Virtual reality is gaming's next frontier

Virtual reality is gaming's next frontier
While Oculus headsets will not be available to consumers until 2016, the company has made prototypes of the system available to developers since 2013, with the expectation that an array of applications will be available to those buying headsets after the formal launch.

I am bored. Having spent the last 15 years of my life reviewing tech gadgets, the last two years have seemed rather bland and repetitive.

I don't think it's my age. There has been relatively little innovation on the gadget front, with most new products being refreshed editions of the same.

Even fitness trackers now seem passe. For a while, I was excited about smartwatches, but my LG G Watch R is now sitting on my desk and I am back to wearing nothing on my hands, save for my wedding ring.

Sure, I know everyone is talking about the Apple Watch. I really hope Apple does something drastically different with the category, something that will blow our minds, because I have been surprisingly disappointed with Android Wear after my initial euphoria.

But there is still one thing that I look forward to this year with great hope - the virtual reality (VR) headset.

On Monday, HTC entered the fray with the HTC Vive.

The Taiwanese company is teaming up with Valve, owner of Steam, the biggest online PC games marketplace in the world, to develop a virtual reality or VR headset.

It seems as if everyone is now jumping onto the VR bandwagon.

Sony has the Morpheus, Samsung has the Gear VR, while Facebook now owns the Oculus Rift.

When I first put on a prototype of the Oculus Rift over a year ago, I was an immediate convert.

Virtual reality has always been the stuff of science fiction, but it was a reality with the Rift.

Say "goodbye" to moving the right thumbstick to look around.

Simply turn your head sideways to search for the enemy.

In a racing game, you can look behind you to see which car is hot on your heels.

The transition is so smooth that it feels as if you are doing the real thing.

In another game, while wearing the headset, I felt as though I was really in a forest and I was walking around and exploring it.

If VR creators can combine that with motion-sensing technology and gesture controls, such as Microsoft's Kinect system, this truly will become a paradise for gamers.

Unfortunately, the Rift is still in its development stage and only software developers can buy the prototype.

The big problem is content. Software developers need to create games and apps from scratch which will work in the VR universe.

Facebook bought Oculus last year and now it seems Oculus is spending much of its time selling to Samsung with the phone giant's Gear VR headset - which is made by Oculus.

Unfortunately, the Gear VR works with only three Samsung phones - the Galaxy Note 4 and the just-announced S6 and S6 Edge.

The Gear VR was launched late last year in selected countries, but there is still no news of when it will be available in Singapore.

Samsung seems less keen on entering the gaming world than on making use of a VR headset to increase the value proposition of its smartphones.

Somehow, I just don't feel comfortable placing my smartphone inches away from my eyes.

Frankly, I am tired of waiting.

Now that HTC has also leapt onto the bandwagon, I do hope that its competitors will heed the urgency of launching their versions soon.

While it is still early days for the HTC Vive, its competitors need to take this partnership with Valve seriously, as Valve owns and runs the world's largest e-marketplace for PC games.

It has the gravitas and the gravy to entice game developers onto the VR train.

It has become the de facto "app store" for PC gamers, as indispensable as Apple's App Store and Google's Play Store have become to mobile gaming.

I hope VR does become a reality in the months to come, or I might just end up being bored for the rest of the year.

ginlee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Mar 4, 2015.
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