Although virtual reality has been around since the 1950s, VR is just now getting a foothold.  Facebook, which owns the rights to Oculus Rift, is trying to push virtual reality into the mainstream. Sony is also currently processing pre-orders on a VR system that will be ready to ship by October.  Microsoft also just opened their VR HoloLens software to U.S. and Canada developers who join their Windows Insider program and agree to provide development feedback.

NASA is currently using their VR Microsoft HoloLens headset to map out Mars,  and cellphone company HTC is partnering with Valve (the game development company behind the game Half-Life) to make their own headset.  What does this all mean?

Since virtual reality is a computer generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that we can interact with in a seemingly real or physical way, we are now one step closer to experiencing real-life in a simulation.

Virtual Reality, however, isn’t as new as it seems. During the 1990s a social media website called “Second Life” allowed users to walk through a virtual world where they could meet other people and take on a whole new identity for a few hours. This was way before Facebook got their following.

Games like “World of War Craft” and “Fallout” introduced virtual reality storytelling. Nintendo’s Virtual Boy was an early adapter of virtual reality as a companion accessory that had stereoscopic 3D. It failed to meet the demands for the time; the Virtual Boy created an eye strain making it hard to play games for long periods of time and wasn’t advised for children under 8.

The gaming industry has pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable and has overcome many hurdles due to their processing power and the size of their market. The biggest problems we face with Virtual Reality come down to two factors: the cost of the headset and the technical requirements that ensure a smooth experience. Microsoft’s HoloLens will cost about $3,000 up front for the developer’s version. PC World estimates that hardware sales will climb all the way to $26 billion this year alone due to a great interest in virtual reality. If cost is a concern, Google Cardboard is a simplistic and affordable virtual reality experience for smart phones that costs only $15.

The technical requirements to achieve virtual reality are huge. Chips must be able to render 90 frames per second. A gpu usually only puts out 60 frames per second. Are we there yet in terms of the technology? Some companies like AMD and NVidia have come up with solutions to meet the need for higher frame rates to get the picture clear enough where it doesn’t jar the user’s vision. NVidia’s VRWorks technology increases frame rate and pushes the sense of realism by wrapping the image using multi-gpu rendering.

So whether you want to use Virtual Reality for gaming or to explore the constellations, the future of VR is looking promising. Microsoft’s “HoloLens” will change how we look at gaming entirely, breaking the boundary to how we perceive reality itself.

Virtual reality isn’t just made for gaming; it can be used for educational purposes. MissionV is a platform that provides Irish schools with the tools to build interactive environments. Social interaction through virtual reality will allow students to gain acceptance in a group. Google’s Expedition program takes students through a virtual fieldtrip to the zoo or exploring the rugged landscapes of Mars in an affordable package.

We are in the early stages of development; not until 2017 will we start seeing programs that will make an impact in our daily lives. Just like the start of the Internet, we have to wait and see. Virtual reality could open up a new digital resonance to how we perceive our world.

oculus rift
This girl is one of the first people able to experience Oculus Rift before its initial release. Oculus Rift is an immerse gaming experience that will cost about $600 and will be ready to ship by August, 2016.Photo provided by BagoGames/ Flickr
google cardboard
Google Cardboard is made for the cheap and savvy consumer who wants to experience Virtual Reality without a high price tag. Cardboard costs $15 and only requires a smartphone to use.Photo provided by Othree/ Flickr