Welcome to the new VR

Like the Internet in 1994, virtual reality is about to cross the chasm from core technologists to the wider world.

VRML_Worldbuilder_Jordi_R_Cardona_Flickr

When you’re an entrepreneur or investor struggling to bring a technology to market just a little before its time, being too early can feel exactly the same as being flat wrong. But with a bit more perspective, it’s clear that many of the hottest companies and products in today’s tech landscape are actually capitalizing on ideas that have been tried before — have, in some cases, been tackled repeatedly, and by very smart teams — but whose day has only now just arrived.

Virtual reality (VR) is one of those areas that has seduced many smart technologists in its long history, and its repeated commercial flameouts have left a lot of scar tissue in their wake. Despite its considerable ups and downs, though, the dream of VR has never died — far from it. The ultimate promise of the technology has been apparent for decades now, and many visionaries have devoted their careers to making it happen. But for almost 50 years, these dreams have outpaced the realities of price and performance.

To be fair, VR has come a long way in that time, though largely in specialized, under-the-radar domains that can support very high system costs and large installations; think military training and resource exploration. But the basic requirements for mass-market devices have never been met: low-power computing muscle; large, fast displays; and tiny, accurate sensors. Thanks to the smartphone supply chain, though, all of these components have evolved very rapidly in recent years — to the point where low-cost, high-quality, compact VR systems are now becoming available. Consumer VR really is coming on fast now, and things are getting very interesting. (more…)

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