Virtual Reality Extend Way Beyond Games

While the initial focus of virtual-reality platforms has been on videogames and entertainment, it will eventually encompass numerous other applications, including education, healthcare and social networking, according to Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey.

Videogames are “almost certainly not the endgame for virtual reality,” Luckey said, speaking on a panel at the 2015 International CES. “The gaming industry is currently the only one that has a large base of tools (to create VR content)…. But most people don’t spend the majority of their time playing games.”

Luckey also predicted that consumer adoption of VR will soar once the cost of the devices drops. “Technology gets so cheap so fast,” he said. “VR headsets today that are $500 — they’re going to be $50 or they’re going to be $30.” Google has already introduced Google Cardboard, a VR system that uses smartphones that costs as little as $20.

Facebook acquired Oculus last summer for $2 billion (hence Luckey’s point about VR for social interaction). But as for how, exactly, the social networking giant will employ virtual reality remains to be determined.

“Just throwing a bunch of pictures into a virtual space, that’s not interesting,” Luckey said. “The new experiences are going to be different. It’s not going to be Facebook, the social network.” Instead, he suggested, social VR apps might let people remotely attend a family gathering.

That said, Hollywood is certainly interested in VR as a new entertainment mediumJaunt CEO Jens Christensen, whose company sells a system for shooting cinematic VR content, explained that at this early stage there are still big questions about best practices for producing virtual-reality content.

“Should it be first person or third person? How do you handle lighting?” he asked rhetorically.

Christensen said Jaunt — whose investors include Google Ventures — is not eager to introduce consumer-grade cameras for creating VR, because there’s a risk that will result in content that fails to take advantage of the platform. “If we move too quickly to get into the consumer space, that can really damage the whole field,” he said. “We like to come at it from the top down. These are professional cameras, not even at the prosumer level.”

It will be several years before VR could reach a critical mass of user adoption. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said there will need to be at least 50 million VR headsets in use before it becomes an interesting business.

Oculus has not yet shipped a consumer version of its headset, although it teamed with Samsung, which has launched Gear VR goggles. (Luckey declined to say when a consumer version of the Oculus headset would be available.)

Meanwhile, another nascent technology related to VR is augmented reality, in which images or information are overlaid on the real world. Jeri Ellsworth, chief hardware engineer at Technical Illusions, a startup that makes augmented-reality glasses, said her company is working on technology to render graphics that wrap around real-world objects. That, for example, could let someone place a figurine of a dragon on a table and then make it shoot out virtual fire.

The panel was presented by CBS Interactive’s CNET.

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