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The Rise And Rise Of Virtual Reality

2016 was the year that virtual reality became an everyday reality. VR headsets hit the shelves and became the latest gadget to feel consumer hype with Playstation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive all launching last year.

2016 was the year that virtual reality became an everyday reality. VR headsets hit the shelves and became the latest gadget to feel consumer hype with Playstation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive all launching last year. 2017 has been a year of coming to terms with this technological advancement - the dust has settled and now tech developers are seeing how VR can be advanced even further.

VR has the power to change how we understand technology in the 21st century and indeed, how we interact with people in our day-to-day lives. Tech companies are adapting to this already, foreshadowing the rise of VR as a threat to existing technology in the industries of communication, education, gaming, cinema and even more. What happens to instant messaging platforms, for example, if we start communicating with each other over VR? And more importantly, what happens to human interaction once we swap hanging out for headsets?

Regardless of this speculation, at present, VR is still in its infancy in the mainstream market. There are currently two types of VR technology on the market; mobile and tethered. Each have their pros and cons and each appeal to people with different budgets.

Mobile VR

For many of us, gadgets and consumer technology has become imperative to our daily lives, and we are more connected to our phones now than ever before. In fact, earlier this month, Ericsson's ConsumerLab report forecasted that half of all viewing will take place on a mobile device by the year 2020 - an 85% rise in just a decade - while a third of consumers will be using VR in the next three years.

At first glance, it seems unlikely that consumers will swap their televisions for mobile handsets but with the relative cinema experience that becomes possible with mobile VR, this estimate could become more of a reality.

In terms of what brands are dominating the mobile VR scene, Google has done well carving out its place in the market, appealing to those who want a VR experience on a purse-friendly budget. Google Cardboard costs just £15 and is a fun and simple mobile VR headset that gets the job done in an affordable way, owing to the fact that it is made of, well, cardboard. Google's Daydream View device comes in slightly more expensive at £99, offering users a more comfortable and sophisticated overall experience, featuring motion sensors in the headset and a handy remote. The downside? The Google Daydream View is only compatible with Android phones.

The Samsung Gear VR device, meanwhile, was launched late in 2015 in collaboration with Oculus. Currently costing £79.99, it's another relatively affordable way for mobile users to experience the immersive world of VR - however, this equipment is only compatible with the Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Plus, S7 and S7 Edge.

Tethered VR

Moving away from smartphone-based VR products, tethered headsets give consumers the ultimate VR experience, albeit with somewhat less portable technology. The HTC Vive currently dominates the high-end line of VR tech, coming in at one of the most expensive options for consumers wanting the real deal (£599). Tethered headsets aren't for the faint-hearted - they are complex and processor-heavy pieces of tech, requiring tracking sensors in the vicinity and a powerful PC for them to operate at their best. With perseverance however, they can give you visual quality that is unrivalled in today's wider VR market.

Tethered VR is also the latest step in gaming technology, holding the power to immerse gamers inside the virtual worlds created by game developers. When Sony developed the PlayStation VR in 2016, they faced the challenge of designing a headset that was fully compatible with the 40 million PlayStation 4 consoles that were already in use by consumers.

Unlike other manufacturers of VR, Sony didn't envisage that the PlayStation VR would necessarily allow its customers to view the world through another person's pair of eyes. Instead, Sony wanted their VR experience to allow users to enter the reality of gaming characters. Be it driving a supercar around the streets of Monaco or battling the undead, the PlayStation VR allows consumers to put themselves directly into their favourite games.

The Future: Standalone VR headsets step forward

Earlier this month, Mark Zuckerberg, chairman and co-founder of social media giant Facebook, put forward his vision for the future of VR. Speaking at Facebook's annual Virtual Reality Developers Conference in San Jose, California, Mr. Zuckerberg announced his ambitious aspiration; 1 billion people with VR at their fingertips.

Introducing Oculus, the Facebook-owned VR tech company that aims to bridge the gap between the practical yet elementary smartphone VR options and the expensive yet high-caliber tethered options. Their upcoming Oculus Go seeks to position itself as the happy medium between the affordable price point of the Google Cardboard and the pricier HTC Vive. Set to be released in early 2018, Oculus Go will bring a standalone VR headset, without the wires or hefty price tag that comes with tethered VR but featuring a crisp visual quality that can't be achieved using a smartphone.

With each step that developers make, more and more uses for VR can be explored. VR is no longer the novelty toy that your uncle gets out at family parties. Whether VR is adopted in the classroom to teach medical students how to perform surgery without the risk or whether it's used to help aid people suffering with anxiety or PTSD, the possibilities that VR open up are exciting and near endless.

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