This month, there were two interesting product announcements. The first was very high-resolution displays that should arrive in VR headsets this year that are at eye resolution. The other, even more interesting but farther out product, is a haptic suit that could give you virtual touch. Let’s talk VR this week.
Varjo: Creating Visual Reality
Right now, the problem with VR implementations is that the resolution isn’t where it needs to be. Ideally, you’d want to see the virtual world with enough detail so that your eye would be fooled into thinking you were looking through goggles or glasses. Instead, it is typically more like looking through a screen door or at an image that isn’t fully rendered so you never really lose the feeling that it isn’t real.
To address this, later in the year a company called Varjo is releasing a headset that has 70-megapixel resolution (should make the graphics card guys happy), providing a high enough resolution to get us nearly to the point where what we see in the virtual world will look nearly identical to what we see in the real world. Folks that have tried prototypes have reported the resolution looks better than the naked eye, something I’m taking with a grain of salt, but it is certainly better than what we have today.
This won’t be a cheap date, though; they are targeting the professional market, so think closer to $5K than $500 in price. And the PC or workstation you’ll need to drive it will likely need to be top end or another $3K to $5K, but if you really wanted a window into VR’s high-resolution future this is likely it.
Pushing the Assassin’s Creed Envelope
If you were one of the few folks that saw the movie Assassin’s Creed, you would have seen what I thought was the best future implementation of a VR human interface. It suspended you in the air and tied into your nervous system directly to fully simulate all aspects of movement and feeling. Well the solution from AvonVR is about as close to that as we are likely to get in the next 10 or so years. You wear a suit that contains haptic feedback for arms, legs, and hands that is supported on a free-standing frame so you can move in two dimensions; in theory, with the right support, you could even swim or fly virtually and have it feel much more like you are actually doing it. Granted, you’d likely need a fan or something for wind, and rain would be problematic, but at least movement and holding things would be taken into account. Plus, with the VR goggles in place, you’d have a far more realistic moving experience in VR.
With the haptic pads in the suit, you might actually feel virtual people hit you, though the level of impact would likely be more in line with a game where you were playing a superhero. Even a bullet would feel like a tap on your body.
This would be the ultimate way to eliminate the cords that currently are trip hazards and to provide a way to move around the virtual environment without tripping over pets, your PC, or the damn cord (not that I’ve EVER done that myself, mind you). Hard to see how they could make this for much less than $10K, which makes for an expensive toy, but think of it as a way to have a wide variety of outdoor and highly active experiences without ever leaving your home.
First person shooters could be particularly amazing.
Wrapping Up: Price for Experience
These two technologies together likely could form the basis for what it would cost to do VR well. Right now, VR kind of sucks. But with about $20K, assuming my guesses on this hardware are accurate, you could have your own personal holodeck that is actually pretty cool. It could be the ultimate exercise or adventure machine. Since we buy boats, motorcycles, and sports cars for well over this amount (and it could emulate all of those) the combination of these technologies into a solution would be attractive to those that can afford it.
I think the VR industry is making a huge mistake starting at the bottom with what is mostly junk right now. If they instead started with and marketed a high-quality VR rig that combined both of these technologies, folks would lust for it and, as prices dropped, there would be a ready market for the result. But, by starting low, there is too much junk out there and that is killing the current VR market. In the end, Varjo and AvonVR are showing us what VR could be. I’m hoping the industry catches on and turns that into “what is” before VR turns into the latest version of 3D-like technology and goes back to the shelf.