Virtual Becoming Reality – How VR is Taking Over

Matthew Mirzai
By Matthew MirzaiDeveloper
5 minutes to read

Back in August 2012, when the Oculus Rift was first launched on crowdfunding website Kickstarter, very few people could foresee the rise of virtual reality (VR).

The campaign eventually raised just shy of $2.5 million, launching the company and the technology it represented back into the mainstream.

Until that point, VR was seen as a niche technology – what was being produced had no mass audience and very little excitement, and what was sold were incredibly expensive and seen as gimmicks more than anything. It’s only real use, outside of public sale, was for training simulators – whether for pilots or driving tests, these would not be available for public consumption as they were far too big. Since Lawnmower Man in 1992 (an absolutely terrible film), VR has slowly grown from cool gimmicks in TV shows to something now ready for mass production.

On 25 March 2014, Oculus was bought for $2 billion by none other than Facebook. Barely a month after its $19 billion takeover of WhatsApp, they had seen the obvious promise in a company that was producing hardware which could finally do what has always been promised; full immersion within many different applications.

Having landed John Carmack to spearhead the Tech side of things, Oculus now had the financial backing to make the public aware of who they were and what they were doing. Now, almost 4 years after the initial Kickstarter began, the Oculus Rift is set to be released to the public.

The VR Contenders

Facebook were not the only ones entering the market. Sony had just announced a PlayStation 4 add-on, which incorporated a VR headset. Then on 1 March 2015, Valve Corporation and HTC announced the Vive VR, which went one step further and allowed full motion tracking within a game, thanks to its innovative Lighthouse system. Whether this system is ever used outside of entertainment purposes remains to be seen, but I certainly can’t see a practical application within the next few years. There’s also the issue of the space needed for virtually roaming different worlds, something which many users just won’t have.

Despite VR initially being used for video games, there’s a lot of promise of its use online – it can add a lot of value to many standard websites already out there, though there is one area which is set to take VR by storm: e-commerce.<

The Next Digital Revolution?

The idea sounds like a great one: whilst within your own home, with a VR headset attached to your home computer, you can virtually browse a clothing store, have a 3D body scan taken to ensure the clothes you choose fit, then have them delivered to your door the same day. There’s also the option to use this as a virtual changing room, being able to quickly swap between different outfits, all without leaving the comfort of your chair.

The promise is there, it’s now up to retailers to actually build on that. Online retailer Rakuten made a start by purchasing fits.me for an undisclosed amount in July 2015, though this is for a very basic changing room application.

In terms of being able to add products to a virtual store, and making shoppers used to the idea of purchasing in this way, retailers have a long way to go. I expect in the next 2-3 years that we will start to see small pop ups incorporating these ideas. Much in the same way Facebook brought VR back in the public eye, a larger company may need to make the first move before the public accepts it – and if anyone looks ready to start this, it’s Amazon.

Your Own Private Cinema Experience

Also adding to its ecommerce side of things, it can also incorporate VR into its other big business – TV shows and movies. With Amazon Prime, it can do much what Netflix and Hulu has already moved in to – creating an immersive and private experience when watching shows or movies. Netflix has already created a cinema app for the Samsung VR which allows you to watch a movie in the comfort of your own private living room.

Thankfully, for those of us not working for a large tech company such as Google or Amazon, there’s something we can do! The Mozilla Foundation (the guys that created Firefox) has created MozVR, which has been built on the back of the WebVR open source library. You can play with some demos here. The great thing about WebVR is that you can start implementing today, and can even start building very basic applications to utilise VR hardware.

There’s also OS VR (Open Source Virtual Reality) – another open source initiative being led by the folks at Razer. There are cheap, upgradable dev kits available to buy and all source code is freely available on GitHub, so anyone can start developing straight away. Valve has also signed on to allow OSVR code to work with its VR system, the Vive VR. If this can take off at the same trajectory as the Oculus and other VR headsets, open source development for VR may start sooner than we think.

So whether you think buying into the whole VR experience at the moment is a good idea or not, there’s no doubt it’s going to be a huge industry soon. What seemed a distant technological dream many years ago is not only possible now, but there’s a good chance it will soon become ubiquitous in our everyday lives.

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Articles by Matthew Mirzai

Matt has 10 years experience in the development field and is a back end developer here at Enjoy Digital, specialising in Umbraco (and Mario Kart!)