Like 3D TV, virtual reality (VR) isn’t a new entertainment technology. We’ve been here before.
Remember Nintendo’s Virtual Boy? The Lawnmower Man? Virtuality’s arcade pods with their weighty helmets, low-res graphics and laggy head tracking? Back in the 1990s, VR was a dream waiting for technology to catch up.
Now it has.
VR hardware is now far more powerful
The Oculus Rift, the $2 billion poster child for VR’s rebirth, features a 2160 x 1200 resolution OLED display, a 90Hz refresh rate, plus a built-in accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer and 360-degree positional tracking. The Rift has inspired a cluster of competitors and Augmented Reality (AR) offshoots, from the HTC Vive and Razer OSVR to the Sulon Q and Microsoft HoloLens.
The 3D is more immersive
Thanks to better hardware, VR is more detailed and believable than ever before. You can see the sunlight dappling your deep-water dive in TheBlu: Encounter as an 80-foot blue whale swims by. While it’s hard to resist the temptation to duck as a pirate Viper Mk IV spacecraft buzzes by your cockpit in Elite: Dangerous.
On today’s VR systems, powered by a VR-ready PC, it’s easy to get caught up in these virtual moments, emotions heightened, your brain well and truly fooled. If Alien: Isolation is scary played on a PC screen, it’s positively terrifying when played in VR with a pair of headphones on.
The cost of trying VR is lower
Where VR gear used to cost thousands of pounds, you can buy an Oculus Rift for $599 (£410) and an HTC Vive for $799 (£689). You’ll need a VR-ready PC to go with it, of course. Oculus recommends that you aim higher than an Intel i5-4590 processor, AMD R9 290 graphics card and 8GB of RAM.
At the other end of the scale, you can try VR with Google Cardboard and an iOS or Android smartphone. It will only cost you a tenner.
There’s more to VR than games
However you try VR, you’ll see that the possibilities it offers go far beyond gaming. VR will let you explore virtual worlds. You’ll be able to walk around cities you’ve never visited before using Google Street View, swoop around the solar system in Universe Sandbox, even climb to the top of the world’s tallest mountain in Everest VR.
Virtual reality has unique educational applications too. Imagine standing on the beach at Kitty Hawk in 1903 as the Wright Brothers made their historic first flight in a powered aircraft. Or seeing a recreation of the Apollo 11 moon landing through the eyes of its astronauts, riding the LEM down to the dusty Sea of Tranquility.
And yes, standing in front of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in Back To Dinosaur Island for the Rift is just as astounding as the first time you saw Jurassic Park.
VR invites you to see things from a new perspective. It eliminates the disconnect between viewer and screen, putting you ‘inside’ the experience. YouTube’s 360 degree VR videos are another example. Watch SpaceX land a rocket on a floating barge, piggyback on a wingsuit flight across the Dubai desert, stand in the middle of a cartoon Invasion, marvelling as the action unfolds around you.
From reality to virtual reality
While the cheapest way to get a taste of VR is to use a smartphone and a Google Cardboard headset, you get what you pay for. This sort of VR is limited in its scope and often frustratingly soft-focused. The interactivity is minimal.
To experience the best that VR currently has to offer, with rich 3D graphics, smooth motion-tracking and immersive spatial audio, you’ll need an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive. But they won’t work on every PC. These high-end headsets demand a speedy processor and a powerful graphics card. They demand a computer that is VR-ready.
Experience an amazing VR adventure with SAPPHIRE VR-Ready graphics cards.