You’d have to have been living under a rock not to hear about virtual reality in the last two years. While the technology was teased and talked about for years leading up to 2016, this is when we saw the selection of headsets we’ve now gotten used to becoming available to consumers. VR has become, not really an industry or a next step in any particular branch of technology, but a whole sector of technology. It is being used in gaming and entertainment, retail, teaching and research, medicine and surgery, travel booking, real estate, and likely all kinds of additional areas. It is, at least in some senses, the way of the future.
It also happens to be deeply imperfect. Virtual reality as we know it today is impressive, immersive, and convincing – but not wholly so. There are still issues that keep us at least somewhat rooted in reality even while using advanced VR programs and equipment. And it will be these issues that shape innovation in the coming years, as tech companies, and developers look to perfect a technology with immeasurable potential.
The area that’s getting the most attention is control. As the MIT tech review put it, if VR is going to be truly immersive, holding a controller could be distracting. Companies are already looking for alternatives to traditional game control, and ways that users will be able to use their eyes, heads, fingers, and natural motions to facilitate locomotion and activity within a virtual reality program. It’s a very important area of focus and the companies that get it right are most certainly going to have some advantages over the rest. It may well be that in another few years we look back and feel incredulous that we ever used game-style controllers to get around in VR.
That said, it’s also worth remembering that we don’t really get excited for VR because of how we’re able to move in it; we get excited about being in it. A blog post exploring the different ways in which VR would alter the gaming landscape once noted in fairly blunt terms that part of the entire point of VR is to escape reality and jump into a world where you can be and do whatever you want. The point in that article was that it’s all about the setting and environment, which can take even an otherwise mundane game and make it interesting. Extrapolating beyond gaming, it’s true for other areas of VR as well. For those using it in medical practices, the environment has to be utterly convincing; for travel booking, it has to provide a very strong sense of a destination, and so on.
Because the visuals are really the key to what makes the technology unique, it’s the visuals that should be the main focus of improvements as well. Issues like coming up with new, more intuitive controls are important, but what can really put virtual reality over the hump is an improvement in the graphics and animations that form virtual worlds. And this is why CGI is going to come into play far more than it has to this point. As one writer put it, aiming for hyper-realistic cgi animation and animated characters is not achieved yet. VR at its best is realistic, but still not convincing in the way that so many modern CGI experiences in film are.
Ultimately, a sort of technological partnership seems inevitable. If modern CGI capabilities pair with virtual reality equipment with any degree of success, VR will become convincing and fascinating enough that everything else will follow.