I've been writing about tech for the best part of a decade and virtual reality is, without doubt, the most impressive consumer technology that I've covered. I can still remember the first time I tried Oculus Rift, at UCLA, back in early 2013. It was a clunky demo but it was incredible. Terrible VR experiences from the 1990s were immediately forgotten. I was smitten and couldn't stop talking about it.
Since then I've followed the VR story closely and I'm massively excited about what both Oculus and HTC are doing, and what's still to come from Sony. And it's encouraging that Google, Xiaomi, Samsung and others are treating virtual reality seriously and not just as a gimmick.
But I'm confused. In fact, I'm baffled. How many platforms and standards do we need exactly? And where is the best place to download the AAA titles my super expensive headset should be running?
VR is bound to be messy; it's an emerging genre. I get that. But every time it looks as if a set of standards have been set up, someone else comes along and tears up the rule book.
In January 2015 the Razer-backed OSVR initiative went live; an ecosystem of hardware and software aiming to create standards for VR software and hardware. For the next few months I eagerly kept up to date with the partners being added to the platform. Big names like LeapMotion, Sixense, Untold Games, Bosch, Virtuix pledged their support, and game engines such as Unity 3D, Unreal Engine 4 and HeroEngine all got on board.
OSVR, it was claimed, was set to be the Android of virtual reality.
Then, in March this year, the actual Android of virtual reality was announced. At I/O 2016 Google revealed its VR ambitions by way of Daydream (don't even get me started on the fact that Google was already using 'Daydream' to describe the interactive screensaver on Android).
Daydream isn't the standalone headset that was expected in the weeks leading up to the dev conference, rather a set of standards that smartphone manufacturers have to adhere to, a software platform built into Android 7.0 Nougat, and a reference design for headsets and controllers for third parties to work on. It's expected that Google will release its own hardware as well.
I told you it was confusing. I haven't even mentioned the Works With Cardboard certificate Google awards to mobile VR apps and headsets. So, five million headsets and viewers have been sold/given away but Google hasn't outlined what the future of Cardboard will be for devs, users or partners now Daydream is scooping big names like HBO.
Or the fact that both Huawei and Xiaomi had non-Daydream VR hardware in the works (which have now been launched) before they were announced as official Daydream partners. Xiaomi now even has its own open Mi VR platform for China.
There's also crossover in content at the upper end of the VR table, even ignoring indie stores and libraries that haven't taken off. Both the Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift have access to the Oculus Store (plus Rift owners can download from SteamVR). Samsung has its own Samsung VR store too - previously named Milk VR. And the HTC Vive offers you experiences and games from three different access points: Vive Home, Viveport and SteamVR.
Your next VR fix
- HTC Vive reviewHTC’s headset shows us just what VR is capable of – but it's still for early adopters
- How VR will change how we watch sportWe talk to the virtual reality companies working on putting you pitch-side
- Top VR games to play nowOur favourite virtual reality games for whatever headset you're rocking
Talking of SteamVR, wasn't that supposed to be a hardware standard? Does that mean there will be more headsets from manufacturers coming to join the HTC Vive? I don't know – it's increasingly difficult to keep track of the partnerships and stores and standards.
And while it's great that there are a huge array of price-points and device options for consumers in the early days of the latest VR revolution, I do fear that this ubiquity dilutes tech's 'next big thing'.
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