Virtual reality

Virtual reality (VR) is one of those technologies that keeps popping up every few years, doesn’t grab hold, disappears, and then pops up again.  I see VR divided into two different areas, how much you can view the environment with your eyes and how you interact with the environment.  Some technology attempts to tackle just one of these areas at a time. Growing up things like Nintendo’s virtual boy and power glove attempted to show the promise of VR interactive environments and were poor attempts.

The main premise for most VR devices is similar.  You wear a screen on your head that turns and looks around in 360 degrees and you have a different type of controllers to interact in the environment.   Other VR type technology focused on new ways to interact with 2D content with motion controllers or no controllers at all.

Over the years there have been other attempts, PlayStation had motion wands, Nintendo Wii had motion controllers, Xbox Kinect was controllerless.  The current version of wearable VR tech is Oculus and PlayStation VR which seem to be better and there are wide variety of head set add-ons for cell phones to give a VR type of experience.

Some of the technology was gimmicky in my opinion.  The Nintendo Wii’s motion controllers come to mind. It didn’t long to find out that with certain flicks of the wrist I could make my characters move the way I wanted them to, instead of the full motion you were instructed to do.  The Kinect for Xbox seemed to do a better job without a controller, but there would be lag in the response time or wouldn’t read your movement correctly if you were too far away, too close, or the lighting wasn’t right in the room for the motion camera.

I’ve used some of the cardboard add-ons for cell phones and many of the apps are fun for a short time period, such as riding a rollercoaster.  But it isn’t anything I would spend a lot of time using.

While the renaissance of VR may not be in gaming quite yet, it could be for the movie industry.  The Lion King “live” action remake is the first movie to be created totally in VR.  CGI/Animators and the director Jon Favreau wore VR headsets and constructed the entire movie in virtual reality.  

There were no actors on a sound stage wearing ping pong motion tracking suits.  Nothing on the animals either. The entire environment, except for one shot, was totally created in virtual reality.  The production crew would 3D print various camera equipment and track the cameras movement to get all the bounces and jiggles of the photography going across the landscape as if it was being shot with real cameras in the wild.  

Every tool used to film a movie in the real world was digitally recreated to allow the filmmakers to create the sense of filming real actors on a stage.

My wife and I watched the movie and the look of the animals and the environment they lived in is hyper realistic.  

Much of the VR technology over the years has been expensive and underwhelming.  If you are looking for a fun quick book to read check out Ready Player One (you can watch the Steven Spielberg movie, but the books better) where most of the world lives in, works, plays in a VR reality.  Goggles, gloves, touch-suits and chairs allow you to become fully immersive in the world and allow you to select your new persona to become anyone that you want.  The way this fiction book describes VR is how I predict VR technology will evolve over the coming years.

 

John Barker President at Barker Management Consulting. He can be reached at   jbarker@barkerleadership.com  or  www.barkerleadership.com.

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