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Virtual reality still seems a thing of the future, like a mini holodeck from a Trekkie's dream. However, tech companies are jumping on VR technology with aggression like they are in a virtual arms race and promising all kinds of spectacular results. Up until now, the VR technology has been little more than a novelty. With drastic improvements over recent years, the industry has seen major names, like Samsung, Sony, and Google, pushing VR prototypes toward market for mobile platforms and gaming purposes.
When new technology is up for grabs, it's typically the major players looking to make major strides in their industry. It doesn't come as a surprise, then, that the major gaming, social media, and technology companies are all vying for a spot at the VR table. Those who can bring solid products to market first will likely take the lead in this technologies race.
Many companies are creating pricey headsets to match their current technology, but Google has taken a decidedly different path. The Google "I/O Cardboard" is literally made out of cardboard in a cut-and-fold style VR headset capable of working with any android phone through the Cardboard app. The kit costs less than $20 and uses your phone to create the visual reality screen, putting simplified VR technology in the hands of the masses. Where this might lead, no one knows.
For use only with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone, the sleek VR visor from Samsung features a 96 degree viewing angle and is powered by Oculus. The Samsung VR Player provides 3D spatial sound through earphones. Technology has also enabled the Gear VR to adjust for both nearsighted and farsighted eyes.
When Facebook acquired Oculus technology for $2 billion in March, it wasn't exactly a surprise. The VR technology is just the kind of innovation and creativity Facebook prides itself on pushing as a social media platform. The Oculus Rift supplies two 1080p Samsung OLED screens, providing a 110 degree field of vision. The VR screens are also paired with technology that measures depth through an infrared camera. When paired with the Leap Motion controller, the Facebook Oculus Rift can create an intense sense of immersion for users.
A polished VR product created by Sony, the Project Morpheus prototype boasts two 1080 HD LCD display screens, providing a 90-degree field of vision. Because Sony offers the PS4, the headset is more limited than the Oculus in scope, focusing on the gaming industry over other platforms.
Though Microsoft is motivated to bring eye-tracking VR to its Xbox One platform, it is lagging behind the other companies with late development. The eye-tracking feature sets the FOVE ahead of the pack, and major gaming companies, like Vertigo Games, have expressed interest in supporting the venture. The technology has worked to replicate the depth of field that humans see in everyday life into the virtual reality world. The name "FOVE" comes from "field of view" and "fovea" (a part of the human eye responsible for focusing). If Microsoft were able to fast-track FOVE to be first to market, they would likely steal major thunder from the competitors' prototypes.
The different VR options will each have its own pros and cons. A big concern is product weight, since wearing a heavy headset for more than 15 minutes could result in headaches and sore necks. When it comes to market differentiation, some companies are much more focused than others, choosing to work toward a gaming audience or social media application. Microsoft might be bringing new technology to the table late, but Facebook and Samsung have provided lustrous prototypes that are getting reviewers revved up.
While no release dates have been dropped for the major VR equipment, everyone is waiting with anticipation. Some have even pre-ordered their versions of the future product -- whatever it may be. With great potential comes the responsibility to fulfill great expectations. Will VR be the next big thing for technology-savvy consumers?