What is REAL? – Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and The Real World

I am the real me. Are you sure that you are the REAL you?

This writing is taken from an article I wrote for Cardiff’s student magazine Quench. I hope you like this small piece I wrote, I find it incredibly interesting exploring the new possibilities  given to us by new technologies. Written before the release of the Occulus, this article may seem a bit out-dated now, but I thought it was decent enough to share on here. So go on, read my nonsense, you know you want to…

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Technology has come a long way over the span of under 50 years, it’s hard to imagine what crazy new perspective on life we will witness next. Virtual reality and augmented reality used to be concepts in sci-fi films and comics, but here we are in 2015 with these amazing pieces of tech just around the corner. People have reacted in some pretty amusing ways, such as waving their arms around aimlessly and sometimes falling over from nausea. I guess it can only be good sign if people are fooled into thinking there are giant dinosaurs roaring in their face, or even an anime-like woman lying in bed next to you, staring into your soul…yeah that’s a thing. Creeps. So yeah, technology continues to be used for the greatest and most bizarre of things, but how does it hold up? Is it any good or is it just another expensive gimmick that we’ll all be fooled into buying?

Unsurprisingly, VR isn’t so new a thing as you’d believe it to be. Attempts at creating a virtual reality to shelter ourselves from the harshness of real life problems began before 1950 in the form of the View-Master. 1950!? Are you mad Alex? People didn’t even have colour back in those days! I know, it’s crazy, but it’s true. Although VR was more of a concept than an actual thing you could use back then. Enough about history though, we live in the now so let’s talk about the now. From a gaming perspective we are lucky enough to witness the development of three major VR and AR headsets. There’s the Oculus Rift, Sony VR (Project Morpheus) and Microsoft’s interesting augmented reality headset HoloLens. The Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus are slated for a 2016 release, however the HoloLens will sadly only be available as a development kit in 2016 and costing $3000, which is almost ten times the price of the other two kits.

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Calming or creepy?

It would appear that virtual reality is closer than we think, with both Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus offering the sensation of being shot in the face on Call of Duty in less than a year for approximately $350. These two pieces of tech can be compared with each other quite fairly as they both aim to achieve the same goal, whereas Microsoft’s HoloLens is on a different level all together. So which is better between the Oculus and Morpheus? Firstly it is important to note that these devices are limited (as of this moment) to what platforms they can actually operate on. Sony’s Project Morpheus is obviously targeted towards the PlayStation side of gaming and despite Oculus’ partnership with Microsoft, the Rift is solely made for PC gaming. If you don’t own a PlayStation you can cancel out Project Morpheus pretty much straight away. The fact that the Oculus Rift focuses entirely on PC gaming comes with its advantages and disadvantages. For example, the PC market for indie games is continuously increasing in size and quality. Games that allow for VR headsets to be used are growing and are only going to get better with time. Another upside to Oculus Rift is its compatibility with other motion devices for PC, such as the Virtuix Omni which allows the player to control character movement. It may take some time making sure everything works in sync, but when it does, it looks incredible. The major downside to the PC-only take on things is that if you want to run an Oculus Rift, you’re more than likely going to need a very powerful computer to maximise your experience. VR without 60fps or a high enough resolution will limit your fun levels to average, so you might have to invest even more of your student loan into your PC rig.

Project Morpheus on the other hand will provide less hassle in terms of configuration and setup due to its exclusivity to the PlayStation platform. As mentioned before with the Oculus, the Morpheus cannot be synchronised with as many VR tools as the PC alternative can, but instead will work perfectly with PlayStation’s Move and Dualshock 4. The simplicity of out-of-the-box VR will be a significant factor for many in buying the Morpheus headset, personally this is the ideal option that I would go for. If you’re more into the complex, micro adjustments and configurations then I’d suggest the Oculus Rift. Don’t mistake the Rift as something overly complex however. Apart from the possible need to upgrade some hardware and update certain drivers, the Oculus Rift is just as easy to use as any other VR headset.

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So many lights!

Finally we have Microsoft’s HoloLens. I’ve separated the HoloLens on its own because augmented reality is NOT the same as virtual reality. It’s that straight forward. At this current time there hasn’t really been any hands-on experience with the HoloLens just a couple of showcases and demos. The overall impression is hugely positive, watching Minecraft become part of the living room or a video player follow you around your house so you never miss a second is truly incredible. I believe that HoloLens is demonstrating a massive step forward in technology that will eventually be available for gamers and the everyday consumer. Although at the very steep price tag that it currently holds, that scenario may take some time. There can’t be much said in comparison with the other pieces of tech until the developers kit is released some time in 2016.

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Now THIS is cool

The VR and AR scene for gaming and in general is shaping up to being one of the hottest topics of 2016 and it makes me overwhelmingly excited. Clearly both VR sets are shaping up quite nicely and both have good points and bad, but the simple method of deduction is: do you own a PlayStation? Yes? Then get the Morpheus. No? Get the Rift. If you want to hold out a little longer for something a bit different and have the cash to spend then go for the HoloLens. I doubt I’ll be able to afford any of these devices until I win the lottery or starve myself for a year, but at least I know it’ll all be worth it in the end.

 

Alexander Jones

 

*Thanks for reading this. If you think that I can make any improvements or you’d like to offer any advice on my writing style feel free to do so! I appreciate it all. 

 

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Author: alexwelsh95

Magazine journalism trainee. Journalism, media and cultural studies graduate, Cardiff University.

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