Virtual Reality might be considered as a booming technology. However, certain barriers to VR tech hinders companies and consumers from exploring the full potential of this futuristic technology.
While virtual reality is a promising tech that found many uses, not just for immersive gaming, but in medicine, education, and other fields of studies as well, there are many barriers to VR tech which prevent it from going mainstream.
The three most common hurdles that virtual reality face today are:
- human interface and ergonomics,
- plus lack of quality content.
How could these barriers to VR tech be eliminated entirely?
Barriers to VR Tech: Cost
Virtual reality is a technology that is quite difficult to develop and maintain, mainly because of the need for massive funding. Most startups involved with VR tech either end up shutting down their projects or selling their companies to tech giants.
Such was the case of the popular virtual hangout AltspaceVR (check out our coverage here) who announced their closure July this year. However, the company retracted their statement and announced that they’d continue their operation, thanks to an investor that saved them from their financial crisis.
While it was initially thought that it was Oculus Founder, Palmer Luckey, who saved AltspaceVR, it turned out that it was Microsoft who acquired the VR company.
As one of the barriers to VR tech, the cost is a serious issue not just for startup companies but to consumers as well. Most VR hardware today ranges between $200 USD and $700 USD. If you want to something cheaper, you may opt for a Google Cardboard which is around $15 only and essentially just a case for your smartphone’s built in VR capabilities. Here’s what a Google Cardboard looks like:
Here’s what a Google Cardboard looks like:
As you can see, it’s literally a CARDBOARD put together by Google engineers to resemble a headgear where you can place your phone and experience virtual reality. That’s how far your $15 USD will take you in the world of virtual reality. But, never underestimate this piece of cardboard. Google Cardboard pretty much functions as a decent VR headgear, just minus the aesthetics.
But, if a $700 USD VR hardware like the HTC Vive is not expensive enough for you, you can just wait for the Magic Leap hardware that’s set to be released sometime this year, according to the company. Reports claim that the mysterious VR hardware will cost between $1,500 USD and $2,000 USD.
It does seem rather powerful.
With that number of dollars, you can buy yourself the latest Apple iPhone X or the Google Pixel 2 XL plus its Pixel Buds (that can translate over 40 languages in REAL-TIME). With the high cost of development translating into high product prices of the VR devices, it’s not surprising that people are turning their backs to virtual reality.
Barriers to VR Tech: Human Interface and Ergonomics
Human interface and ergonomics are the most common barriers to VR tech. Given our modern technologies and access to high-quality materials, engineering, and design, the VR industry is still failing on this part.
Unfortunately, the human interface component of the virtual reality industry has not been fully developed, yet. This led people to experience the ‘virtual’ minus the ‘reality,’ which in turn deters potential consumers.
As a solution, VR companies introduced controllers that resemble traditional gaming controllers to manipulate mobility and make it more realistic. However, one must admit that holding controllers in your hand while savoring your virtual reality experience is reducing the feeling of being immersed.
It’s just not what many people hope VR should be.
While high-quality, surround-sound audio and 3D animations can provide an immersive VR experience, without enough touch and motion control, the experience is just not satisfying. Aside from that, ergonomics is another issue that VR companies are yet to solve.
Most virtual reality devices today are so big that it limits the view of the wearer of his/her surrounding. Apparently, keeping awareness of their surrounding is still a major priority among users, with many wanting to keep vision freedom to glance around when needed.
Apparently, 99% of people are still pretty much engaged in other activities such as texting, social media networking, and reading email. Virtual reality has to give people the liberty to enjoy these other activities while immersed in VR environment.
Aside from that, most VR devices are tethered to an external device such as a computer or gaming console, which in turns limits the person’s mobility. This barrier dramatically affects VR experience (if you’ve ever broken a lamp playing VR games, you know what I mean).
Barriers to VR Tech: Lack of High-Quality Content
Last but not the least among the barriers to VR tech is the lack of high-content. While tech giants are engrossed with innovating and enhancing their virtual reality hardware, one thing that’s suffering is VR content.
