If you’ve been living under a rock, with no access to the internet or TV for the past three years then you might have no idea what Virtual Reality is. VR has been one of the most discussed technological advancements in recent times, but it might be a little confusing to those that haven’t been exposed to it yet. With this is mind we’ve created a guide for all things Virtual Reality. You can thank us later when the topic comes up at work and you chuck your two cents in.
We’ve said before that VR seems like something from a sci-fi fantasy film set deep in the future, but its’s actually an old concept that never had wide-spread commercial success. We originally began seeing virtual reality devices back in 1991 when The Virtuality Group released a series of arcade games and machines. Similar to modern day Vr, users would wear googles and be immersed in stereoscopic 3d visuals.
By 1993 computer game giant Sega wanted a piece of the VR action, designing a conceptual headset that bares striking resemblances to 2016’s releases. The device was intended for mass release but technical developments meant that it would forever remain a prototype.
Nintendo saw the potential in Vr in 1995 with the release of their Virtual Boy console. However the console was a commercial failure despite boasting to be the first ever portable console displaying 3D graphics. The technology wasn’t advanced enough to provide the desired experience at the time, with there being a severe lack of colour in the graphics (the games could only be visualised in red and black).
The 90’s didn’t manage to make virtual reality a success, mainly due to the period’s technology not being advanced enough. However, it was clear that the concept had potential, which is why the major gaming companies had all invested in the idea. Despite their best intentions, VR dreams lay dormant for nearly two decades post Nintendo’s virtual boy.
Modern Day (the rise of Oculus)
Fast forward to 2012 and a new lease of life is injected back into the idea of Virtual Reality, mainly due of the efforts of one man, Palmer Luckey.
Palmer had been a VR enthusiast since around the age of 15, spending his time collecting old virtual reality headsets. He now boasts to have the largest private collection in the world. By the age of 16, Palmer was building his own prototypes, realising the potential of how modern day technology could improve on a failed 80’s/90’s concept. His endeavours into these prototypes of VR headsets ultimately lead him to making a connection with John Carmack (the lead programmer of Doom and Quake), who expressed great interest in his ideas. Palmer soon dropped out of college to start a company, known today as Oculus.
Palmer was thinking about launching a kickstarter campaign in early 2012, only expecting a minimal amount of backers/enthusiasts to get on board. He was quoted to say “I won’t make a penny of profit off this project, the goal is to pay for the costs of parts, manufacturing, shipping, and credit card/Kickstarter fees with about $10 left over for a celebratory pizza and beer.” However with the backing of Carmack and other industry insiders, the scope of this project changed massively.
When the time came for Palmer to launch his Kickstarter campaign for the Oculus Rift in August 2012, he had estimated that a modest $250,000 investment could turn his virtual dreams in to a reality. The campaign took off with such force that they had broken the million dollar barrier within three days. Needless to say, people were seriously talking about VR once again.
Oculus have gone from strength to strength since their initial launch. Through the release of two development kits, they were able to hone exactly what the Oculus Rift needed to become before it officially hit the shelves.
Oculus was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion in March 2014. The company had been trading for less than two years at this point. The acquisition happened just weeks before they were due to ship their second development kit to investors. Many of Oculus’ early backers and fans shunned Facebook’s involvement, as they saw their favourite indie company “selling out”.
Just over a year had passed and Oculus was ready to announce that the consumer version of the Rift headset would be available to pre-order in January 2016 for £499. Palmer managed to turn his operation from making prototypes in his garage to a mainstream release in just 4 years. Oculus started shipping the first consumer version to buyers on March 28th.
The VR Race
Oculus Rift’s success had caused quite a stir throughout the gaming and technology industries respectively, and people were now seeing Virtual Reality in a very different light. VR was no longer a dead concept that never got off the ground and instead had become the way of the future, the next big paradigm shift in the way we play games and view media.
With this sudden shift in perception, other big companies wanted a piece of the virtual pie. Notably, game giant, Steam teamed up with HTC to develop the Vive headset. This really sparked the VR race, with the two camps striving for a consumer release in the first quarter of 2016. HTC were hot on the heels of Oculus with their first units shipping on the 5th of April. Both the Rift and Vive boast a very similar spec and style of device, requiring a high powered gaming pc to power each, which is why they are viewed as the main competitors. If you want to know more about how the two weigh up then you should read our comparison article.
HTC haven’t been the only tech giant to get involved in VR. Sony have also officially joined the race (read our Playstation VR release article here) but haven’t rushed their operation to try and compete for early sales. We’re still around 6 months off of the commercial release of Playstation VR, but this in no way will threaten their market share. As we know, this isn’t Sony’s first rodeo and they actually have a few aces up their sleeve. The first being the price point, at £349.99 it’s coming in a lot cheaper than any of the competition. The second thing worth noting is that it doesn’t need to be powered by a high spec computer and is made to work with a PS4. Sony are also rumoured to be releasing a more powerful PS4 in conjunction with the release of PlayStation VR (which you cant find out more about here). Factoring this into Sony’s decades of experience in the gaming world and we have another serious competitor in the race. It’s still very unclear as to who will be crowned king of the VR kingdom.
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