from the 3D-porn dept.
The door to mass-market virtual reality is about to burst open. Engineers have solved most of the hardware challenges, driven down the price to just a few hundred dollars, done extensive testing, and gotten software tools into the hands of creative developers. Store shelves will soon be teeming with head-mounted displays and hand controllers that can paint dazzling virtual worlds. And then the first wave of VR immigrants will colonize them.
You might think the first adopters will be gamers, but you'd be wrong. The killer app for virtual reality will more likely be something to enhance ordinary social experiences—conversations with your loved ones, a business meeting, a college class—but carried out with a far richer connection than you could establish by texting or talking or Skyping.
Jeremy Bailenson, founder of Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, and his coauthors predicted in these pages in 2011 that such "social VR" was on the horizon. "Current social networking and other online sites," they wrote, "are just precursors of what we'll see when social networking encompasses immersive virtual-reality technology. When people interact with others for substantial periods of time, much as they do now on Facebook but with fully tracked and rendered avatars, entirely new forms of social interaction will emerge." With the variety of head-mounted displays—including the Oculus Rift, Sony's PlayStation VR, and the HTC Vive—going on sale later this year, that future is now here.
Prediction: hacking avatars to get through long meetings will become a "thing."