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by adam mathes
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Will VR Matter

When the echo chamber of modern tech punditry and giant company thinking claims something is the next big thing, usually either they’re too soon, way too late, or completely wrong.

THIS WOULD BE A SIDEBAR IF I EVER BOTHERED TO ADJUST MY CMS

DID YOU KNOW: Some technology executives are so good at not predicting the future, you can safely bet that whatever they proclaim in their public statements will definitely not be a priority at that company or the industry within five years, and have successfully done that at multiple companies over multiple decades.

Is this the future?

Getting the self-loathing and industry-loathing out of the way – the HTC Vive is the first product I’ve used in a few years that has felt like the future. That thrill of the novel, the squishy odd newness, the vague sense of uneasiness.

Truly novel things have to cause uneasiness in early iteration or they’re not actually novel.

I bought, used, and got bored with an Oculus Rift DK2 in 2015. It’s not that it wasn’t interesting, it just wasn’t interesting enough compared to the annoyance required vs. other ways to occupy my time.

(Also, resolution was low, software wasn’t ready, nobody knows how to make good stuff yet, etc.)

The Vive seems qualitatively different – moving from seated VR experiences (which only ever felt “right” to me if in a cockpit or similar simulation) to “room scale” VR with motion controllers is about 10x the hassle in setup, cords, and ridiculousness, but 100x the value in awesomeness.

Setup

I spent an hour futzing around with magical light cubes, too many cords, tuning a gaming PC that forces me to use Windows despite spending most of the last 20 years avoiding that OS at all costs, and afterwards it felt a little like the time I looked around my living room after playing Rock Band for a month and realized my life was full of fake plastic instruments.

Is this really how I want to live my life? What if someone sees this? What is all this weird plastic ephemeral detritus strewn about?

I was pretty sure it was a mistake and I would return the ridiculous monstrosity by the end of the weekend.

Moments

After spending even more time setting up “room scale VR” by waving motion controllers around a room, then having to do it again while reaching over a futon and furniture to trick it into thinking I had enough space, I was finally ready.

The first time I loaded up Space Pirate Trainer, looked down at my hand, and saw a future space gun thing, it blew my mind.

Not the blowing up the space drones for 30 minutes afterwards – though that was fun too.

What sticks with me was looking at the virtual object that was mapped to a physical object that I was holding, and seeing it and manipulating it. That bizarre otherworldy interplay between physical, digital, real and virtual created a level of presence and weirdness and fun.

That feeling is the future.

It’s like the magic of the first time playing Wii Bowling but hyperwired into your retinas and with everything hitting your whole body and ten million times more intense. And not bowling.

Will Anyone Care

Translating existing popular genres of entertainment over has challenges. The weight, heat, power, GPU/CPU requirements, cords, and rest of the mess makes using VR for extended periods of time still annoying.

I just want to dive into the metaverse, not fight with hardware.

Probably

It’ll get sorted out – though it might take another two or three generations of VR technology to make the annoyance factor low enough to bring it from the early adopters to a more mainstream audience.

Nobody really wants to futz with cords, high cost GPUs, or touch Windows 10, even if it means that’s the only way to touch the future.

The dividends of the smartphone wars make it seem reasonable to assume we’ll have the equivalent of what today you need a PC GPU for in a high quality VR self-contained headset unit with 4k-8k screens in the next 5 years (either by shoving your smartphone into a headset or standalone) for the cost of a smartphone/console. (Google Cardboard was step one in this direction, Daydream devices are step two – I’ve got a Pixel with headset on the way to see how it’s progressing.)

Feels like we’ll also need some better ways to handle physically walking around without infinite physical space (treadmills? gyroscopic crazy things?)

The contrarian view here is that VR is just too weird to gain wide adoption – maybe all this hype is for nothing, and maybe AR or other things are the next thing.

Seems shortsighted. My bet is VR headsets in 10 years will be as prevalent as video game consoles and the dominant form of immersive entertainment (eating into television, gaming, and mobile device usage) once the hardware becomes cheaper and easier to use than a giant television.

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