Mobile Virtual Reality Is The Ghost Of Christmas Past

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Making exercise virtually easier.

The worlds of gaming, sports, live music, commerce and adult entertainment are all primed for a revolutionary consumption shift with the advent of virtual reality (VR). A new stationary bike from Boston startup VirZoom requires an unusual accessory while you’re pedalling: a virtual reality headset, so you can turn your workout into a virtual adventure.We have had a go ourselves on PlayStation VR and have found the technology amazing, making you feel like you’re literally living within the game world.

Virtual reality technology is fast becoming a popular trend among consumers, and especially gamers looking for a more immersive experience with their multimedia.I’ve been meeting developers for private game demos for years, but VirZOOM is the first company that suggested I bring a towel and a change of clothes. Last week, I pulled an Oculus developer headset over my eyes and settled onto the bicycle, which will retail for $250 (about Rs.16,578) when it ships next year. But there are fears that the VR push could end up being another flash-in-the-pan gimmick like 3D telly, which many now believe has died a death, and motion sensor gaming like with the original faded Wii console. “When you remember 3D TV and 3D stereoscopic gaming, every single game, or even movie, pretty much the experience was the same as playing on your regular TV except for there’s a little bit of depth inside the TV. “The relationship between the player and the TV was exactly the same and unfortunately – this was actually a technical limitation that I was personally disappointed in. “Because the tech was such that in many cases, there were compromises, or a choice where when you get the depth of 3D stereoscopic tech for games, you could lose either resolution or framerate, and that’s a huge trade-off. “In addition to pretty much the same games, only instead we were playing using 3D stereoscopic tech, we had to put up with some lost framerate or responses, or the resolution in exchange for added depth inside the TV.” He added: “Virtual-reality tech allows, for the first time in the history of games, developers to put the player inside the game, not in front of the TV outside of the game’s walls. “The other thing is that, in a lot of the cases of peripherals, either they’re tied to one game or they’re tied to one company and they aren’t really compatible with anything else, so you have one company trying to get a bunch of content made for this one device and that’s asking quite a bit of a game developer for that to happen. “We’ve tried, and in some cases have been successful, in some cases not. It’s almost the end of 2015 and with that, CES 2016 is not far away as new and exciting products will be unveiled to the world as is usually the case every year.

But thanks to virtual reality, you can soon exercise your way through a video game — and starting today, you can preorder a VR-ready bike that lets you do exactly that. The most common controller for movement in virtual reality is a fairly common game controller, but that leaves very much to be desired as is relates to how humans actually move. Companies such as Samsung with their Galaxy Gear VR headsets are allowing users to experience artificially created environments through smartphones paired with the VR technology. Then there is the much less common, but very awesome and impressive-looking omni-directional treadmill system, like the Virtuix Omni ( Virtual reality, nestled under your tree, for the low, low price of only $99 (plus the $500 Samsung smartphone you need to actually power the Gear VR headset).

With several virtual reality headsets for consumers coming out this year — including Oculus’s anticipated ‘Rift’ — excitement is growing around applications like gaming. They have some level of success. “But in this case, there are multiple platforms for VR that are occurring simultaneously, so a content developer can make things and potentially see it go across multiple platforms, and that helps them out a lot.

Tracking head movements, displaying 3D imagery through stereo screens, the Oculus Rifit has made a name for itself as one of the most popular virtual reality systems on the market. VirZOOM wants to change that by transforming what would have been another hour on an exercise bike into a magical pegasus ride, where you’re flying through the air, trying to grab coins and get a high score. After trying it, I’d never choose to play a VirZOOM game over, say, a few more hours with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but it beats the hell out of a regular workout, at least in terms of entertainment. The company says that it’s safer than other kinds of VR, since you’re staying in the same place the whole time and not getting super disoriented and tripping over table. Games made specifically for the VirZOOM recreate the feeling of being different kinds of creatures and vehicles moving comfortably through the virtual world, turning the user’s effort into game progress.

