Virtual Reality is bearing down on us, promising a new, unprecedented level of immersion in games, films and, well, all manner of other interactive experiences. Ahem.
Although I can see the potential here, this isn't something I am champing at the bit to get involved in. My ever-hopeful inner child imagines the feeling of strapping on a headset and feeling genuinely transported: looking around at the myriad displays and console buttons in the cockpit of some impossible space vessel; or wandering the foothills of a fantastic new world, surrounded by mythic beasts.
For all the potential, the realist in me knows that turning on a console and grabbing a controller is just about the logistical limit of my gaming setup. Even putting on a headset takes me out of the room in a way that's awkward and, for evening sessions where I wear it, I'll often have it cocked off one ear just in case I hear a waking child. I appreciate that's my personal situation, but I think it speaks to the potential of VR. Every headset and new controller and haptic suit and 360° treadmill will be a barrier to entry. I'd love to immerse myself in new worlds; I'm not sure I can afford to so thoroughly absent this one.
I am, however, keeping one wry eye on how this all unfolds, and my attention was recently caught by the launch of the Oculus Rift. Unless you're leaning towards something console-specific like PlayStation VR, the Rift has been the most prominent example of a commerical headset for home use. In development and making tech headlines for a number of years now, pre-orders for the hardware launched on the 6th of January this year with an asking price of $599. Early adopters will always be met with a steep price tag, but I think this caught a few people off guard. First of all, there is an issue with perception: is the Rift a new platform? Or is it a Kinect-like peripheral? If it's the latter, that price seems huge. But if it is to be considered more of a platform, then it's one which comes with some pretty hefty PC requirements. Rigs which support the Rift start at ~$1000 and I think a lot of PC users, even a fair portion of those with custom-built machines, will find themselves needing to upgrade part or all of their box.
Assuming you've no PC at all, you're looking at ~$1600 to get set up with the Oculus Rift. That's a huge initial outlay for anyone, especially given all of the teething problems and lack of software which come with early adoption of new tech. I am by no means sounding the death knell here, it's much too early for any of that, but in a world where entertainment is increasingly cheap and instant, I am very intrigued about where it goes from here. Virtual Reality is often portrayed in science fiction as ubiquitous; the standard interface to our futuristc lives. That may well happen, but right now it feels like the preserve of the enthusiast.