We’ve been writing a fair bit about virtual reality (VR) this year with articles on what VR content companies there are, whether or not we’ll see VR movies, and what some of the hottest VR startups around are getting up to. What we didn’t realize throughout all our research was just how mind blowing it is to actually experience virtual reality for the first time. We thought we knew what it would be like, but we just weren’t prepared for how visceral the experience would be. It all began a few weeks ago when we picked up an Oculus Rift and an Asus VR-ready desktop as a family gift for Christmas. Here’s what happened when the gifts were opened.
The Oculus was boxed in a slick looking black carrier case which was functional and contained a number of other items like a remote, an Xbox controller, and a sensor.
The Asus machine came in a standard box with no monitor. We were expecting to just use a desktop monitor we had on another desktop and this is where things turned south. The standard VGA port on the Asus machine didn’t work. We then resorted to using a TV with HDMI but then that slot needed to be used by the Oculus. This required going into the BIOS and enabling the VGA port which had been disabled for whatever reason. If you didn’t understand any of that, then you’ll probably just want to buy an Oculus and a desktop machine as part of a pre-installed bundle.
From unwrapping to solving the issue took several hours and would not be something most people could do without a few solid hours on a customer support line talking to a customer service rep to get the thing running. At one point, Oculus just tells you to “upgrade your video drivers” and this would require you to lookup your video card, lookup your operating system, go to the manufacturer’s site, and then download the drivers. That’s not something a standard user should be expected to be familiar with.
Once the Oculus is running, you do a bit of configuration to the headset and get to experience virtual reality for the first time via a short 3-minute demo provided with the Oculus headset. You can’t possibly experience VR for the first time without giggling like a child and exclaiming out loud just how incredible it is when you first see it. It’s not just a big movie screen. It’s an actual world you step into. Half of the fun is introducing other people to VR for the first time and watching how they react when they see a virtual world for the first time. Some notable moments included:
- During the short movie Allumette, the little cartoon girl drops her matches and the person wearing the headset will instinctively try to grab the fallen match
- The raindrops falling on the rocks in the role playing game Chronos will actually make you feel the onset of the shivers. You’ll expect the raindrops to fall on you and there’s a strange void when you don’t feel them.
- Looking into the eyes of life-size digital characters in various games, and then stepping around them to look at the back of their heads
- Getting the serious creeps while wandering around with a flashlight in the adventure game Edge of Nowhere
- Bending down to read a wine bottle label up close on a table, also in Edge of Nowhere
While it’s simply incredible technology, it’s pretty obvious that virtual reality is in the early stages of development. For the Oculus platform, we couldn’t figure out how to do something as simple as switching between hard drives for install locations. We needed to use a second drive because the games are sizable (from 4 – 21 gigs). You’ll need decent bandwidth to download them, and you can’t use the Oculus without being connected online.
Unless you get a deal on Amazon like we did, the Oculus won’t come with anything but the short demo. You’ll need to start buying content which for now comes mainly in the form of games, all of which seem to be just hinting at what this platform is truly capable. We’ll likely see a Pokémon Go moment for virtual reality with the initial release of a mind blowing title by a major game producer like Electronic Arts. Couple that event with headsets falling to an affordable price point and that’s when we’ll see virtual reality gaming really take off.
While virtual reality gaming will be where this all starts, we’ll soon move outside of gaming once we can master hi definition 360 degree real-time virtual reality. Now that companies like uSens can track your finger movements in real-time, there’s no reason why you won’t be able to bring a keyboard into your virtual world and watch yourself type. There’s no reason to think that this can’t expand just beyond gaming and “experiences” into just being a replacement to your computer monitor. Here’s that the “virtual desktop” looks like:
Unfortunately that doesn’t come with the Oculus and you’ll need to pay $14.99 for it. We left this whole thing thinking to ourselves that in 5-10 years’ time there won’t be a single hit video game around that isn’t on VR. Kids that are born today will marvel at the fact that we once used to look into virtual worlds using a 32-inch window we called a television set.
As an investor, you need to believe that VR is the future before wanting to invest in it and we’re hands down believers in VR now that we’ve experienced it. This year is when virtual reality will be seen as coming of age. You will no doubt leave the experience wondering how you can invest in this amazing technology.
The picks and shovels play here would be in the hardware itself. Right now the main players in the hardware space are Samsung, Sony, HTC, and Facebook. None of those stocks would give you any sort of pure play exposure to VR. In a coming article, we’re going to look at all angles as to how we can invest in this exciting space that will change entertainment as we know it.
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