Imagine having a front row seat at a Coldplay concert without leaving your house. Or being part of a Cirque du Soleil show premiering in a city on the other side of the world. What about being plunged inside a video game like Mario Kart, with the characters coming to life around you?
Thanks to rapid advancements in virtual reality technologies, decreasing prices of VR headsets, and virtual reality arcades that are popping up across North America, on-demand VR has quickly become the hottest new trend in entertainment.
If you haven’t put on a VR headset, it’s hard to imagine what all the hype is about. But once you’ve experienced the visceral thrill that comes from being thrust into a virtual reality environment, you’ll be hooked.
On one end of the spectrum is 360 VR, which lets users dawn a headset in order to look at a 360 video of a scene. The VR headsets are “stereoscopic,” meaning you get the illusion of a 3D image. Combine that with sound piped in through a pair of headphones and you really feel like you’re there.
Augmented reality, mixed reality, immersive VR, and whole room VR are more advanced applications of the technology. They allow you to interact with scenes to varying new degrees, walk around in a VR room, and even bring virtual reality characters to life in your own living room.
VR options for home
Even low-cost VR headsets like the Samsung Gear VR, Google’s Daydream View, or their classic Cardboard model can bring a scene to life in 360 VR. These headsets can provide an incredible way to experience a concert or event, where the VR camera has been placed closer to the stage than you could ever imagine.
There are also hundreds of apps available, like Discovery Channel’s VR app that lets you experience walking a tightrope over a canyon and swimming with sharks. The interactive nature of VR can also make for some extraordinary filmmaking — like that from the PR-worthy Within app that lets you ride a balloon into space, scuba dive in Indonesian waters, or be transplanted into the middle of a cartoon alien invasion.
More robust systems, like the industry-leading Oculus Rift and HTC Vive can offer even more mind-blowing experiences. These systems have video game-style hand controllers that let you manipulate and control things in the VR world, play games and take the interactions to the next level. The HTC Vive even has room sensors that recognize where you are, allowing you to walk around your virtual world. (Just remember not to trip over the coffee table.)
For the ultimate in virtual reality experiences, visit a VR arcade (or for the more sophisticated, a ‘VR lounge’). The Portal in Winnipeg and Breakout VR in Edmonton and Vancouver are just two of the many companies springing up to capitalize on the public’s burgeoning demand for VR experiences. They offer banks of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and other VR headsets where you can play dozens of games ranging from lightsaber duels to multiplayer strategy battles and fast-paced car racing.
Some VR lounges even offer specially designed arcade chairs that let you feel the action as you move through your virtual world. The one that’s generating the most excitement right now is Mario Kart VR, which had its debut at a VR lounge in Tokyo, where crowds were lining up for the opportunity to play.
And as the technology gets even more advanced, companies are beginning to plan for real-world versions of the Holodeck, a VR environment featured on the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. These specially built rooms surround the user in a virtual environment, while ‘mixed reality’ glasses like the Microsoft HoloLens project holograms around them.
Choose your own adventure
Once you have a VR headset, you can use online stores to download VR games and experiences. It’s a lot like downloading an app from the app store, or an on-demand movie on your TV.
Many other exciting titles can be found on services like Steam, which started out as a place to buy video games from independent studios, but has quickly become a hub for VR. WEARVR also offers a wide variety of VR experiences and games for every headset.
You’ll also want to check out VRTIFY, which is a new platform that lets musicians create channels where they can stream immersive virtual reality content. Launched at the SXSW music conference this year, the app works with just about every VR system out there and offers concerts, clips and channels from bands like Mumford & Sons and Florence and the Machine.
The consumer potential for VR is just beginning to be realized. Businesses that make their living selling seats, offering entertainment or creating film and television are scrambling to discover how they can use VR to offer their customers new and exciting experiences. The next few years should prove to be very exciting.
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