In fact, companies such as Facebook and Google are willing to spend billions of dollars to attract more developers to produce high-quality VR content.
Aside from lack of high-quality content, most content providers require additional or specific hardware for people to view their VR content. Most VR content revolves around gaming experiences or movies. This limits the potential of virtual reality to these two features only, when in fact, VR could have significant utility in other areas such as medicine, education, tourism, business, and many more. Click on any one of those links for a good example of where VR can be applied.
If that is not enough, the graphics and animations also need a lot of work. As mentioned above, some virtual reality experiences do deliver the virtual part of the technology, but it lacks the reality that people are searching for.
That’s why some people are using psychedelics to enhance VR exploration.
Oculus to Break Through the Barriers to VR Tech
With all the three barriers that are keeping VR tech from going mainstream, one company seems to take on the challenge of breaking through it: Facebook
During the annual Oculus VR conference for developers held in California last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said onstage that he’d be getting a billion people engaged in virtual reality.
“We want to get a billion people in virtual reality.”~ Mark Zuckerberg
The goal, according to experts, is exceptionally ambitious, even for a company such as Facebook which boasts 2 billion active users. So how would Zuckerberg and Oculus accomplish this?
Apparently, the company’s all set to smash the barriers to VR tech that we just pointed out!
The company’s latest venture, the Oculus Go headset will have a starting price of $199 USD. Imagine owning an Oculus headset for less than 200 bucks! For some of you who are not aware of it, the original prices for the Oculus VR devices range from $399 up to $800.
Now that the price is down to only $199 USD for Oculus Go, more people should be able to afford the experience. Aside from price, Oculus Go appears to have tackled the issue associated with interface and ergonomics.
According to its website, the Oculus Go will enable anyone to “effortlessly enter VR with no PC or wires attached.” Yes. It’s a stand-alone device! Additionally, the device will be designed with breathable fabrics, adjustable straps, and the best lenses that Oculus has!
All for two-hundred bucks. Not bad.
While the quality of content is yet to be realized, it won’t be surprising if Facebook and Oculus come up with at least a few compelling titles. Other features of the Oculus Go include:
- Over 1,000 VR games, social applications, and more
- Personal, portable theater
- Comfortable and adjustable design (can be used with glasses)
- Crystal clear optics
- Integrated spatial audio
- Optimized 3D graphics
Aside from Oculus Go, people should also watch out for the Oculus ‘Santa Cruz’ headset. The Santa Cruz project was first introduced a year ago. And now, the project is almost done.
Like the Oculus Go, the Santa Cruz headset will be wireless, with the battery and computer strapped behind the user’s head, according to PC Mag. This would give anyone the mobility and physical freedom to move around. It could also track any movement fairly accurately as compared to current VR headsets that require people to stay in one place for positioning.
While the controllers are still present for both Oculus Go and Oculus Santa Cruz, they are more comfortable to use and manipulate as per reviews. PC Mag also described the Santa Cruz VR experience as totally immersive-that we need to find out in the months to come!
If you think that’s all that Oculus has in store for us, you’re wrong! Another solution to one of the barriers to VR tech that we mentioned would be the Oculus Dash.
With Dash, you will have a virtual reality interface that would allow you to customize your VR Home space and replace your traditional computer monitor with nearly unlimited screen space!
Dash will also enable a user to move windows dangling in the air with just a wave of a hand, something like what you’ve seen with the Microsoft HoloLens. Developers would be able to code inside VR and Dash also brings along some favorite desktop experiences such as Facebook and Messenger, Youtube, Spotify, and Google Chrome.
Aside from that, developers would have the capability to debug VR apps while running them via Visual Studio, Unity, and Unreal. While most of the features are limited, Oculus Dash could be the start of allowing virtual reality to be used in real-world tasks and experiences, things that are beyond the typical VR games and entertainment experiences we have today.