Virtual Reality, as we currently conceptualize it, has been the dream of many since at least the 1950’s, when Morton Heilig began working on a home theater and television apparatus that he called the “Sensorama.”
Ever since, many have chased the opportunity to create a way to immerse themselves fully in another place without leaving the comfort of their homes. Despite valiant efforts in virtual reality, like the Virtual Boy by Nintendo in 1995 or even Cell Phone VR like the Google Cardboard in 2014, and augmented reality, like the PlayStation EyeToy by Sony in 2003 or the Kinect by Microsoft in 2010, only in the last few years, has technology come far enough to provide an experience that justifies the expensive of such a product.
In 2012, a new up and coming company, Oculus, announced the Oculus Rift, a PC tethered VR headset with sensors in the room to detect position and wireless controllers. Prototype and development kits started shipping the following year, and developers and streamers started work on game demos to show what this new, “modern” virtual reality was capable of. Streamers and creators of video game content on platforms like Twitch and YouTube demonstrated these experiences to consumers, who were quickly chomping at the bit to get their hands on the hardware and to experience this new VR firsthand. In 2014, rumblings emerged of Steam creator, Valve, developing VR software for their platform. In 2015, Valve and HTC announced a collaboration on VR hardware.
Finally, in 2016, the commercial releases of both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive propelled VR into the future that so many had been anxiously anticipating! Both were PC tethered headsets with wireless controllers and room sensors. Additionally, Sony released the PSVR, a full capability VR system to be utilized with the PlayStation 4. Not only did things look good and function reliably, but users could be truly immersed in the games and experiences, and they could do so at a somewhat affordable price. From there, popularity, price, and capability has exploded. In 2018, Oculus released the Oculus Go, a stand alone, untethered platform primarily for consuming video content rather than interactive experiences. In 2019, Oculus discontinued the original Oculus Rift and released the Oculus Quest and the Oculus Rift S. The Rift S is a PC tethered headset like the original Oculus Rift, but upgraded to have sensors built into it, removing the requirement for sensors in the room. This made the Rift S more portable. The Quest was a standalone platform with an on board GPU and memory sufficient to experience high quality interactive VR games and experiences, untethered from a PC for the first time ever. In 2019 Valve released the Valve Index, its modernized answer to the Rift S. In 2020 Oculus released the follow up to the Quest, the Quest 2, which improved the on board GPU and CPU sufficient to enjoy experiences comparable in quality to tethered VR systems.
So, is this the right time to jump on board and give VR a try? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Not only are there high quality, stand alone VR systems that are comparable in quality to previous tethered systems, and tethered systems that provide an even better experience, but these devices are also comparable in cost to current generation consoles, making them accessible for most households. A plethora of excellent titles are available to play for these systems as well. A few of these popular titles include Beat Saber, where players slice colored, directional blocks with lightsaber like weapons to the beat of incredibly catchy music, Super Hot, where players shoot and throw weapons at adversaries, but time only moves while the player is moving, Star Wars Squadrons, where players are in the cockpit of Galactic Empire or Rebel Alliance fighters, controlling them while they do battle with one another, and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, where one player, wearing wearing the headset, receives instructions from the other, who has a manual, in order to diffuse a bomb. These are only a few of tens of incredibly fun, unique, and innovative titles available on VR.
If you’ve considered jumping into the world of VR or have any interest, now is the perfect time to jump on board. Offerings are incredible, and will only continue to improve! If you’re on the fence, once things begin getting back to normal as we recover from the pandemic, keep an eye out for VR shops in arcades and malls, where you can pay a significantly reduced price to demo VR before you buy. If nothing else, the experience will open your eyes to what’s out there, and you never know, you may enjoy stepping into the shoes of various characters more than you ever expected. (Wood is a Serve Daily contributor.)