E3 ushers in a new era of virtual reality gaming
From the Oculus Rift to the Microsoft HoloLens, the future of gaming is leaving TV behind.
If there's one takeaway from his year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, it's that television's monopoly over entertainment – from movies to games – is no longer absolute. Virtual and augmented reality headsets are now on the verge of bringing to life what a few years ago could only be seen in science fiction films. As E3 proved, this disruptive technology is not only here, but ready to be experienced, kicking down the door of innovation that, for too long, opened only to the living room.
Below are three insights from E3 that point to a future where the television will soon take a back seat to the virtual world around you.
Microsoft's Minecraft HoloLens Demo
Microsoft's HoloLens headset, which mixes real-world visuals with holographic 3D imagery, has previously demonstrated some slick applications for work, communication and education. The company's E3 Minecraft demo earlier this week, however, really turned heads for what's possible with augmented reality and gaming.
During the keynote address, a camera with a HoloLens attached to it showed a game of Minecraft projected on a wall. With the swipe of a hand, the game was suddenly transferred to a flat surface, where the entire virtual 3D world rose up and became interactive. It was as if, wrote one commenter on The Verge, we were suddenly living "in the year 2035."
While it was only a demo, Microsoft has big plans for its HoloLens – and with hundreds of engineers from its headquarter in Redmond, Washington, to its R&D center in Haifa, Israel, it's clear that the company is betting big on the future of augmented reality. Expect a release date sometime in 2016.
Virtual reality gaming goes mainstream with the Oculus Rift
The Oculus Rift promises to take gamers into immersive digital worlds starting in early 2016. (Photo: Oculus )
While the Oculus Rift has been in the periphery of the gaming industry's vision for several years now, this year's E3 will be remembered as the moment the company finally arrived front and center.
Unlike Microsoft's HoloLens, the Oculus Rift presents gamers with a complete virtual reality experience. When you slip on their headset, the real world slips away and you're inside the cockpit of a starship, on the deck of a sailing ship, or simply taking in the view on a digital coastline. At E3, Oculus treated attendees to VR games such as the survival thriller "Edge of Nowhere," the fantasy RPG "Chronos," and a hockey game that puts you behind the helmet of a goalie.
Dov Katz, an alumnus of Israel's Tel Aviv University who helped design the headset, said the technology presented by Oculus goes far beyond that of a 3D movie. “While there are elements of 3D involved, the effect and experience are far different, because in the movies, the effect is external – meaning that you are just watching it – while with VR you are totally immersed in what is going on,” he said.
The Oculus Rift is expected to go on sale in the first quarter of 2016.
Sony's Project Morpheus plays the sleeping giant
Almost five years in development, Sony's Project Morpheus headset is leveraging its competitive advantage of the Playstation 4 hardware and a massive install base to launch out of the gates next year roaring. The virtual reality headset not only features some solid futuristic looks and comfortable design, but will also reportedly roll out early next spring with more than two dozen games. In an interview with the New York Times, Andrew House, the chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment, said those early games will be short virtual reality experiences – a big difference from the dozens of hours most standard titles take to complete.
“It’s the start of a long journey,” he said. “I think it’s becoming real."
While Sony was expected to go all-out at E3 with details on its new VR system, the Japanese-based company instead was quiet – with only a few games and demos for journalists behind closed doors. Despite this low-key approach, it's widely expected that Morpheus could be a major player, if not market leader, in the VR industry this time next year.
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