadium would never be sold out because you’d be able to “beam” yourself via VR.
So when will the future of Virtual Reality come? The key to answering this question lies in the development of the decisive killer app. Remember, though, Virtual Reality is still a niche product, even though sales of modern head-mounted displays are in the millions. Therefore, VR will need some killer apps to make it a mass phenomenon. But who will develop this and when can we expect to see it?
Although the world seems to be waiting for it, it is precisely this question that is difficult to answer. The answer as to why no development has emerged so far can be found by analyzing the current situation of the VR market. There’s a certain dilemma here:
A killer app only has a decent chance of conquering the market if the following criteria are met:
And both of these criteria are not yet fully met. In order to make developing VR apps a potentially attractive option, there must be a correspondingly large number of users out there who are in possession of powerful hardware and who will thus become consumers of these apps.
But this target group is still too small to make the potential killer app a commercial success, mainly due to high hardware costs. Because of this situation, large development studios are currently still hesitant to push VR projects and release budgets accordingly.
By contrast, unimagined potential can already be released when Virtual Reality is used in business – this is completely independent of VR’s “great success” with regard to mass-produced goods.
The killer app, which would help Virtual Reality make an absolute breakthrough, is currently not yet in sight. It’s clear, however, that development is going in the right direction!
VR hardware is becoming cheaper and cheaper and is now technically sophisticated. And last but not least, an increasing number of companies are open to VR and are attempting their first innovative developments.
This increases the probability that it will not be too long before the age of Virtual Reality finally dawns.
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