VR – Virtual Reality – is having its “moment” right now, thanks to the various launches of new hardware like Oculus Rift and similar systems. The attention is well-deserved – VR experiences, even at this early stage in its development, are mind-blowing.
Over the past year, I've been privileged to be given the opportunity to preview a number of the systems, and while I agree with what many critics say about the hardware not yet being perfected, the big breakthrough that will take VR mainstream (and beyond) will come in software.
By software, I’m not talking about the coding, though obviously that’s evolving. We don’t really know what the VR experience can be. It’s an art form whose artists haven’t yet arrived. Think movies around the time of Edison and the Great Train Robbery. Think Pong in the game world. The dreamers are still learning to dream.
What’s available now, and what will be available over the next year or so, will be mostly “ports” – in some cases literally – from two-dimensional media, be it games, video, or news stories (the NY Times began experimenting with the form late last year). Most of these are very cool, but they’re not really using the medium yet. Technical limitations aside, playing a first-person shooter is still basically the same as playing it on a screen.
I’m very excited about the medium; it has vast potential. But I expect that in the near term the common reaction will be one akin to a let-down as the hype wears off. The cost of gear will go down, the technology will vastly improve, and then suddenly the first great VR experience will come out of left field as some Matisse or maybe Edison manages to think about the possibilities in a way no one else saw coming.