A reality check for virtual headsets


JUSTIN WILLIAMS takes off a virtual-reality (VR) headset and wobbles away from a demo area at E3, the world’s largest gaming convention, in Los Angeles. The bottoms of his feet and calves are “on fire,” he says. Mr Williams, a 32-year-old former marine, was playing “Sprint Vector”, a VR running game: players swing hand-held controllers to simulate motion. Though he has been standing in one place, his brain believes he has just run for several miles.

This sensation of complete immersion is called “presence”. Boosters of VR say it is what will drive the technology’s mass adoption, in time. When Facebook bought Oculus, a VR startup, for $2bn in 2014, and sent interest in the technology rocketing, it was this feeling of being present that Mark Zuckerberg, the social network’s boss, described as “incredible”.

Yet despite many pronouncements that 2016 was the year of VR, a more apt word for virtual reality might be absence. Of the 6.3m headsets that were…Continue reading



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