How to Pursue the Perfect Virtual Reality Experience
Virtually everyone is smitten with VR. But it's not going to go far unless entrepreneurs fix its problems first.
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Even in today's tech-driven, gadget-filled world, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who isn't completely enamored with virtual reality. Just the concept of strapping on a pair of goggles and being whisked into a different world awakens the dreamer in all of us.
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Devices such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are already ushering in a new generation of VR. Tech experts predict that this industry will continue to grow into a market worth $150 billion by 2020.
Yes, the VR industry could be on the cusp of a major revolution -- if it only can overcome its growing pains.
A recent New York Times article highlighted some significant flaws that still plague the VR market. If entrepreneurs and startups don't address these issues soon, further negative press could keep VR technology from going mainstream -- or put a stop to the VR revolution altogether.
Improving the VR experience to advance the industry
The appeal of VR technology is that the possibilities seem endless. By simply donning a headset, users are thrust into environments where their senses of touch, hearing and sight are immersed in stimuli, allowing them to participate in any number of unique, life-like experiences.
Yet, as it stands today, VR has a long way to go before it can expect mainstream success. Recent critiques have indicated that the technology is too immersive, too isolating and too incompatible with how users engage with the digital world. Others argue that it's just too gimmicky and limited with regard to content.
But perhaps the largest obstacle holding VR back from widespread popularity is vergence-accommodation conflict, or "VR sickness," a condition of users' eyes having trouble focusing on the conflicting images put before them in a VR simulation. VR sickness often causes discomfort and fatigue and can cause users to shorten VR experiences -- or develop aversions to VR altogether.
Therefore, entrepreneurs and startups focused on advancing VR technology must first strive to perfect the current VR experience by:
1. Tackling VR sickness head-on
A few tech experts have begun trying to combat VR sickness through device modification. Scientists at Columbia University have seen promising results with limiting the field of view in VR headsets, also known as "tunneling." And Sony developers have created a headset that loosely fits onto the face, allowing the user's nose to serve as a stabilizing anchor in the peripheral vision.
While these are great starting points for overcoming this issue, the hope is that users will one day enjoy full-world VR immersion without limiting their views -- or allowing even a sliver of the real world to seep in.
Entrepreneurs should always strive for a better solution to this problem, because the team that finds it will ultimately come out on top.
2. Working on both large- and small-scale projects
Though VR, as it stands today, may seem gimmicky to some, it's important to remember that first movers are just the jumping-off point in any growing industry. They introduce the technology to the masses and serve as guides for the next generation of thinkers. Best practices emerge from the companies, developers and devices that follow.
Instead of focusing only on large, sweeping installations of new technology, companies should also test out concepts on a smaller scale. Even small-scale uses of the technology can contribute to our understanding what does and doesn't work. Developing smaller, simpler interactions will not only increase the popularity of VR with the masses, but also advance the collective shared knowledge of VR technology.
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3. Making VR more accessible
The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive still haven't brought VR into the spotlight as insiders had hoped; some blame their price, while others say it's the limited connectivity. However, the upcoming PlayStation VR should take this technology into the big leagues with its commercially appealing price, more comfortable fit and consumer-friendly platform.
Future systems and devices need to build upon the efforts of the PlayStation VR to make an impact on the market. More affordable headsets, more comfortable designs, improved visual displays and the ability to connect to different devices -- especially smartphones and tablets -- are high on the list of demands.
Many would also like to see VR go mobile. Incorporating more movement and steps into games could improve the experience and potentially combat VR sickness.
4. Turning VR into a social interaction
In his New York Times article, Farhad Manjoo described VR as a "lonely, sometimes antisocial affair." Unfortunately, this is pretty accurate. In fact, many users have expressed desires to share simulations with others or incorporate other players into their games.
Mark Zuckerberg recently predicted that the future of VR would be as a social platform. This inevitably inspired a new generation of startups to attempt to realistically incorporate multiple participants into a VR simulation.
Rounding out this concept of a social experience is the need for developing lifelike, customizable avatars and VR gloves that allow users to physically touch simulated objects and incorporate gestures into their simulations.
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VR will be the next big thing in technology -- as long as bad press and negative reviews don't stop it in its tracks. But before entrepreneurs ride the wave of VR success, they must first work to perfect the VR experience. Only by correcting current device and technology can startups truly take VR to the next level.