5 roadblocks to VR becoming mainstream

[From Mashable, where the story includes two more images; be sure to see the last paragraph]

The author wearing the Oculus Rift

5 Roadblocks to Virtual Reality Becoming Mainstream

Chelsea Stark
September 30, 2014

For more than 25 years, one iteration or the next of virtual reality has been touted as a life-altering technological breakthrough. At the first Oculus Rift developers conference, attendees saw how far its creators have come in pursuit of an outstanding virtual reality platform.

But virtual reality still has a long way to go before it’s ready for consumers, and its biggest proponents know it, too. During Oculus Connect, the company’s top brass talked about the issues virtual reality still struggles with, and how they might be solvable. While there could potentially be solutions for each problem, they won’t be tackled overnight.

From the technical limitations of providing a truly realistic experience to software developers understanding best practices for making an immersive game or app, there are some struggles that the movement’s collective brainpower still need to tackle.

1. There’s no right way to move inside VR

The running joke with many Oculus Rift panels is that whenever anyone asks if there are plans to allow people to get up and walk around, any Oculus Rift executive will reply with, “The Oculus Rift is a sitting experience.” The line of questioning comes to a full stop after that.

The Oculus Rift and other virtual reality headsets block out the world around you. The headset covers your eyes and all your peripheral vision, instead filling your field of view with a screen. Fumbling for a keyboard and mouse is difficult enough, but trying to do anything beyond that has huge potential for someone to trip and fall.

“We don’t want people to hurt themselves,” Oculus VR Founder Palmer Luckey said.

While a tiny number of virtual reality diehards might consider building a padded room, there isn’t any easy solution to this problem. More immersive experiences, such as games that ask players to duck, dodge or climb could be limited by the liability of asking players to move while disconnected from the ‘real’ reality.

There are some third parties working on solutions, such as the Virtuix Omni treadmill, which will allow players to move around a space while safely restrained in a harness. The Omni is not small or inexpensive though, and isn’t going to be something every consumer picks up.

2. Look ma, no hands!

Perhaps a bigger challenge in virtual space is deciding how players interact with objects within it. While the Oculus Rift now tracks head movements, it doesn’t naturally interact with any other part of your body. There isn’t an input solution for your hands yet.

“Input is the most important and obvious thing to consumers. As long as input isn’t there, people will ask, ‘Where’s my hands?’” Luckey said during a panel at Oculus Connect.

Virtual reality input is something both game developers and hardware makers are currently struggling with. While an Xbox 360 controller, which has become the defacto PC game controller, technically works, it lacks any kind of realism. Other motion controls, including the STEM system and its commercially available Razer Hydra, offer a lot of promise, but they don’t mimic hand movement.

“There is no clear path on how to produce that technology.

We know some things are wrong, but we can’t perfectly emulate how we interact with the real world,” Luckey said.

It seems that Oculus is taking the time to work on its own solution, but Luckey didn’t elude to what that might be. He elaborated more on the controller issues in a later interview.

“There are people who are doing what they are trying to do well, but I’m just not sure if what they are doing is what needs to be done. There’s controllers [that] are excellent at being guns, but what is needed is a general purpose virtual reality input device in order for VR to take off and become mainstream. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to work well at being a gun, at being a sword, at being a hand,” he said. “That’s very difficult. Most likely, being a hand is more important than being a great gun.”

3. There is no single experience yet that sells the hardware

Virtual reality is still in its infancy, and it’s no surprise that the kinds of experiences that can be had on the platform are either very experimental and unpolished, or beautiful tech demos that only last a few minutes. While the Oculus VR staff are exciting about developer enthusiasm, it seems nothing is up to their standards yet.

“We haven’t seen that thing that is so compelling that we need to get people to use VR day after day,” said Oculus VR Chief Scientist Michael Abrash.

New platforms can only succeed if people are interested in the content they can experience on them. Hit games sell video game consoles, blockbuster movies sold DVD players and YouTube may not have become so ubiquitous without millions of cat videos. Similarly, virtual reality will need compelling, accessible experiences to drive it beyond something just for enthusiasts. It will need experiences to make it indispensable, especially for older or tech-averse users.

“There are some things we’re starting to see like the beginnings of really cool games, but they aren’t developed to the point where you say, ‘This is clearly the future.’ It’s going to take a few more months or years before a lot of these seeds turn into big giant trees,” Luckey said.

Games may not need to be technically advanced to get people involved as long as they provide a good social experience in VR. Luckey pointed out people enjoy activities much more if their friends are doing them, too, even if it’s not something they’d enjoy on their own.

And many of the most popular VR experiences won’t be about gaming at all. The Oculus VR team developed two apps for the portable Samsung Gear VR, a 360-degree panaromic photo viewer and an app to watch movies in virtual reality.

“These utility experiences are important, because a lot of people will come back to them over and over,” said Oculus VR VP of Product Nate Mitchell. “It’s like a phone, I want to listen to music on my phone, but it may not be the best experience, but it’s convenient and I keep coming back to using it. I’ve watched a number of movies in VR and it’s always been great.”

4. It’s easy to make people sick

Everything game developers or film makers know about how to let up a shot or control a camera has to be thrown out in virtual reality. Moving a person around while they feel like they are sitting still messes heavily with the vestibular system, which controls our balance.

Shots where the camera speeds up, where you’re on a moving field, or change perspectives with no frame of reference — like a cut scene — have all been found to cause nausea in virtual reality. That affect is even worse when your vision stutters if you move your head too rapidly.

And some people could be more sensitive to motion sickness than others. While Oculus VR’s CEO Brendan Iribe claims the newest prototype it showed at the conference is much better for people sensitive to “simulation sickness,” there are still plenty of people out there who would need to try it for themselves. There’s also some research floating around that says women are more prone to simulation sickness than men. (Very few women attended Oculus Connect or tested the prototype.)

5. It’s still kind of silly looking

This last point might be kind of silly, but since blogs such as White Guys Wearing Oculus Rifts exists, it’s still fair game. While we hardly know what the Oculus Rift’s final version looks like, the technical requirements mean it will still be a slightly bulky headset that fits over your eyes. Some people will just never get past that.

And they’re kind of right. [The photo above shows] me wearing the newest prototype.

The portable solution, the Gear VR, isn’t much better. [See the original story for a photo of] Mashable Tech Editor Pete Pachal trying it on.

While Oculus headsets aren’t meant to be used in public, some trepidation from the average user wouldn’t be surprising.

Are any of these problems insurmountable? No. The best thing is that most people familiar with virtual reality are familiar with all of them, yet still extremely optimistic about the platform’s promise.

Michael Abrash, who came from Valve Software where he worked on virtual reality for some time to Oculus a few months ago, said there were many different problems still to tackle.

“Everywhere you look around, there is something new to figure out,” he said.

But Abrash also was still so doggedly confident in virtual reality. At a different talk that day, he said this: “VR is the biggest transformation in our relationships with technology since the personal computer. VR will finally allow us to interact with information in the way we are built to interact with reality.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ISPR Presence News

Search ISPR Presence News: