5 Ways VR Has Taken a Giant Leap Forward in 2016

At the beginning of last year, it was proclaimed by several publications (and wondered by ourselves) that 2016 was to be the “Year of Virtual Reality”, the year that the potential and promise of a virtual future would be realised. While there is certainly debate about how ultimately true, it was clear that 2016 was a very important year for VR and full of gigantic bounds of progress for the technology.

Here are 5 of the biggest leap forwards for Virtual Reality in 2016:

5: There are Major Development Platforms for VR for the First Time Ever

It may be somewhat of a truism that VR leapt forward by actually having competitive commercial systems on sale, but there is no understating the importance in these latest systems; They fill the gulf between the incredibly expensive business and hard-core enthusiast systems and the relatively underpowered and underperforming low price retail units.

2016 brought to the home three distinct, powerful and, most importantly, widely supported VR systems: The Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive and Playstation VR. All three of which are widely supported by both major and independent software developers. All three have received high praise. All three have shown to a wider group than ever before the potential of virtual reality.

And all three need to be commended for this.

4: Virtual Reality has Captured the Public Imagination Once Again

Virtual Reality is a big deal in the public consciousness, in a way that has not been seen since the ambitious through unfortunately fruitless VR Revolution of the 1990s. Whilst the wildly optimistic VR-based futures envisioned by The Lawnmower Man and Neuromancer ultimately could not be matched by the humble Amiga computers that at the time were at the top of graphic processing technology, the benefit of over 25 years of development has led to a huge wave of VR experiences.

On the implementation front, VR television is being fiercely developed; major broadcaster Sky have a VR app and a new studio built around 360-Degree programmes. IMAX have developed a series of VR experiences and VR cinemas specialising in 360 experiences are popping up across the world.

As far as VR in other media, outside of Spielberg’s in-production love letter to VR, Ready Player One, there are films like Assassin’s Creed, a film itself based on a video game which took advantage of the storytelling potential of virtual reality, as well as the critically acclaimed TV series Westworld, which went as far as to use VR exhibits as part of its pre-release marketing.

With various VR projects touted for 2017, the spark of VR has been lit in the public consciousness once again. It will be fascinating to see where the imagination takes us this time.

3: Mobile Virtual Reality Has Been Legitimised

2016 brought the world a gigantic distance away from the Viewmaster Stereoscopes and Virtual Boys of old when it comes to mobile Virtual Reality. In fact, even the average smartphone is orders of magnitude more powerful than the Amiga 3000-based VR behemoth Virtuality. With that comes the exciting prospect of VR headsets and setups you can take with you.

Starting small with products like the Google Cardboard and moving all the way up to bespoke units designed for high end phones such as the GearVR, the fact that smartphones already have not only the grunt for VR experiences but also built in motion sensing hardware. This allows for really cheap tastes of VR with a potentially huge in built audience who have most of the processing equipment already there.

The Future of VR is mobile, and it is staggering how close we are to that future.

2: VR Can Take Advantage in the Revolution in How We Control Computers

What ultimately has restricted Virtual Reality for so long was inefficient ways to use it. Using a keyboard, mouse or even a joypad with no peripheral vision is somewhat more difficult than you would expect. Much of the difficulty of VR systems in the past was the need to be connected to some form of wired control system. Even early motion control systems such as the Dataglove were limited by the constraints of having your hand hooked up to whatever VR system you used.

The revolutions in interfaces since then have led to all sorts of potential solutions, from the multi-purpose wands of the HTC Vive and Playstation Move, through to gesture based interactions inspired by smartphone interfaces and motion sensitive cameras such as Microsoft’s seminal Kinect, with even greater potential to come in 2017.

There’s plenty of work still to go with this (there is still no elegant way to simulate movement for example) but the options for reaching out and touching this new virtual frontier have increased exponentially.

1: The Virtual Reality has Finally Begun to Match the Actual Vision

For decades the story was the same for Virtual Reality; the ambition and ideas were perfectly fine but technology was simply not available to make it a reality for the majority. People simply did not have thousands of pounds to spend on expensive equipment. In 2016, that changed in emphatic fashion, as across the board VR became obtainable and more affordable than at any other point in history.

The fact remains that Virtual Reality is no longer a concept nor a pipe dream. Virtual Reality is here, and is available in a consumable package that is closer to the science fiction dreams that inspired it. VR is gaining serious traction not only as an entertainment medium, but also in the fields of healthcare, therapy, marketing and education among many other fields. There is standardised equipment with standardised development tools which allow creative and enterprising developers to work with VR without the hassle of working with a series of bespoke units.

The world has finally caught up to Virtual Reality.  My strongest belief, and the belief in which VRS is built upon is that VR has the capacity in 2017 and beyond to keep building on this solid foundation and change the world in ways beyond even the imagination of the cyberpunks.

Do you think 2016 ultimately lived up to its “Year of Virtual Reality” billing? Any major leap forward for VR you think we’ve missed? Have your say in the comments section below.

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