virtual-realityOK, so I went full-on geek and bought a Samsung Gear VR for Christmas.  Without making you read this whole post for my opinion of the device, here it is.  It is freaking awesome and for $100 there is no reason not to buy one except if you do not own a Samsung phone (it is only compatible with the S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge Plus and Note 5).  Despite some inherent flaws in having a magnified phone screen strapped an inch from your eyes  causing a little fuzziness and a “screen door” effect, it is otherwise an amazing experience.  I have found that the more I use the device my brain is learning to look beyond the “screen door” pixelation issue.  Running through an Assassin’s Creed demo in full 3D/360 immersion dodging flying glass, knives and duck inducing mirror shards doesn’t suck!  It also doesn’t suck sitting in a virtual living room in a Swiss Chalet gazing at snow covered mountains through the window while a fire slowly crackles getting ready to watch Netflix on a wall-mounted virtual big screen TV from the comfort of a red leather couch.

The aforementioned “screen door” pixelation issue will be a non-issue once the new 4K rez screens hit smart phones this year.  The mobile VR experience will then be HD and clear. This is the future folks.  Just start thinking beyond the goofy looking headset strapped to some gamer geek’s head.  I won’t go into great detail about the device or experience itself.  There are myriad Youtube videos that do so.  I want to discuss the broader picture that is VR.  Is it a passing fad?  Is it only for Super Geeks?  I believe the answer is “no.”

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first.  This is not Google Glass.  It is not meant to be worn while walking down Main Street or riding the subway anymore than your big-screen TV is meant to be used outside the home or a non-controlled environment.  This is an entertainment device not a fashion accessory and yes it will muss up your pretty hair do, but let’s face it, most times when we are “entertaining ourselves” it is after work, at night or the weekend and we are sitting around unshowered, in sweats with a bowl of Edy’s ice cream or a bag of Doritos looking a mess anyway.  So, goofy headset and mussed hair is not an argument against the device. After all, who years ago thought everyone would be walking around 24-7 with an electronic gadget glued to them as we now are with smart phones.  There were also naysayers years ago about a then nascent technology called the internet and now a short internet outage invokes chest- clutching spasms in all of us!  I’ve read arguments about being  “isolated” in the virtual world or being anti-social.  That is weak at best.  In this pressure-packed real world we live in, isolating one’s self is not an altogether bad thing to have the ability to do.  Escaping into a virtual world could actually be quite therapeutic.  The almost exponential rise in depression, anxiety and suicide in the past decade could be mitigated to a degree with the ability to “escape.”  In fact, there is already talk within certain medical circles about VR therapy for some mental disorders.  And, let’s be honest, if you are an introvert anyway, isolation is somewhat welcomed on a limited basis.  Will there be anecdotal stories of the kid who plays six hours a day on the device and loses touch with reality and flips out?  Of course, it happens with anything that is abused, but that does not invalidate the technology.

Here is my bigger picture regarding VR.  Like all technologies, it will improve in myriad ways over time.  The headsets will get thinner and lighter.  The mobile versions will have HD quality and there will be countless apps for them.  What I feel most strongly about though is not the physical form factor of the device, but rather the possible uses of VR beyond games and video.  Let’s consider some.

1- The obvious, fully immersive 360 gaming.

2- Hands-free voice controlled 360 web browsing.

3- Virtual traveling and tours.

4- Fully immersive 360 training guides (consider a trip through the human body for med students).

5- Immersive virtual 360 home tours for real estate agents.

6- Sporting and concert events live in 360 both paid and free.

7- Virtual recreational activities for the disabled.  Take a hike or skydive.

8- Experience things you would never try in the “real world” such as climbing Everest or bungee jumping.

9- Invite friends via their virtual device to hang in the “living room” and watch the latest DVD movie complete with custom avatars and audio communication in real time.

10- Autistic individuals thrive in the digital world.  The sky is the limit here.

This list is endless and is limited only by the imagination.  To the point, VR is the next wave and will probably be ranked right alongside the TV, internet and phone as one of the greatest tech inventions of all time.