The Reality of Virtual Reality.
Posted on: 11/25/2017 10:13 PM

It seems that VR is the latest tech darling in the media and growing in popularity. The big question is, should you buy or should you wait? If you are a content creator should you start migrating toward this tech or risk waiting it out.

As the saying goes, "You can always recognize a pioneer by all of the arrows in their back." I modify this and say, "You can always recognize an early adopter by their empty pockets and the look of disappointment on their face.”

The typical early adopter, or lighthouse customer, is an optimistic, enthusiast. When it comes to VR, is it too early to be optimistic? or is the potential market for applications of the technology strong enough to warrant jumping in.

I think the answer depends on your particular use case. If you are a gamer, I think that perhaps VR may be a step backward from a resolution standpoint. The technology is there, the graphics are there, it is just that, combining those two things in a headset at a price point that the average consumer and afford is not quite there yet.

Of course as with any early stage technology, there are a host of issues to overcome. In the case of Virtual Reality it is pixelation. VR actually needs to be shot in 6-12K to give a "realistic" look. The barrier to achieving high resolution, natural looking VR is not insurmountable, however there are some pretty significant choke points.

First, because of how your eye sees VR, the files really need to be a minimum of 4K (and to you that would look pixelated). At 8k-12k and VR would start to look more believable. This means that the typical high resolution VR rig (which uses multiple cameras) is really expensive.

Furthermore, the high resolution cameras create downstream problems which include inconsistencies with focus, disparate artifacts created by stitching, lighting issues and more. Along with the stitching problems there is file size. The typical tool used to combat large files is compression, unfortunately with massive multi gig VR files, if the compression is too heavy, we see issues with data loss.

Basically, high resolution VR means high maintenance when it comes to producing content. 6K+ magnifies little problems and creates glaring big problems with quality.

Beyond production, there is downstream delivery. Once the content is done and the studio has labored to create high resolution file or experience, what they are left with is the a fore mentioned HUGE data file. Now they have to find a way to deliver this content to the end user in an efficient and expeditious manner at a price that the consumer will pay and that will hopefully lead to profits and the creation of more content.

These large files create obvious problems when it comes to delivering VR products at an affordable price point. This is especially true in VR streaming.

And then there are the Hardware issues. Managing all of this data in a headset creates a hardware tax, too much data not handled fast enough can lead to lag. So, beyond the headset, there are higher-end laptops or desktops with high end graphics cards that able to chew through the high resolution files quickly and deliver them to the high resolution headsets. Which means, cords connecting your VR rig to your computer, power, heat, non portability and people thought 3D glasses were goofy.

Clearly there are significant technical challenges to delivering high-end VR to the user.

So is there a case for optimism? I think so.

The early market will be driven by corporate, university and government customers which are less sensitive to the cost barriers associated with higher end systems.

The technical challenges facing VR have all been overcome before. MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) were primitive looking and slow in the early days of the internet. They faced the same technical challenges that VR faces today. I think we all know how that turned out.

I don’t think that it is optimistic to think that our capability to deliver data with improve with time.

Business case argument.

Opportunities for content developers and advertisers are just now being formed. Is there a case for investment and migration for content providers? I think there is, albeit a cautious one. It is a bit like the early, heady days of the internet. Fortunes were won and lost betting on the next big thing or developing advertising or unique user experiences. Most of what you see today was pioneered by the early hand coders of the web. And like all pioneers, there was a long, long trail of people with arrows sticking out of their backs.

I think that Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality are the next logical step in our society.

If you are looking for a new challenge perhaps VR is for you, if you want to dip your toe in the virtual pool and can afford to spend money on something that might not be relevant in a few years, go for it. If your thoughts are that you want to join the VR revolution as an end user and to you money is a major consideration, hold off of a year or two.

One thing I hear a lot is that VR isn’t going anywhere. I am not entirely convinced that is true. I think that VR is going places fast. I think that it will evolve as technology improves. It may end up being a completely different technology than we have today. It may not. My rating right now; Proceed with caution. If you are end user, Spend with care. If you are potential content producer or coder looking for a new challenge, go for it.

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