In 2016 consumers can expect to see virtual reality (VR) headsets released by Facebook, Valve and Sony. This could be the start of something big for the gaming industry but could it also be the start of a new way for people to 'experience' the news?
The allure of transporting yourself into a fully realised alternative reality has been around for decades. For years, however, it remained nothing more than a Sci-Fi fantasy. In 2012 that changed when Oculus launched their Kickstarter project, the Oculus Rift. Oculus hoped to source $250,000 so they could develop and release a primative 'developers kit'. Instead, it managed to raise $2.5million. Just two years later and Oculus was sold to the social media giant Facebook for $2billion. This was just the start. Other technology juggernauts wanted to get in on the act and now, within the next twelve months, we are expecting there to be at least three or four consumer ready VR headsets on the market.
At the heart of the VR experience is the true to life field of view. It gives the viewer the feeling that they are actually there. Images are rendered in 3D and the 360 degree display means you can look up and see the sky, look down at the ground, look over your shoulder or turn around entirely. You are no longer a mere spectator but actually feel as if you are in the action.
You don't need to be willing to splash out for a Oculus or Sony headset in order to enjoy VR. Many of us already have a sufficient device in our pockets, our smart-phones. Google Cardboard is a cheap yet well designed fold out cardboard mount which will hold your phone to your face and enable you to experience some aspects of VR video. All that's needed is a compelling reason for people to do so.
For those of us who do not play games, perhaps that reason is the news and documentaries. Even if you are simply watching a video, VR makes you feel as if you are there witnessing it. This is potentially a very powerful tool for reporters. Imagine if you could truly feel as if you are in Aleppo, Syria, standing atop a ruined building, surveying the destruction of the civil war. It would give you a greater sense of the carnage and a much greater understanding of the plight of the refugees who are fleeing their homes.
This is not just idle speculation. Last month RYOT News actually produced this video and uploaded it onto their Youtube page. Further still, one of the US' biggest news networks, ABC, has also begun to consider the idea of VR reporting. It recently announced plans to experiment with using VR and have already launched a documentary showing the reality of life in current day Damascus. ABC have not given much more detail on how they intend to utilise VR in the future but have indicated that if it is not done as a stand-alone documentary then smaller VR videos would be produced to go alongside the longer traditional reports.
It is entirely possible, therefore, that gamers may not be the only ones enticed by VR technology, especially if it becomes more affordable and accessible. If it does take off in the way so many expect it to, perhaps people will look to experience the news in a brand new way as well.