Life in the Matrix: Our 2016 Virtual Reality Guide
Virtual reality is one of those things that we keep hearing will “transform our lives forever.” After all, what other technology can take us from outer space to the top of Everest? Or from video game missions to artistic experiences where we can create paintings in mid-air (without paint)?
VR’s been tipped for great things for years now, and in 2016 it’s poised to explode. Read our virtual reality guide to learn more about how this bizarro new technology is going to change your life…trips to Mars included.
Go the luxe or the budget route with your VR gear - from the Oculus Rift to Google Cardboard. Images courtesy of Oculus (left) and Google (right)
First things first: you gotta get your gear in order. We’re talking those funny VR headsets that you strap around your face (plus external hardware—your phone, in many cases). There are a good handful of current options, each offering different perks.
Topping the list is the Oculus Rift, a long-awaited device that’s just now being released to the public—and which will be complemented by over 100 game releases this year. HTC’s Vive is another option getting plenty of attention, thanks to its 360-degree room-scale motion tracking, which seamlessly transforms your space into a virtual world.
And for the budget choice? Meet Google Cardboard, a low-maintenance viewer that sells for just 20 bucks a pop, and which your iOS or Android phone should slip into seamlessly. It’s the VR starter kit.
VIRTUAL REALITY TRAVEL
Explore the final frontier virtually with NASA’s Mars 2030 VR experience. Image courtesy of NASA.
Virtual reality’s MO is its ability to take you to dreamlike new worlds, without having to leave the comfort of your own pad. Beyond the fantastical, though, VR can also transport you to very real places that just might be a little far to get to on your own.
Like, say… the fourth planet from the sun. NASA’s interactive Mars 2030 VR experience allows users to chart the Red Planet without actually going through astronaut training. Of course, if you’d like to see more of Earth first, simply go on a harrowing digital trek to the summit of Everest, courtesy of Sólfar Studios’s very realistic graphics. No biggie.
Mt. Everest without the frostbite and oxygen deprivation? It’s possible with VR. Image courtesy of Sólfar Studios.
Death-defying climbs not your idea of tourism? Then YouVisit might be more your speed. Users can see Paris by night, attend Fashion Week runway shows, or go on a helicopter tour of New York. That’s one way to save on your vacay budget.
Save yourself $600 and permanent hearing loss with a virtual helicopter tour of NYC. Image courtesy of YouVisit.
GAMES AND ENTERTAINMENT
Want to graffiti your dad’s boat without getting into trouble? Tilt Brush has got you covered. Image courtesy of Google.
Of course, no virtual reality guide is complete without a rundown of VR entertainment—there’s lots of it, people. Video games are one of the key sectors in which VR is predicted to blow up, and not just ’cause of all those explosions you’re seeing.
The video game publisher Bethesda Softworks has plans in the works to release virtual versions of blockbuster games Fallout and Doom within the year. Then there’s the recently announced PlayStation VR, which promises to immerse players to a degree that their “intuition takes over.”
For more passive entertainment, virtual reality film is also tapped for big things. Oculus’s Netflix app is one example of how VR can change the binge-watch experience, like making it look like you’re watching Orange is the New Black in a ski lodge. YouTube’s expanding VR selection is another example of entertainment’s foray into the virtual.
It’s not all just fun and games. For causes you’re passionate about, VR can be a powerful teaching tool. Image courtesy of The Guardian.
Beyond the leisure, virtual reality can also inspire awareness, build empathy, and help us engage with the more troubled corners of the world we live in. The powerful 360Syria project, produced in partnership with Amnesty International, is one such example, and aims to transport viewers to a war-devastated corner of the country.
Then there’s the Guardian’s 6x9 experience, which immerses users in a solitary confinement cell. It’s not the most comfortable of experiences, but it’s not meant to be. Instead, it shows the power of the virtual to transport us beyond our everyday lives and circumstances—and hopefully spark real change in the years to come.