Virtual Reality

Three ways VR needs to change in the next few years

Three ways VR needs to change ...
New Atlas looks at three big challenges we'd like to see VR solve in the next few years
New Atlas looks at three big challenges we'd like to see VR solve in the next few years
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Raw Data
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Raw Data
The Unspoken
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The Unspoken
Mobile VR is cheap, but it also isn't near the high-end stuff
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Mobile VR is cheap, but it also isn't near the high-end stuff
The HTC Vive costs $799
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The HTC Vive costs $799
Mark Zuckerberg teasing a standalone Rift last October
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Mark Zuckerberg teasing a standalone Rift last October
New Atlas looks at three big challenges we'd like to see VR solve in the next few years
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New Atlas looks at three big challenges we'd like to see VR solve in the next few years
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If you've ever tried virtual reality, chances are you get what the fuss is all about: There's something "magical" about strapping on a pair of goggles and feeling like you're someplace else. Like any new technology, though, VR has plenty of room for improvement – like these three things we hope to see change in the next few years.

Enough teleporting already

Raw Data
Raw Data

Just 16 short months ago, we thought teleporting was a remarkably clever workaround for VR nausea: Virtually moving while physically sitting still is a near-universal recipe for motion sickness, but teleporting from one spot to another lets you move without the queasiness.

We also, however, forecast at the time that "you can expect to see a flood of teleporting-based [VR] titles a year or two from now." We had no idea how right we were.

Practically any first-person VR game worth mentioning uses teleporting to move you around the larger world. Even in room-scale VR games, where you can physically walk around your space, blinking from one spot to another is still required to make the game world larger than the size of your office or living room.

Teleporting is even the go-to method of locomotion in games where there's no magic to speak of. Teleporting in a Zelda-like fantasy such as Vanishing Realms we can swallow; but why can a non-magical human in a game like Arizona Sunshine also zap around?

VR teleporting has been mercilessly beaten into the ground. It's everywhere.

The Unspoken
The Unspoken

So what can devs do instead of teleportation? That isn't yet clear. Some use cockpits as stabilizers (like in space-combat game Eve: Valkyrie), while other devs stick with standard VR movement, motion sickness and all.

We did recently try a wearable that made the most nausea-inducing games surprisingly playable. If something like the Reliefband were to a) work for just about everyone and b) gain mainstream acceptance, then virtually walking while physically standing would be the obvious solution. But we don't expect a band that sends electrical pulses into your wrist to become a universal prerequisite; to many people it will just seem weird.

It's clear everyone wants to move past teleporting (and cockpits), but nobody seems to have figured out how. In the meantime, this effective-but-overused workaround is making VR locomotion repetitive and illogical.

Cut the cord

Mark Zuckerberg teasing a standalone Rift last October
Mark Zuckerberg teasing a standalone Rift last October

While mobile VR like Daydream and the Gear VR is wireless, more-powerful systems like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive aren't. Right now you have to choose between high-end and cutting the cord.

The solution to this problem looks more promising than the teleporting conundrum, though, as the last few months have showcased some potential breakthroughs in wireless VR. Not only did Oculus tease a fully-wireless version of the Rift in October, but several companies have since revealed accessories that will untether the Rift or Vive early in 2017. (They still have a wire running from headset to a device in your belt or pocket, but that's a marked improvement over a long wire connecting player and PC.)

For VR to truly go mainstream, we'll likely need to see headsets that are 100-percent wireless and self-contained. No PC or console needed, no wires and a highish-end experience. That could end up meaning more-advanced smartphone VR or it could mean a standalone (no smartphone inside) product along the lines of the one Oculus teased.

It's tempting to say we're still far away from that, but given how quickly and unexpectedly wireless adapters for PC-based VR popped up, we could be surprised again.

Make the good stuff more affordable

The HTC Vive costs $799
The HTC Vive costs $799

In the near term, it's probably too tall an order to say we want high-end VR to get wireless and more affordable at the same time. But longer-term, if VR is to move past niche/enthusiast status, the good stuff needs to get much cheaper. (Or the cheap stuff needs to get much better. Take your pick.)

Right now a high-end setup – which means the Rift or Vive along with a VR-ready PC – will cost you roughly US$1,500. While Apple may get away with charging that much for a premium laptop (a product with a practical purpose, often related to doing work and therefore making money), it's much harder for most people to justify spending that much on pure entertainment.

A flagship smartphone costs around $600-800, but that's usually paid in installments rather than upfront. (And like the laptop, it's also about more than entertainment.) High-end tablets like the iPad (more of a nonessential luxury than a smartphone) start at $400-600, but even at those price points they've dwindled in popularity. Game consoles, meanwhile, currently fall in the $250-300 range.

