Virtual Reality: Entering The Matrix

A women tests a virtual reality headset to learn more about the new, evolving technology.
(Courtesy of Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, University of Texas at Austin)

In 1999 The Matrix burst onto the scene, bending the minds of moviegoers by presenting a dystopian future where humans live in a carefully constructed simulated reality. Computer programmer Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, discovers this truth and devises a plan to rebel against the machines and free society from its carefully constructed virtual reality.

This concept spawned two sequels and three video games and millions of fans, but the idea of a simulated reality through use of technology is hardly new. The development of what we know today as VR tech began in 1965 in the workshop of Ivan Sutherland, an American computer scientist and Internet pioneer. For decades now, developers have been pining after this technology, hoping to be the first to break into the consumer market. Now, the technology is here, but the consumers need to catch up.

Single-Player Virtual Reality Experience

The cold, hard truth? These headsets, the good ones anyway, are just too expensive for the average consumer. At $800 a pop, the HTC Vive, a premium gadget in the immersive gaming market, has only sold an estimated 100,000 units since its launch in March. This amount is well below the expected sales of the product, but this hasn’t stopped developers from pushing the tech forward and making more games available to appeal to a broader audience. Just this week, Fruit Ninja, a personal favorite of mine, became available on Steam.

While the HTC Vive/Steam combo provides many gamers with a wonderful virtual reality experience, the Oculus Rift provides similar quality at a lower price ‘ $600. Oculus has also come out with the comparably cheap Gear VR ($99), which can be paired with new-age Samsung smartphones. With tech at this low of a price, virtual reality becomes accessible to a wider audience.

Multi-Player Virtual Reality Experience

If you’d like to enjoy playing virtual reality video games with others in real time, you’re out of luck for now, unless you venture down under to Australia, where one startup called Zero Latency has created an immersive virtual reality multi-player combat game that places you and your group in a world overrun by zombies and it’s your job to eradicate them. Price could be a barrier with this experience as well at $88/hour, but honestly, I think that’s a low price to pay to shoot some zombies with your friends. Yeah, I’m a Walking Dead fan.

Virtual reality technology has the potential to transform other industries outside of gaming. As tech advances and becomes cheaper, box office sales will struggle. The movie theater industry is already hurting due to consumers opting for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

Looking Forward

Theaters have been trying for years to make the moviegoing experience more ‘real’ through IMAX and 4D, putting the viewer in the middle of the story. But no present tech does this as well as virtual reality. It’s possible a spike in virtual reality tech use will drive movie producers to learn how to produce content for virtual reality headsets and take their stories back to the small screen.

It will be interesting to see how this evolving technology influences branding and marketing work in the future, especially seeing what Samsung is doing with its partnership with Oculus to bring mobile tech and virtual reality tech together for a dynamic experience. The fusion of actual reality, augmented reality, and virtual reality is becoming more apparent in our society as technology becomes widely available, providing consumers with the most modern of experiences through gaming.

This industry shows no signs of slowing down. For now, we sit and wait to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.