In 2014 virtual reality saw its biggest year ever. Oculus VR sold its 100,000th Rift development kit, Sony announced its VR headset Project Morpheus as “the future of games” and a slew of rival technologies to turn your smartphone into a VR headset were released.
Bigger still was Facebook’s $2bn purchased of Oculus VR in June, which rocked the tech world as people frantically speculated about what the social media giant could be planning.
But that’s nothing to what 2015 has in store for us.
No doubt fuelled by its new owner’s finance and influence, Oculus is set to finally release its consumer version, with many predicting a release date in November. If the growing enthusiasm for the product continues, it could well be the must-have Christmas gift of 2015.
Gaming giant Sony has so far kept tight-lipped about when Project Morpheus will be unleashed on the masses, but many consider 2015 a likely target.
At the very least, we should be treated to a slew of further details and demonstrations come E3 in June, which will no doubt fuel gaming fans’ desire for VR.
There could even be a VR product from Apple, which in many ways is the rubber stamp on a technology’s entry into the mainstream. While the company has never officially said it is working on such a product, it has filed patents on VR headset technology and recently advertised for a VR engineer to work at its Cupertino HQ.
Reimagining the web with virtual reality
Virtual reality’s presence in 2015 is likely to go beyond a range of exciting headsets, however. With more and more people embracing VR we are set to see significant growth in technologies making use of it.
Over the next year we are likely to see a wealth of different websites adopting VR
One of the coolest of these is websites built for virtual reality. This technology already exists, but is currently in its infancy.
The leading format in this area is Janus VR, a virtual reality web browser for Oculus Rift, which can transform existing websites into virtual spaces and allows developers to add specific code to add detail and render 3D worlds in its browser.
Anyone who has a Rift really should try this, because it is utterly remarkable and brings us closer to the virtual connected worlds described in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash than any other tech we’ve encountered.
However, Janus VR could be facing a challenger in the form of web heavyweight Mozilla. After making some builds of its browser compatible with Oculus Rift, the company has formed MozVR, an open lab to share VR web experiments and code and generally further the adoption of the technology.
Given the support from such a high-profile company, VR is facing a very healthy future on the web. Over the next year we are likely to see a wealth of different websites adopting VR and in the process reimagining the very nature of how and what the web is.
Virtual reality gaming
Gaming is also likely to see a surge as VR gets more popular. The technology’s potential for gaming has been clear from its inception, with earlier, doomed attempts at VR almost all being focused around this use.
Both Sega and Nintendo had a stab at VR in the 90s, with the VR-1 and Virtual Boy respectively, although both have long been consigned to the annals of videogame history.
Here and now, VR gaming is going strong. Games represent a significant portion of the projects created by owners of Oculus Rift dev kits, with everything from shooters to survival represented. Even some big name titles have been given the VR treatment, including Minecraft, which surely adds a whole new creepy level to the game’s underground mining.
As 2015 unfolds we are likely to see more and more games created for the technology, with developers further embracing how best to utilise the new elements that VR presents. We may even see VR being embraced by industry heavyweights, particularly if Sony is seeking support for Project Morpheus.
Who knows? If the long-awaited Half Life 3 finally appears, perhaps it will support VR. Valve did, after all, spend considerable time working with Oculus before Facebook’s entry onto the scene.
Beyond the game: VR in industry
The music industry may look to VR as the next step in bringing fans closer to their favourite artists
As VR becomes more mainstream, we could see it being used by a wealth of different industries. Travel industry major Skyscanner has already proposed its use to provide demos of holiday resorts, and we could see forward-looking travel agencies beginning to adopt this.
There is also the possibility of VR being used for communication.
Virtual reality chat programs have already appeared and a variety of projects have been developed to explore how VR headsets could be used to make conversations between people thousands of miles away feel more real.
With the music video becoming so huge, the music industry may look to VR as the next step in bringing fans closer to their favourite artists. UK indie-rock band The Indelicates has already released the first VR single, and if headsets become popular sooner or later bigger artists will get in on the act.
2015 is very unlikely to be the biggest year to come for VR, but it is looking like it will be the first truly high-profile year for it. For the first time consumers will be able to lay their hands on devices that provide a lag-free virtual experience, and having tried the technology ourselves, we’re certain they’ll love it.