Like many other seemingly impossible visions of the future, such as video-calling from a watchor the ability to access almost all the information of the world anytime, anywhere, Virtual Reality (VR) also originates from Science Fiction literature. When computer science slowly took off in the 1960s in the United States, so did research into simulation of different worlds, in which the user can immerse completely. For this reason, VR is also sometimes called ‘immersive multimedia,’ as well as ‘virtual environment (VE)’ or ‘computer-simulated life’.
Through the use of specific hardware and software, VR can help replicate an environment, whether real, such as the moon surface, or completely imaginary, as in video games. The aim of VR is to create a sensory experience sometimes including sight, touch, hearing, smell, or even taste, so that the users feels like they ‘jumped into another world’. Although VR has only recently been developed for mass production for entertaining purposes, it has been successfully used for combat training or flight simulations by the military. 44 percent of respondents in a 2015 Statista survey, concerned with the interest in virtual reality in the United States, have stated they were “very interested” in this phenomenon.
In order to experience virtual reality, the user needs a specific set of hardware. The most important device that helps the user immerse in the virtual environment is probably the head-mounted display (HMD) – a wraparound headset which does not allow light or images from the real world to interfere with the virtual one. Although such devices have been developed for decades, the first prototypes were either too bulky, either unadvanced or unavailable for the masses.
As of 2015 however, a number of companies are announcing commercially available HMDs specifically created for VR. These include the HTC Vive (HTC in partnership with Valve Corporation) and Project Morpheus (Sony’s VR headset for the Playstation 4), but most importantly the Oculus Rift.
The Oculus Rift has gained a lot of momentum in 2015 when its manufacturer, Oculus VR, was acquired by Facebook, a move which many think will have a positive effect on the product’s development. Other hardware include datagloves – gloves with attached sensors detecting hand movements, which allow the user to interact with the virtual world and to “touch” objects inside it, as well as wands or even treadmills, which allow the user to move in different directions within the alternative reality.
The VR industry is growing at a fast pace, with revenues from virtual reality products (both hardware and software) projected to increase from 90 million U.S. dollars in 2014 to 5.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2018. The number of active VR users is forecast to reach 171 million by 2018. According to recent forecasts, revenue from virtual reality head-mounted displays is expected to grow from 685 million U.S. dollars in 2015 to 3.89 billion U.S. dollars in 2018.
A good example of VR use for commercial purposes, which is bound to take off as a brand new way of advertising, is the American Express campaign at the 2015 U.S. Open. The VR experience “You vs. Sharapova” allows visitors at the tennis tournament, by the use of the HTC Vive and a special tennis racket, to play against the famous athlete, which was filmed on green screen performing a number of serves and other moves.