Nick Wingfield reports at The New York Times that for the last couple of years, the companies building virtual reality headsets have begged the public for patience as they strive to create virtual environments that don't make people physically sick. “We’re going to hang ourselves out there and be judged,” says John Carmack, chief technology officer of Oculus, describing what he calls a “nightmare scenario” that has worried him and other Oculus executives. “People like the demo, they take it home, and they start throwing up,” says Carmack. "The fear is if a really bad V.R. product comes out, it could send the industry back to the ’90s." In that era, virtual reality headsets flopped, disappointing investors and consumers. “It left a huge, smoking crater in the landscape,” says Carmack, who is considered an important game designer for his work on Doom and Quake. “We’ve had people afraid to touch V.R. for 20 years.”
This time around, the backing for virtual reality is of a different magnitude. Facebook paid $2 billion last year to acquire Oculus. Microsoft is developing its own headset, HoloLens, that mixes elements of virtual reality with augmented reality, a different medium that overlays virtual images on a view of the real world. Google has invested more than $500 million in Magic Leap, a company developing an augmented reality headset. “The challenge is there is so much expectation and anticipation that that could fall away quite quickly if you don’t get the type of traction you had hoped,” says Neil Young
At least one company, Valve, believes it has solved the discomfort problem with headsets. Gabe Newell says Valve has worked hard on its virtual reality technology to eliminate the discomfort, saying that “zero percent of people get motion sick” when they try its system. According to Newell, the reason why no one has gotten sick yet is thanks to Valve’s Lighthouse motion-tracking system, a precise motion-tracking system that is capable of accurately tracking users as they move around a space. In the meantime the next challenge will be convincing media and tech companies to create lots of content to keep users entertained. “Virtual reality has been around for 20 years, and the one thing that has been consistent throughout this is that the technology is not mature enough,” says Brian Blau. “Today there’s the possibility for that to change, but it’s going to take a while for these app developers to get it right.”
Magic Leap has announced an augmented reality/mixed reality display. The price is unknown, but Magic Leap says it will ship in 2018:
After more than three years, Magic Leap has unveiled what it describes as a "creator edition" of its augmented reality system. The Magic Leap One consists of a pair of oversized cyberpunk-y goggles, a puck-shaped external computer called a Lightpack, and a handheld controller. It's supposed to accept "multiple input modes including voice, gesture, head pose and eye tracking," and maps persistent objects onto the environment — "place a virtual TV on the wall over your fireplace and when you return later, the TV will be right where you left it," the site promises. An SDK is supposedly coming in early 2018, and the hardware is supposed to ship at some point next year.
Magic Leap invited Rolling Stone to try out some demos, which include virtual characters that can react to eye contact, a floating virtual comic book, and a virtual live performance using volumetric camera capture. The piece seems to refute rumors that Magic Leap was having difficulty shrinking its technology to goggle size while keeping performance up, saying that "there was no stuttering or slowdowns, even when I walked around the performance, up close and far away."
The "puck-sized" tethered computer is an interesting compromise. It doesn't look like it would hinder mobility that much (you could compare it to a Walkman plus headphones), and it's much smaller than "VR backpack" concepts. However, it could be a good sign that you should not be an early adopter of Magic Leap One (which is actually the ninth generation of their hardware internally, according to Rolling Stone).
Again, not to be confused with Leap Motion.