Lets Get Real – Will VR Gear be a Game Changer?

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By Carl Weiss

When it comes to game-changing technology, the computer industry has seen it all.  Everything from the computer mouse to Wi-Fi, to tablets and smartphones has left their indelible impression on humanity.  Any of you who was born before 1970 can remember a time when computers filled entire rooms and had less computing power than your smartphone. 


But if we look forward instead of backward, what emerging technology is poised to once more prove to be a game-changer in our wired world?  And what will be the consequences for humankind?  When the personal computer made the scene in the late 1970’s, it didn’t exactly change the way that humans interacted overnight.  The Internet had not yet been invented.  Back then, PCs were expensive; they didn’t do all that much, and all telephones were hardwired.  Even worse, the earliest personal computers required the user to learn a smattering of computerese.  Anyone who remembers Microsoft DOS knows what I mean.

While most people assume that Apple invented the mouse, it was in fact developed by
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Douglas Engelbart and Bill English.  Working in the Stanford University’s think tank, Stanford Research Institute, Douglas was able to use his rudimentary mouse (which looked for all the world like a block of wood with a joystick), to make the cursor on a Xerox Alto move.  This was back in 1973.  However, the pair soon dropped the project, citing a lack of progress in what would have to be the mother of shortsightedness. The first commercially used mouse was introduced ten years later on the Apple Lisa.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

That was not to say that this was the only case of failed technology.  Since the start of the millennium, there have been a number of promising technologies that either failed to be adopted by the public, or sputtered at first only to be redeveloped at a later date to great fanfare. Some of these included smartphone pioneer Palm, maker of the Blackberry, that saw their fortunes plummet after Apple released the iPhone in 2007.

Failure to Launch

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Then there was Iridium, the global satellite phone company. Backed by Motorola, the company sought to build an orbiting satellite network to provide global cellular service.  The problem was the plan called for 66 satellites, not to mention the fact that the retail price for an Iridium sat phone was a whopping $3,000, and talk time was $5 per minute.    As a result, the system that Motorola spent $5 billion to build wound up being sold for $25 million. 

On a more recent note, another technology that has failed to take off was 3D TV.  After
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
HDTV had become all the rage and the public had spent their hard-earned money acquiring HDTVs, the industry announced that the next great innovation was going to be 3D.  This required broadcasters to update their equipment and producers to purchase expensive new cameras.  Even worse was the fact that in order to see in 3D, viewers were required to wear special 3D glasses, which made some viewers nauseous.  Is it any wonder why a few short years later, the last two Ds in 3D are looking more and more like Dead as a Dodo.  I could go on and on about other vaunted technological breakthroughs that crashed and burned.  Remember Microsoft Vista?

How Real is VR?
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After several years of teasing us with Kickstarter campaigns, blogs, and Newsfeeds, VR really made its presence known last year.  Once a technology makes the show at CES, it is off the bench and onto the playing field.  2016 saw everything from VR headsets and graphic cards, to certification programs and tons of VR software appear as if by magic. 

If you ever wanted to know what it would be like to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, or climb to the top of Mt Everest, there was an app for that.  The problem was that VR gear such as Oculus Rift was pricey.  At $600, the Rift provided the user with a headset/hand controller combo that was limited in its scope, since it was designed to be used while seated.  Other VR gear, such as the $800 HTC Vive, was soon in competition with Oculus for their share of the fledgling VR market.  (Additionally, the user needed a high-end gaming computer to truly get both the Rift and Vive to perform to their fullest.  So, break out on another $1,200-$1,500.)

360° Underwater National Park | National Geographic
This 360 VR video can give you an idea without the glasses.

What users really wanted was the Star Trek Holodeck experience, that allowed them to roam around and touch objects in a virtual world.  What they got with the first generation of VR gear was a view into a realm where tactile response was non-existent, and motion sickness was a real possibility. (It sounds like 3d TV all over again, doesn’t it?)  Still, every new technology has to go through a certain amount of teething problems and VR was no exception.

Courtesy of  Pixabay
As for sticker shock, that phase of development came and went quickly, as companies such as Google quickly found a way to eliminate the price headgear altogether with Cardboard, which is as advertised a cardboard VR viewer that works in conjunction with your smartphone.  Soon after came a myriad of low-cost headsets designed for smartphones.  Where VR initiates previously needed to plunk down a grand or so to get into the VR scene, now all a VR wannabe needed to do was buy a VR headset for as little as $19.99 that is adapted to work with a smartphone. With this, you can sample the virtual world for yourself.

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While bare bones VR gear won’t give you the kind of capability as high-end systems, they most definitely can get you into the VR game.  I recently purchased a microdrone from Vidius that came with a VR headset that allows me to not only fly my $90 drone while seeing the world from a drone's eye perspective, but I can also use the headset to race cars or tour the Great Pyramid in Egypt when I land.

Spend a little more ($30-$60) on a headset, and you get a wireless controller, along with the promise from the manufacturer that you will experience “No dizzy feeling” when using them.  This is a good thing, because several VR apps, such as those that simulate a roller coaster, still cause me to get a bit queasy.

Courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons
As for experiencing the world ala Star Trek, that is still somewhere in the future. The closest I discovered was designed for use in the world of computer-aided design and manufacture, otherwise known as CAD/CAM, where engineers and even physicians can work in cyberspace on everything from machinery to anatomy and even genetics.  Mind you, some of these systems cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and fill up entire rooms.  But when you think of it, so did computers prior to the birth of the PC.

Whether or not VR will turn the world of personal computing on its head, or just be another hi-tech flash in the pan, is anybody’s guess.  All I can say, is as long as VR systems continue to improve in their capabilities and come down in price, it shouldn’t be too long before we will be able to don a headset and pair of VR gloves and say, “Make it so, Number One!”

In this article, I have discussed how many emerging technologies have impacted our lives. I have discussed some of that have flopped and reviewed VR (virtual Reality) which looks to be quite promising. This article covers specific models like the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive and Googles cardboard model. Lots of detail links, pictures and video are provided to enhance the reader experience.

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Since 1995, Carl Weiss has been helping clients succeed online.  He owns and operates several online marketing businesses, including Working the Web to Win and Jacksonville Video Production. He also co-hosts the weekly radio show, "Working the Web to Win," every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalkRadio.com.

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