Two interesting articles yesterday explored the near term future of virtual reality. The industry has been stagnating recently, and although headset sales are up on the equivalent quarters from last year, the rise isn’t anything like most were predicting. However, everyone has big hopes for the final quarter of this year which of course includes the holiday season. No doubt the VR porn industry is seeing this a make a break period for their investments too, which after the explosive start it enjoyed with the release of the Rift, Vive, and the Samsung Gear give away over a year ago, has very much plateaued since last Christmas. Things to give reason for hope include the forthcoming ‘Mixed Reality’ VR headsets from the likes of Dell and Lenevo (from October 13th), a rumoured stand alone Oculus Rift/Facebook headset that might be ready before Christmas, some VR versions of big games that are due to be released in the coming weeks and that might boost headset sales, and the general interest in all things virtual that the AR capabilities of the new Apple operating system and the iPhone X will likely generate. Who knows, we might even have some AR porn by the end of the year.
Anyway, the two articles looked at the challenges ahead for VR to go mainstream. One of the main hurdles to overcome is the present screen resolutions which prevent full immersion as they are a constant reminder that you’re simply looking at a computer screen. 8K resolutions are possible, but they eat up huge processing and resources and memory. A solution? A technology that means the processor only renders parts of the image that the headset wearer is looking at.
The human brain doesn’t process enough visual information to cover a 360-degree view. In fact, our periphery isn’t entirely legible or sharp. We’re only seeing what we’re directly looking at, saving a lot of energy on the unnecessary. So why should a computer render out an entire 360-degree scene for us to look at? What if we could just render the parts of the scene that we’re looking at, and put everything else aside?
Companies like Fraunhofer Heinrick Hertz Institute are hoping to deal with the massive data rates that have become synonymous with VR content. In doing this, they can broadcast live with stellar quality. To me, it’s a genius approach to video compression and will most certainly be the future of immersive video. If the viewer isn’t looking at what’s behind them, then the computer isn’t rendering what’s behind them. So simple, and could lead to massive possibilities.
The other article gives developers the chance to opine on what is wrong with VR and what needs fixing for it to achieve its potential. Worth reading as much for some of the comments underneath the article as much as the article itself.
Bowler thinks VR naysayers are a dying breed. “I was one of those naysayers for a long time,” he says. Google Cardboard and both Oculus Rift devkits made him sick, but then he was strong-armed into trying the Vive — because as creative director he needed to know the tech in case they had a work-for-hire opportunity. This time he came out a VR convert, convinced his sci-fi tech dreams were becoming a reality. Now he calls it “being is believing.”
“I think it’s hard to disagree with the transformative power of VR once you’ve experienced it for yourself,” he explains. “That doesn’t mean people are going to be able to afford it right away. But I think it’s hard to experience it and then say to yourself, ‘I don’t think it’s going to be a thing 10 years from now. It’s a fad. It’ll wear out.'”
Schell argues that the biggest obstacle to wider VR takeup is not so much its price or technology — although those are important — but rather its lack of a phenomenal killer app. He came to this conclusion by looking at video game history. Space Invaders changed everything, he explains. “Before Space Invaders in arcades, arcade owners didn’t take video games seriously,” says Schell, “because they didn’t earn as much as pinball machines.” That changed once Space Invaders came along and out-earned everything else.
It’s clear that VR porn, good as it is and enjoyed already by likely millions, isn’t yet good enough to be that killer app. Better screen resolution and lighter headsets are the immediate concern. Making it easier to play VR porn videos on those headsets would be another. Virtual Reality cams might be the killer porn app but at the moment there is simply not enough demand for cam studios to invest in regular VR live shows that demand (at least) 4K resolution streaming, as well as the cumbersome, fully immersive headsets not yet being ideal for long comfortable chat sessions.