As you know, we are in an exciting age of design; new era in history where our bodies, cars, bedrooms, heaters, streets and just about everything has become an interface.
Virtual Reality’s most immediately-recognisable component is the head-mounted display (HMD). Human beings are visual creatures, and display technology is often the single biggest difference between immersive Virtual Reality systems and traditional user interfaces.
Virtual Reality (VR) is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment. Unlike traditional user interfaces, VR places the user inside an experience. Instead of viewing a screen in front of them, users are immersed and able to interact with 3D worlds. By simulating as many senses as possible, such as vision, hearing, touch - even smell - the computer is transformed into a gatekeeper to this artificial world. The only limits to near-real VR experiences are the availability of content and cheap computing power.
In Virtual Reality, the computer uses similar sensors and math. However, rather than locating a real camera within a physical environment, the position of the user’s eyes are located within the simulated environment. VR technology creates a convincing, interactive world for the user.
With a multiplicity of emerging hardware and software options, the future of wearables is unfolding but yet unknown. Concepts such as the HTC Vive Pro Eye, Oculus Quest and Playstation VR are leading the way, but there are also players like Google, Apple, Samsung, Lenovo and others who may surprise the industry with new levels of immersion and usability. Whomever comes out ahead, the simplicity of buying a helmet-sized device that can work in a living-room, office, or factory floor has made HMDs centre stage when it comes to Virtual Reality technologies.
Major Players in Virtual Reality...
Oculus, HTC and Sony
As of the end of 2018, the three best selling Virtual Reality headsets were Sony’s Playstation VR (PSVR), Facebook’s Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. This was not a surprise, seeing as the same three HMDs had also been best sellers in 2017. 2019 sees the VR landscape broadening, with Google, HP, Lenovo and others looking to grab a piece of the still-burgeoning market.
Here’s a look at 2019’s major VR hardware manufacturers and the devices they are manufacturing:
Oculus Rift, Rift S, Go and Quest
Originally funded as a Kickstarter project in 2012, and engineered with the help of John Carmack (founder of Id Software, of Doom and Quake fame), Oculus became the early leader in Virtual Reality hardware for video games. Facebook bought Oculus in 2014, and brought the company’s high-end VR HMD to market for consumers. More recently, Oculus has seen success with the lower-price, lower-powered Oculus Go, and 2019 will see the release of multiple new iterations on the hardware, including the tethered Rift S and the stand-alone Oculus Quest.
HTC Vive, Vive Pro Eye and Cosmos
The HTC Vive has been one of the best VR HMDs on the market since its consumer release back in 2016. Manufactured by HTC, the Vive was the first of VR HMD to support SteamVR. The Vive has been locked in fierce competition with the Oculus Rift since release, as both headsets aimed at the same top end of the VR enthusiast market. The Vive has proven itself a durable workhorse for enterprise solutions, while also delivering one of the best consumer VR experiences available.
Sony’s entry into the market is the lowest powered of the three best-selling VR HMDs, but the PSVR has a big advantage over the Rift and Vive. Because it is tethered to the Playstation 4 gaming system, there was a pre-existing enormous installed user base of 10s of millions of gamers, many of which were eager to try their hand at VR gaming. Because that user base already has a PS4 Sony’s customers didn’t have to purchase/upgrade their computer hardware, making the PSVR the most “affordable” of the high-end HMDs. As such, the PSVR is the best-selling Virtual Reality HMD on the market, moving over 2 million units and showing that if nothing else, VR gaming is here to stay.
The search engine Google keeps taking stabs at Virtual Reality, but the company’s impact has thus far been limited. The lack of a big-time success hasn’t been for lack of trying. Google was there in the earliest days of this current VR cycle with Google Cardboard, a do-it-yourself approach to mobile VR that has become a staple of trade shows — Cardboard was even given out free to New York Times subscribers, bundled with their Sunday paper. Google famously stumbled with Google Glass (itself a Mixed Reality HMD, not VR — more on this below). But Google is not deterred! In 2018, the company launched its Daydream platform and Daydream View HMD.
In addition to all the hardware explored above, there is an ever-expanding number of other devices launched by lesser-known companies looking to grab mind and market share. These include:
Unsurprisingly, the video games industry is one of the largest proponents of Virtual Reality. Support for the Oculus Rift headsets has already been jerry-rigged into games like Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto. The industry has been quick to adapt as the hardware for true Virtual Reality gaming has become more widely available.