This “VR,” dubbed “mobile VR,” relative to true VR, is like thinking of your car phone (brick phone) relative to today’s powerful smartphone. The company’s calling the bike a “VR controller,” and it’s on sale for $US249.95 ($348), going at a discounted $US199.95 ($278) for all preorders. The system will ship with the VirZOOM cycle and five games for $249.95 and include a free month of VirZOOM Plus subscription that will provide online multi-player functionality, fitness data tracking (heart rate, calories, distance etc.), and new and continuously updated games (the subscription will then be $9.99/month, but not necessary to use the system). Gear VR allows us to sit front row at an NBA Warriors game or go backstage at a Nicki Minaj concert (thanks to content from NextVR and Jaunt) — but, it is a passive experience. For an extra $US10 ($14) a month, you get access to a subscription service that keeps track of distance travelled and calories burned, and even opens up multiplayer capability and access to third-party games to be added in the future.

Military people have used this tech to help soldiers better familiarize themselves to new environments of combat before actually entering into the real-life battle zone. It looks like any other bare-bones exercise bike, only there are buttons and triggers on the handles, and magnetic sensors in the guts of the machine that measure your cycling at eight intervals for every rotation. According to Android Authority, the White House is now offering a holiday themed 360-degree VR tour with videos created by Google’s JUMP VR consisting of 16 GoPro units. It’s like I’m Ebenezer Scrooge, floating alongside the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, through Charles Dickens’ ethereal journey in A Christmas Carol.

We’ll have an install base of about 25-35 million Sony PlayStation 4s, and Sony’s VR headset, PlayStation VR, will have an avid and waiting fan base of gamers to buy it. The platform will eventually open up to developers, but for now VirZoom is building its first five games from scratch because its team worries that the types of motion in existing games could make users sick. It looks as if the rising popularity of VR headsets will usher in a new wave of consumable tech that has the potential to draw in huge crowds of people. The applications for VR are very broad and it may be just a matter of time until we see people walking down the street with headsets on with an exact view of their surroundings. That said, Oculus, HTC and Sony have developed “true VR” — i.e., games and content that allow the user to feel truly immersed, so far as they can interact with the world and other VR users around them — a stark difference to the largely passive experience offered by mobile VR to date.

Despite being built with Unity, a contemporary game engine that produces some beautiful games, the VirZOOM games I played looked like they came straight out of the Nintendo 64, if you’re old enough to remember the jagged polygons of that era. “I think we’re somewhere between AAA gaming and workout apps,” VirZOOM’s director of business development Spencer Honeyman told me. “Our goal is to motivate you to work out and move through this virtual world. While VirZoom will cost $250, buyers will also have to factor in the cost of a headset (still undetermined for the three supported ones, which are all slated for release in 2016). It is unlikely that the miserly Ebenezer would ever consider paying the non-trivial $1,000 (or more) to buy an appropriate PC to run these advanced VR headsets. And the Vive and Rift will need to be tethered to a powerful desktop computer, while the ‘PlayStation VR’ will have to connect to a PlayStation 4.

The high price point (and more technical user requirements for a PC-based headset) presents an impediment to building and scaling an audience quickly. This means that any kind of ad-supported, free-to-play business models are a ways off; you need lots of eyeballs and players before you can make meaningful revenue as a content creator. Headsets will likely be too expensive and delicate for gymnasiums to lend out to attendees in a spin class at a gym, and I’m guessing people may not be too keen on sharing sweaty headsets — I know mine felt pretty gross when I was done with my workout. A rich, easy-to-monetize content ecosystem, like that provided by Google and Apple on mobile, is necessary for the flywheel of content creation and consumption to spin faster and faster. In the near term, we will only see VR content funding from the headset manufacturers themselves, and from brands who see VR as a way to look cool and edgy.

The faster I pedalled, the faster the car went, and I could steer by leaning my body in the corresponding direction, which the game could sense thanks to the headset’s motion tracking. This was the most straightforward metaphor for the device, and I had the most fun with it, even though I didn’t feel confident leaning all the way to the right or left to make sharp turns. Leaning off a stationary bike while you’re essentially blind to the real world feels odd and dangerous, but VirZOOM assured my that I wouldn’t be able to tip the bike over while sitting on it even if I tried.

I didn’t need the towel I brought, but that’s probably because the VirZOOM people didn’t want every journalist coming through their office that day to stink up the place. For example, imagine having free range of motion inside a family video replay, walking around your child’s birthday party video and seeing the looks on everyone’s faces, enjoying these memories in a whole new way. More importantly, VirZOOM reinforces what I’ve long thought to be true about virtual reality in general: it works best when your whole body is engaged in the experience. That means a design sense like that which Apple’s Jony Ive brings to technology products, making a device that is ergonomically and aesthetically beautiful.

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