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Jun 23, 2016

Real Truths on Virtual Reality: Bits | The Business of Technology - June 23, 2016:

Thursday, June 23, 2016


The New York Times


The New York Times

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Real Truths on Virtual Reality | Farhad Manjoo has been to “prison,” so you don’t have to. Might you still be interested, though, if they improved the cells?
In his column this week, he wrote about virtual reality, in particular the models from Taiwan’s HTC and Facebook’s Oculus.
Spoiler alert: He thinks they create immersive experiences, but not in good ways. Being so wrapped inside artificial sights, sounds and motion is exhausting, and a little creepy — literally a head trip that leaves the rest of you sadly behind. “A prison of fantastical sights and sounds,” he called it.
It is a point on which may rest several billion dollars, as the emerging V.R. industry tries to move beyond “gotta have it” tech geeks and hard-core gamers (two populations with a heavy overlap in membership) that will buy anything, and try to attract the rest of us.
Is he right, in ways that spell trouble for these big companies? Like many tough questions, it’s hard to say conclusively, but worth thinking about.
Fears of danger have followed big new tech products for centuries. In the early days of steam trains, people worried they’d be torn apart traveling at 35 miles an hour. In the first silent films, things like head-on shots of a train arriving at the station or a train robber shooting his gun reportedly caused audience panic. The 19th-century novels “Middlemarch” and “The House of the Seven Gables” have characters complaining speedy transport and communications were hurting one’s ability to live in peace.
Maybe the hazards of immersion will seem less so, once we get used to the new roles. For that, V.R. has to become like trains, telegraphs and movies, so essential that we remake ourselves to suit them. No sign of that yet, though Facebook recently showed off some nice potential for socializing on V.R.
Farhad is also disturbed by the disconnect from the visual and audio senses and the rest of reality, but the hand-held controls HTC has now, and Oculus plans to offer, may help bring a great sense of coherence and control to the virtual world.
A deeper issue may be the content itself: The very stuff that people are putting in virtual worlds — dragons, vertiginous cliffs’ edges, high-impact hockey games — are designed to be not just immersive, but also a little alarming. Some of this may be showboating by game developers let loose in a new medium, eager to try out the most extreme features.
As a result, maybe immersive content is more exhausting than it needs to be, sort of the way music synthesizers were way overused on pop music when those machines became widely available.
Maybe the appropriate V.R. content is less intense, and will be good as an educational tool in learning human anatomy or viewing the surface of Mars. Or it will be blended more with the immediate physical world for reassurance, the way HTC’s product already has some awareness of the physical space around which one has an immersive experience.
The industry may not like that. In tech, that amounts to making not a mass-consumer product, but a “vertical” that addresses specific markets. It hurts the pride, and creates ridicule, if the Segway is anything to go by. Segways were supposedly going to revolutionize how we used cities; in fact, the biggest-use case seems to be for law enforcement to patrol malls and airports. In its newest version, the Segway is a high-end hoverboard.
On the other hand, serving a couple of vertical markets may suit V.R. As Farhad points out, the Apple computer took more than a decade to become a widespread consumer product. For much of that time it survived thanks to the education market.
– Quentin Hardy
 
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