Back in the 90s, companies tried making virtual reality a thing, most notably Nintendo, whose Virtual Boy was so distasteful that it caused people to abandon the entire category for the next 20 years. But then in 2016, headsets from Oculus and HTC/Vive showed that the VR experiences people had been writing about in scifi books for years were finally within our reach.
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Today HTC announced a cool new completely standalone VR headset for China, and then promptly dashed hopes in the West by confirming the cancellation of the standalone headset intended for Western audiences. If you're in the West and want the next wave of VR headsets, then it seems you're going to need to look elsewhere.
Virtual Reality is tech's biggest question mark. Could it become a mainstream medium, like movies or video games, or something completely different? A lot of people have tried and failed to answer that question, and while Intel's VR Happy Hour at the New Museum on Tuesday is no exception, roleplaying as a tree and directing a monster is a pretty entertaining way to spend two hours.
Today at its annual Build developer conference, Microsoft announced its own set of motion controllers made for its burgeoning Windows Mixed Reality platform. As we've mentioned in previous reports, the company is calling its new computing platform "mixed reality" because it combines different elements of augmented and virtual reality. The platform itself is baked directly into the Creators Update for Windows 10.
Virtual reality has been around for decades, but it's only of late that the technology has properly matured with reliable consumer-grade headsets, room-scale tracking, high quality touch controllers and a library of games worth exploring.
So now that people can get into virtual reality in a range of ways - from mobiles to consoles to the top-end headsets - what's changed? Here's everything you need to know about VR.
Last year, HTC made the best virtual reality experience possible. One as close to the promise of Star Trek's Holodeck as we've ever come. This year at CES, HTC hopes to improve on that experience by introducing two new accessories: A welcomed new headset strap and the Vive Tracker, a small peripheral that lets you put any real world object you want into the virtual world.
2016 was the year that virtual reality hit the mainstream. PlayStation VR brought acceptable quality, immersive experiences to the living room, but the long-awaited consumer iteration of the Oculus Rift brought higher detail to PC gamers, as did the room-scale Vive. But all those headsets are tethered, so you're dragging a decidedly physical cable around the virtual world with you.
At CES 2017 in Las Vegas, though -- kicking off in less than a week -- HTC will reportedly show off a completely wireless Vive. With higher-res screens, to boot.
In truth, 2016 was not "The Year of VR." It was the year of the start of VR. Multiple major tech companies released impressive VR systems that were clearly the first of their kind; flawed and fascinating, destined to be improved upon and replaced. The age of immersive technology is upon us, but its future remains uncertain.
Let's be real: It's been a pretty stressful year. The tragedies never seem end. Harambe was shot dead in front of children. David Bowie and Prince died unexpectedly. Oh yeah, and the US elected a screaming giant cheese wedge to be the next president. All of this bad news might want to make you just run away for a while. Now, there's an easier way to do it.
When we think 'virtual reality' we tend to associate it with 'video games', but I've always believed that the true potential of VR lies elsewhere -- virtual tourism, talking to family members on the other side of the world.
How about travelling all over the globe like a flying disembodied human head? How does that sound?
I've always wanted to go to Mars. I don't have the brains or the endless cash reserves of Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, though. What I do have is PlayStation VR. That, or a HTC Vive, is all you need to play a 30-minute interactive cinematic vignette from Ridley Scott's The Martian on your PlayStation 4 or gaming PC.
Virtual reality is great and all, but it needs a little more space -- especially if you're using a room-scale HTC Vive. And that probably means you're going to want to set up your powerful VR gaming PC in an open area like your living room. And that means you're going to want a PC that can hide out of the way in your TV cabinet. Enter the MSI Trident, the world's smallest VR-ready PC.
2016 is the year that VR is actually getting good. You can click a few buttons on the internet and a Vive or a Rift will appear on your doorstep a few days later -- although you'll have to pay through the nose -- for your gaming PC, which is more powerful than ever. Or you can buy a PlayStation VR instead.
Or, down at PAX Aus in Melbourne in November, you can try all three -- in a dedicated 'VR Freeplay' area, with three-directional treadmills that let you walk around in virtual reality.
The real appeal of monster movies like Godzilla is that they let you experience what it would be like to be a giant rage-filled monster stomping around a big city. But instead of just sitting in a theatre as a witness to the rampage, a new virtual reality experience lets you experience it firsthand -- minus all the destruction.
If you've been putting off buying one of the two current top-of-the-line virtual reality headsets because of the delays with shipping one to your doorstep, the wait is over. A month after HTC announced the same thing, Oculus is telling customers that it finally has production up to speed and enough stock to ship out all new orders within a couple of business days.
Later this month, Nvidia is releasing what it calls "its first game" onto Steam. That game is a short virtual reality experience called VR Funhouse. It's built on Unreal Engine 4, and it's designed to show off the graphical and physics-enhanced power of the company's GeForce 10-series GPUs, including the new (and more affordable) GTX 1060.