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Virtual Reality for the Masses

This may be remembered as the year when the average consumer gained access to virtual reality. Leading the charge is a pair of devices: the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.  

The headset devices, which need to be tethered to a computer or smartphone, use infrared tracking sensors and handheld controllers, along with lenses that allow for a wide field of view, to create a 3D experience. 

The devices were originally designed for virtual experiences and gaming. Participants can travel in deep space, kayak through the Grand Canyon, walk with dinosaurs and so on. However, a number of other applications are being considered, such as helping architects design buildings, customers purchase cars, and the military train soldiers.  

Widespread personal and commercial use of virtual reality is still in its infancy. In addition to the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, other companies in the market include Sony, Google, Samsung and Microsoft.  

Manufacturers have faced a few market challenges. One is optimizing distribution channels. Products are available through a limited number of outlets, such as Best Buy and Amazon, but shipping dates have been repeatedly pushed back. Another is users need robust computer systems, typical of the ones gamers use, to handle the technology appetite of virtual reality products. One interesting symptom is “simulator sickness,” the reported feelings of nausea and dizziness people get when using virtual reality systems. This is commonplace enough that Oculus rates its various games and experiences as comfortable, moderate, and intense. It is hoped, however, that this will dissipate over time with repeated use. 

Whatever the challenges, virtual reality appears here to stay, with TheWall Street Journal calling it a “glimpse of the future of computing.”

Product Rift Vive
Company Oculus/Facebook HTC and Valve Corp.
Tracking System Constellation Lighthouse
View Field 110 degrees 110 degrees
Refresh Rate 90 Hz 90 Hz
Resolution 2160x1200 2160x1200
Display OLED OLED
Weight 1.04 pounds 1.20 pounds
Cost $600 $800
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