The Illusion of Virtual Reality

I'm back home in Slovenia now but there are several more things I have to report from my New York's trip. One such thing is my experience with Oculus Rift developer kit 2 which I got a chance to try at Advertising Week Expo.

One of the promises of virtual reality (VR) is that it will provide a 3D immersive alternative to world wide of flat web pages. But just like the web also the brave new world of VR will be enabled by advertising, so Marriott put together a demo at Advertising Week how they envision ads in virtual reality space. The VR platform consisted of a cage that prevented visitors from stumbling, Oculus Rift developer kit 2 head-mounted display, headsets, and tilting floors. Upon entering the virtual reality I was first put in a Marriott hotel lobby. I could look around the place all around (360 degree view) but I had no option to walk or interact with the virtual environment in any way. I was automatically moved towards the wall with the map of Hawaii and upon getting close to it, I got teleported to a sandy beach with waves breaking. After some twenty to thirty seconds I was back in the hotel lobby. The next stop was London, where I was put at the top of some skyscraper. Standing in the air some 200 high above the ground and overlooking City of London provided for a very interesting experience, but not for the people suffering from vertigo (I'm not one of them). The total immersion lasted 90 seconds and then it was time to let other people experience the demo.

The first time I've tried a VR head-mounted display (HMD) was 17 years ago at CEBIT in Hanover. The resolution and responsiveness of that HMD was substantially lower, of course, but besides that I couldn't see any qualitative improvement in virtual reality over the past two decades. Yes, the graphics is now photo-realistic and turning your head is instantly reflected in what you see, but VR still suffer from inadequate user interface. If it wouldn't be for the bars of the cage, I would be stumbling all the time since you completely loose sense of orientation in the physical space in which your body still resides. While having 360 degree view provides interesting experience, I'd prefer sitting down and then large part of VR promise can be fulfilled with large enough display.

Virtual Reality is one of those technologies that makes geeks loose their mind (and two billion dollars) but which is still useless for general public. Unless Oculus rift/Facebook has found a way to shut down our physical body while our mind is in virtual environment, the VR will continue to be confined to niche applications.