In the decades since video games first hopped from coin-op arcades to living rooms, true virtual reality has been mainly been a pipe dream -- a lofty, nebulous goal that the gaming world has someday aspired to achieve. With consumer technology finally catching pace with our dreams of innovation, we're pushing closer and closer towards making VR a regular part of the household gaming and multimedia experience.
Is 2016 the Year of VR? All to get signs are pointing to "yes," but in order to get a full picture of the rough path we've trail blazed to get this far, it's worth looking back on our journey up to the present.
Falters and false-starts in VR
It's not that companies haven't attempted to catapult us into a glorious VR-filled future; it's that these attempts have mostly crashed and burned or failed fully to sell the public on VR.
Most notorious among the earliest efforts at bringing VR to the consumer gaming market, Nintendo's Virtual Boy was an utter flop, thanks to some poor design choices that made it a cumbersome and unpleasant device to use. Players had to lean forward to look into a set of red resting on a tabletop stand, then play using an attached controller. The games themselves were 3D, but had a limited red and black color palette, and less than two dozen games ever made it to market. Despite this forward-thinking attempt, the lackluster response set a rocky tone for the future of VR.
In recent years, consumers have been gradually warming up again to the idea of VR, thanks in-part to low-tech experiments in pairing Smartphones with VR technology. Google Cardboard's DIY-minded approach pairs low-cost cardboard materials with the small portable screens that most folks have in their pocket. The result: a decent, affordable way for gamers to get a taste of the possibility of what VR can be. Samsung VR Gear took a similar approach, only it used a slightly more conventional hands-free head strap design.
Both have shown promise and helped to bolster interest in mobile VR, but neither offer the heavy-duty immersive gaming experiences players crave when they think of VR.
Enter the big players.
A game-changing year ahead?
The Kickstarter success and ensuing buzz surrounding the Oculus Rift, the industry's flagship dedicated VR gaming headset that's finally headed to market in the coming months, has done a lot of rekindle interest in VR in recent years. It's also helped spawn a new wave of high-tech competitors seeking to carve out their own slice of the future.
Alongside the Oculus Rift, upcoming offerings like Sony VR and the Valve-backed HTC Vive Pre have the potential to shake up the gaming world and finally deliver on the promise that gamers have clung to all these years. Many other smaller tech companies are also chomping at the bit to hop on the VR train. With the Oculus Rift launching in early 2016, and the competition angling to follow-suit, the big question is: what's different about these latest attempts that could make them finally stick?
For starters, the level of 3D immersion offered by this next wave of dedicated VR devices is the real deal. Far from just "sit and watch" interactive tech demos like most of the Smartphone VR experiences of late, this next generation of VR gearis finely tuned with gaming as a core focus. Other VR perks, like real-time head tracking ,wireless controllers for each hand (in the case of some devices), and room location tracking sensors are poised to unlock entirely new and exciting ways to play.
Major gaming and tech companies have invested big money in the future of VR and upcoming game titles, and waves of developers scrambling to put together compelling and innovative projects to showcase alongside these high-tech gadgets. The indie developer scene, in particular, has also shown great interest in VR, with teams creating unique and quirky projects that make unique, inventive use of the technology.
2016 is already shaping up to be an exciting year for tech and gaming enthusiasts, as this next wave of VR tech begins to hit the consumer market. Will this be the big leap forward that everyone has been hoping for? We'll soon find out!