My friends, we are teetering on the dawn of a new wave of exciting and exhilarating technology. We’ve all (and I mean all!) been talking about it for years: Virtual Reality. Many have said that VR will change the way we use computers, and will, therefore, change the way we live our lives. And we are all part of the generation who were there before and during this fundamental change to existence. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? It sounds like you should absolutely go out right now and order every headset on the market and wear them all at once. But hold back, comrades! Take a deep breath and a moment to think about it. We all know and have always known, that first gen sucks.
Consider Apple’s recent new products. In particular, the Watch and the MacBook. These are two devices which have confused and befuddled many minds, while others have simply bought the devices thinking about how cool and innovative they are. On the one hand, you have a smart watch. That’s fair, isn’t it? Smart watches are in right now. People seem to want them, and if it’s Apple, of course, the watch they make would cost the arm you would be wearing it on. But many (including myself at any opportunity that arises) have commented that there really isn’t much you can actually do with an Apple watch that your phone can’t already do a much better job at anyway. You have the notification feature, but that’s about it for actually useful functions – oh, and I hear it can also tell the time, which is a nice feature. And that’s not to mention all the issues with the hardware, like the almost useless battery life and the many other simply irritating design choices of the OS.
On the other hand, you have the MacBook. Oh, the things people have said about this device. It’s a fairly stupid device if you want to do anything serious. It’s basically a Chromebook; there’s not much yo can do with it that hasn’t got anything to do with the internet. Featuring only two ports – the headphone/microphone combo and the USB type c connector – you can be sure that you are going to have a fun time with your bank account when it comes to the time you need to connect any new type of connector to the laptop, especially as Apple are the only people out there who’ll sell you what you want (as far as I know without actually checking that). And we all know Apple – they only need to stick an Apple logo on a white IEC and it bumps the price up to 150%. I baffles me that anyone at all has bought this laptop, when there are so many other much better, MUCH cheaper laptops which will give you the same (likely far better) functionalities, practically equal portability and more power – and I’ve taken quite an open mind towards Apple of late, I’ve accepted and tried to understand where they’re coming from. This still confuses me.
You see, these two devices are first generation devices. And we all know first generation devices suck. The Apple watch right now is more of a dev-kit than a truly useful product. It exists because it needs to for Apple to get anywhere in terms of wearable technology. They both need developers to start finding fun things to do with this device, and they need a ton of user feedback about it so, in about a year, they can release the Watch 2 – featuring actual features, and genuinely useful applications.
“But, Henry!” you blurt out in a confused, outraged and aggressive white hot rage, furious that I’ve missed a vital point in my argument. “The MacBook 2015 is not the first MacBook! It is the latest in a long line of laptops that but Apple on the map! How can you say that this is merely a dev-kit device? Explain your reasoning or leave us and never post about technology again!” A little over the top and unnecessary, but I do intend to explain. Apple is doing the same thing with the 2015 MacBook as the Watch, however, they are testing only one feature – the USB type c port. This is a port which has excited and tantalized anyone who cares about connectors (which is not a large proportion of the general public), and Apple want to know what they can do with it, and the possibilities they can get out of it. They created a real world product that relies on it – if they’d put full sized ports on it, people would have just used them, and Apple have a habit of removing choices from users for the sake of ‘progress’. They want people to give their opinion about a laptop which uses this quite heavily before their make their move on using it and how heavily on their other computers. So yes, if you’ve bought a MacBook or a Watch, you’re a lab rat – nothing more. If you’d waited until they released the second version, you’d have gotten a far superior device at a cheaper price or at least the same price you paid for the first one.
Another real world example to consider would be 4K, or Ultra High Definition if you’re a marketing junkie (I hate you). 4K has been around for quite the number of years now and is only just becoming vaguely affordable for those who have lots of money to splash. But from what I’ve seen, it’s still not really worth it. The importance of resolution in a display has been far exaggerated – colour representation and bit rate are much more important if you’re looking for a good quality image. We need 4K Blu-Ray before you’ll get anything decent out of 4K, as there’s no streaming service that offers 4K streams at a higher bit rate than HD Blu-Ray. If you really care about image quality, you’ll want to get the 4K Blu Rays. And by the time that happens, 4K panels will be even cheaper and better. We’re even getting set for the coming affordability of OLED, which blows current screens out of the water in terms of colour contrast. My point is that while a shiny new 4K panel may be better than your basically new HD screen, it’s still early days, and until we get some decent 4K content, it’s not gonna be worth it.
This all applies, I think, to VR. We’ve all heard about these new VR headsets and some of us have even tried them out. But there’s one thing I can’t shake: give it five years, and I’ll bet a substantial sum that we’ll all be remarking that the original Vive and the Oculus Rift were terrible – like the way you think about the first iPhone. Currently, the pixel density is nowhere near high enough to play any game that is not designed specifically for VR, and that’s going to be a lot of the games you’re gonna be playing on it, considering how few good VR games there actually are. Steam will have a theater mode for playing non-VR games, but I can’t honestly see the point; I might as well just play my game on my normal screen. I can get a fairly lovely screen for less than either headset, and I’d rather play on that. Make no mistake, VR will follow the same trends that everything else does, the next few generations will get progressively cheaper and much better in probably every way.
So, if you were to ask if I’m buying a VR headset, my answer is no. I’m not going to get any form of VR headset until they inevitably get way better; there aren’t the games, nor the sufficient hardware to both drive the experience for an affordable price, but also provide a decent experience when compared to what I believe will be possible in just a few years. The current VR is like Apple’s MacBook and Watch, more a proof of concept at the moment – we’re going to see nothing but tech demos in VR for the next couple of years until VR gets popular enough to be worthwhile, which ain’t happening until the price of both a competent computer and the headset itself become affordable. So, until there is a game out there that I really want to play but can’t because I don’t have the required VR headset, I’m not interested. That won’t be for a while; as we all know, the first generation sucks.