While attending SIGGRAPH in the mid-90’s, I had my first opportunity to experience immersive virtual reality (VR) when I won a chance to “Ride the Onyx” (SGI’s premiere workhorse at the time) in a “cave automatic virtual environment” (CAVE). Soaring over a roaring river astride a pterodactyl, I promptly crashed my winged steed into a canyon wall and brought the entire system down for the next hour (yes, that was me). Twenty years later, I’m standing in a VR haunted house – courtesy of my I Am Cardboard headset & trusty smart phone – and stumbling over my very real coffee table after being surprised by a rather visceral ghost.
VR has been around for decades, with entertainment efforts ranging from the theme park attractions developed by Disney’s VR Studio back in 1992 to the array of creative on display in the SIGGRAPH 2015 VR Village. The early years of VR spectacle (akin to the early years of carny sideshow films) have evolved into today’s immersive storytelling: increasingly organic, responsive and engaging. VR entertainment finally appears to be coming into its own – with a frenzy of activity fueled by Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR, and a universe of applications afforded by increasingly inexpensive (and now disposable) hardware.
Google Cardboard – a paper VR headset created by Google engineers David Coz and Damien Henry during their “Innovation Time Off” time – was introduced last year at Google I/O. I picked one up this week. The “low-fi” VR experience – from the simplicity of slotting your smart phone into the front flap and donning your ear buds, to the miracle of losing yourself in a virtual environment anywhere/anytime – is disarmingly compelling. More than anything else, I believe that “disposable” VR tech will have the greatest impact in bringing VR entertainment experiences to The Average Person, and VR creative opportunities to The Enterprising Creator.
While The Average Person is unlikely to order a cardboard VR headset online, you don’t have to peer too far into the future to see when disposable VR headsets will be given away as entry-level windows into worlds of immersive content. “Free” is a compelling price point and “disposable” leads to ubiquity.
So, don’t be surprised when the pizza you order arrives in a box that folds into a headset through which you view exclusive VR entertainment tie-ins downloaded to your smart phone from a QR code on the lid. The fusion of content, consumer products and marketing afforded by cheap consumer VR will itself be a new reality.