Virtual Reality May Become the Next Great Media Platform—But Can It Fool All Five Senses?
Sep28

Virtual Reality May Become the Next Great Media Platform—But Can It Fool All Five Senses?

Share BY JASON DORRIER   SEPT 28 Jason Silva calls technologies of media “engines of empathy.” They allow us to look through someone else’s eyes, experience someone else’s story—and develop a sense of compassion and understanding for them, and perhaps for others more generally. But he says, while today cinema is the “the cathedral of communication technology,” looking to the future, there is another great medium looming—virtual reality. Expanding on the possibilities embodied in the Oculus Rift, Silva envisions a future when we inhabit not virtual realities but “real virtualities.” A time when we discard today’s blunt tools of communication to cloak ourselves in thought and dreams. It’s an electrifying vision of the future, one many science fiction fans have imagined. At present, we’re nowhere near the full digital duplication and manipulation of reality Silva describes. But if we don’t dream a thing, it’ll never come to pass. Sometimes we can see the long potential of tech and are awed by it, even though we don’t know how to make it happen yet. All new technologies begin in the mind’s eye like this. “We live in condensations of our imagination,” Terence McKenna says. Realization can take years; the engineering process can fizzle and reignite—go through a roller coaster of inflated expectations and extreme disillusion. Eventually, we get close enough to the dream to call it a sibling, if not an identical twin. So, what will it take to get to Silva’s real virtuality? Let’s take a (brief) stroll through the five senses and see how close we are to digitally fooling them. Sight Two items crucial to immersive visuals are imperceptible latency (that is, no delay between our head moving and the scene before us adjusting) and high resolution. With a high-performance PC and LED- and sensor-based motion tracking, the Oculus Rift has the first one almost nailed for seated VR. As you move your head, the scene in front of you adapts almost seamlessly—as it would in the real world. This is why the Rift is so exciting, it not only makes such immersion possible, it does so affordably. But what about resolution? It’s acceptable, but could be better. Currently, the Rift uses a high-definition display—the latest prototype is rumored to be about 2,600 pixels across. You can’t see the dark edges separating pixels (as you could in the first developer kit) but the graphics still aren’t as sharp as they could be. Displays about 4,000 and even 8,000 (4K and 8K) pixels across are near, and they get us closer to ideal resolution—but even they won’t be enough. “To get to the point where you can’t see pixels, I think...

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