VR is an experiential medium. The first thing people express in their first VR experience is surprise at how ‘real’ it seems. Once you don the Head Mounted Display (HMD) and headphones, you really do experience another reality.
There are a number of factors that contribute to this. Chief for me is scale. Like the TARDIS in Dr Who, it is bigger on the inside. Staring into the eye of a Blue Whale,
or on a plank balanced out the window of an apartment 50 floors up, is simply something you cannot experience as viscerally looking at a screen.
And we haven’t even begun yet.
Right now two factors constrain the ‘reality’ part of Virtual Reality:
The first is the resolution of the display. This itself is a function of the display technology, the processor, and power. If you’re using standard display techniques, pixel density becomes a real problem. As you add more pixels to a display, you exponentially increase processor performance requirements, in turn needing more power.
This is why the two leading VR headset manufacturers (Oculus and HTC) still tether their HMD’s to a powerful computer.
The second challenge to neuropsychological quality VR is the actual fidelity of the artefacts. No matter how good the rendering, we all can discern the difference between an animated character and a ‘real’ person. Within VR this effect is amplified.
This presents us with a dilemma: Create a discernibly unreal computer animated avatar that can respond appropriately to us as a being within VR. Or capture realistic video of people we can watch but not interact with.
Right now various producers are using both approaches powerfully. Spectating a Syrian Refugee camp through VR video is as powerful as experiencing dementia through VR animation.
Producers can create enough videos to cater for a simply decision tree, somewhat like an IVR call system. But this is clunky, unwieldy and easy to game. Equally the game engines of modern First Person Shooters and simulators are remarkably sophisticated, but the graphics are still not real enough.
It’s the melding of the two that will truly change VR. The inability to discern the authenticity of people within the simulation, combined with the ability to interact.
One thing that is certain, however, is how powerful this new medium is, and that it will change everything.
Watch this space.