You know my rule about headlines that end in a question, right? The answer usually is ‘no.’ This past weekend Wil and I were able to get a glimpse of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Frankly, I have mixed emotions about the experience. First, it’s very cool, especially for games, though the physical experience left me a bit woozy (I wasn’t the only one; other nerds and pseudo-nerds and geeks had similar issued). Second, while the viewing experience is exciting and seems to bode well for the future of virtual reality, I couldn’t help but seem similarities with Google Glass.
The former is bulky, all immersive, really weird looking, and requires you to sit or stand in one place. The latter was lightweight, less conspicuous, highly mobile in an augmented reality way, but sufficiently weird looking and ominous– thanks to the built-in camera– that Google Glass became publicly invasive, and the project was shelved, canned, halted, or whatever tech companies do to something that doesn’t meet with general public approval.
Oculus Rift and most virtual reality headsets I’ve seen to date, including the cardboard models which let you attach your smartphone, are interesting, fun, even exciting depending upon the game, but I’m going to relegate VR as it exists now to the niche category which makes it more like Microsoft’s XboxOne or other game consoles. That’s it. A niche. A limited universe of buyers and users.
That means Oculus Rift and other VR headsets are not the new Google Glass, so the answer to the title is, as expected, a qualified ‘no.’
Will VR go mainstream? Sure. Just like XboxOne and other game system went mainstream, which is to say a niche product that doesn’t capture the imagination of the masses, which means it won’t sell in the same numbers each year as does iPhone, iPad, and possibly not even the Mac. Sony says they’ve sold over 35-million PlayStation units in the past two years, trouncing XboxOne, and about even with Mac unit sales over the same period.
Does anyone expect virtual reality headsets to sell in similar volumes? Perhaps. If they’re made of cardboard. But a $1,500 Oculus Rift VR headset won’t take over the entertainment world any more than $1,500 of Google Glass did with developers.
It’s a movie screen– whether of the cardboard variety, or the expensive Rift, or similar models at lower prices due soon from HTC, and others– strapped to your head. How much time will people devote to that kind of physical contraption? There is little question that industry executives think VR is the next big thing. And it is. For a limited number of users. This isn’t technology for the masses. It’s XboxOne and Playstation stuck on your face; interesting, perhaps useful, definitely exciting to the point of nausea, but it will be a niche of technology entertainment for the foreseeable future.
Two words. Google Glass.