Kelly Scott Madison

Virtual Reality Check

08/08/2016

 

It seems we've been talking about virtual reality since the 80s. Is it finally time for it to shine? 

A seemingly endless slew of news and tech outlets have billed this as the year when virtual reality (VR) will hit critical mass. But almost as quickly as this prediction gained traction, an equally vocal array of realists raised considerable doubts. In December 2015, Ad Age published a list of 10 reasons why 2016 won’t be “the year of VR.” In the same month, Fortune published an article citing expectations for a sluggish start to the industry. Deloitte’s prediction for VR in 2016 stated it is a “billion-dollar niche,” a number that’s not very impressive when considering that the video games industry, from which the current VR craze is primarily birthed, is valued at nearly $100 billon. So why is there so much dissent? The answer is actually very simple, and rooted in the development of expectations for this industry over the last several years.

Humble beginnings for the juggernaut of the future

The term virtual reality rose to popularity during the 1980s and saw expanded usage into the 1990s. Although an increasing number of people recognized the consumer potential, limited computing power, exorbitant costs and the rise of the internet forced innovation to take a back seat. From the 1990s into the 2000s, a variety of major companies dabbled with virtual reality hardware, most notably video game console manufacturers such as Sega and Nintendo. Few of these products ever materialized for mass market consumption and those that did (like Nintendo’s Virtual Boy) went on to become commercial failures.

How then did VR go from a wishful fantasy to the darling of every major tech firm? The turning point came in 2011 with Palmer Luckey, a longtime VR enthusiast. Luckey began work on a VR headset of his own after being unsatisfied with the quality of available products. Luckey’s early exploits propelled him to join forces with John Carmack, a famous programmer and aerospace engineer. In June 2012, the Oculus Rift prototype was demoed...


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