For VR to become a truly mainstream product category, I think we need to see the entire system – standalone headset, with quality tracking and controllers – fall roughly in line with the Xbox One, PS4 or Nintendo Switch in that $300-ish tier.

Mobile VR is cheap, but it also isn't near the high-end stuff
Mobile VR is cheap, but it also isn't near the high-end stuff

Mobile VR is already in an affordable price range: Most people already own a smartphone, and more models are becoming compatible with quality headsets like the Gear VR and Daydream that ring up for under $100. The problem is mobile VR lacks positional tracking or true motion controls, and it doesn't allow for physical movement. And if you add quality tracking and controls onto mobile VR headsets, their prices may skyrocket way past their current price points.

We aren't blind to economics: The perfect balance of quality and cost isn't missing because nobody has recognized the need. It's that the truly badass gear like the Oculus Rift and Vive is expensive to make.

This one, perhaps more than the other items on this list, is just going to take time. Fortunately history is on our side: New consumer technologies almost always start expensive, but get more affordable through the years. (Think flatscreen TVs in the early 2000s or desktop computers in the 1980s.) Even if it takes five years or a decade, that ideal VR sweet spot between experience and affordability will arrive at some point.

For an expert's take on the more technical challenges that lie ahead for VR, you can check out our recap of Oculus' Chief Scientist's talk at the company's latest developer conference.

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7 comments
Bob Flint
Even with the most expensive state of the art VR system all the peripherals are not anywhere close to your five senses potential.
Sure screens are hi definition, but view angles and lag time are stone age, also the limits on power and tethers keeps us grounded. Wearing a headset will always be the "through the looking glass" effect.
Holographic decks or chambers are probably more the direction things will take for a real immersive experience, but at an astronomical cost and massive computing power, along with environmental effects, heat cold, wind, water snow, etc....
Cheaper just to go play outdoors, or save up for that trip...
Racqia Dvorak
Frankly, the teleporting thing is a real one step forward, two steps back. We need omni directional treadmills. And they're not common place because developers tried to take the easy road, which was short sighted as all get out.
KyleButler
Even with the Vive I tried, I was shocked to see how primitive the VR experience is. What nobody mentions is the terrible field of view. It's like wearing a diving mask. Also the "3D" is the same crappy effect used by 3D movies, without any improvement one might think that having separate screens per eye would achieve. The only thing they've got nailed down is the tracking at this point. This is early days for VR, despite all the buzz.
fb36
I definitely don't want any VR device that requires a separate computer nor a separate smartphone. It needs to be self-contained.
FnbDefiance
Personally I don't think they will make it the way I want it, they would say it makes to many psychos, just like they did about the original FP things, But I would be happy with it being the way it is now (once it's wireless), but I want it to "look real". On military assignment or on a work sight you have to wear a hard hat, so I don't care about that. I just want it to look real. What is the point of a VR 3rd person cartoon, that's just stupid!!! They wont even make normal FP games to play on a screen look like that yet, so God knows when they will make it in VR
Derek Howe
I agree with Kyle Butler, The narrow FOV is annoying,and lack of clarity. I'm specifically talking about the Vive, which I owned for a few months, then sold. I think VR is awesome, and the potential is has is far greater then any other technology I have ever seen. But, good things take time. I might pick up one of those touted by Microsoft, They will have improved comfort, increased resolution, and a cheaper price tag...all very important things, but it's a bummer that they will still have a cord, when the tech already exists to make them wireless. Either way, I'm excited about the future of VR/AR.
Grunchy
I've been around to BestBuy and EB Games and other stores that sell VR equipment (WalMart, etc) and nobody has any demonstration equipment to try "for free". What I've found is you either buy it, or you scram, that's the attitude. Anyway, I stopped by Staples and they were selling off some Tzumi VR cellphone adapters for half price, I got one for $15 and tried it out. I found that it was a monumental hassle. There are lots of people griping about the quality of Tzumi equipment, but honestly, to me it seems adequate for $15. I tried a freeware roller coaster simulation on the iphone, it ran about 5 times (same track) before it demanded $10 or similar amount. I declined. To me, what I have experienced is that VR boils down to the ability to modify your POV of your video game simulation by turning your head. Not exactly earth-shattering. Supposedly by controlling the image each eye sees separately the display can readily create a 3 dimensional illusion. I didn't actually notice that though; and I'm the guy who can easily cross my eyes and see the 3d illusion on those posters! In conclusion: for me, the whole thing isn't worth the cost nor effort.