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2016: The year of Virtual Reality

Kirk Thompson


Author Image: Kirk Thompson
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Our guide to an exciting technology

Fancy walking on the moon but can’t get the time off work? How about a dive through the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef to cheer you up in the depths of a frosty British winter? Here at KIJO, it’s daydreaming about performing alongside One Direction at Wembley that gets us through the week. Believe it or not, we now live in an age where technology is making exploring dreams (and nightmares) like this a reality – a virtual reality.

The idea of virtual reality, a term coined back in 1987, is not a new one. However, significant advances in the portability and performance of technology in the past decade have paved the way for its renaissance. With all the big companies now racing to get a piece of the pie, there is no doubt that 2016 belongs to virtual reality.

So what exactly is VR? Is it just an expensive gadget for gamers? If I use it will I get stuck in a parallel universe? Are there any useful applications? If any of these questions feel familiar to you, or you’d just like to learn a bit more about an exciting new technology, here’s our handy guide to everything VR.

What exactly is virtual reality?

VR is a computer-generated immersive environment that we can move in and interact with. In its simplest form, this might be a 3D computer game that can be navigated using a controller or keyboard. In this sense, virtual reality has been available on gaming platforms for decades. However, in recent years, VR has evolved into something far more exciting.

The ultimate aim of any VR experience is to make users feel as present in the virtual world as they do in the real world. How is that possible? In the real world, it’s our five senses that give us that feeling of being present. With high-definition screens and speakers, the new generation of VR headsets are designed to engage our ability to see with immersive 360 degree visuals, our ability to hear with rich dynamic sounds and even our ability to feel with rumbles, buzzes and taps from haptic feedback. Ready for the really clever part?

True interaction with VR requires technology to simulate our body’s position, inside the virtual world. For instance, a turn of your head in the real world is mirrored in the virtual world. To achieve this, VR headsets have hundreds of sensors that are able to detect movement; some can even track full body actions. The bottom line? The world is your virtual oyster.

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VR Treadmill experience


How can I get started with virtual reality?

Some claim that virtual reality has been around for hundreds of years in the form of panoramic paintings that transport viewers back to a famous battle or stunning scene. However, the 2016 VR experience is, shall we say, a little more 21st century.

If you’re interested in delving into the realms of VR but aren’t sure where to start, let’s begin by saying that you’re in luck. Whether you’re a hard-core gamer or just fancy seeing what all the fuss is about, there is an option for you. Let’s break down the choices into three categories – budget, mid-range and high-end.

Budget – Google Cardboard  

So how budget is budget when it comes to VR? £100? £50? The answer is that with Google Cardboard, you can begin your virtual adventure for just £15. As the name suggests this nifty entry-level option at first appears no more sophisticated than the box it’s delivered in. But follow the simple assembly steps and hey presto, welcome to the world of VR.

Google Cardboard is cheap because it uses something you already have to do all the hard work – a smartphone running iOS or Android. Simply download the Cardboard app, slot your device into the viewer and you’re all set. Use the viewer as a VR camera to capture interactive panoramas. Get up close and personal with wonders on the other side of the world with Google Street View, or dive right into the action with 360° YouTube videos. Google Cardboard offers all of this and more. Did we mention it was just £15?

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Mid-range – Samsung Gear VR

If you’re willing to pay a little more to scratch your VR itch, then Samsung’s Gear VR is a very attractive itch-scratching option. The Gear VR bridges the gap between the budget and high-end options by offering a light, comfortable headset at the reasonable price of £80. As with Google Cardboard, the Gear VR experience is smartphone driven, so a compatible Samsung Galaxy device is required.

The Gear headset may look like a pair of space-age ski goggles, but with a dedicated app store featuring hundreds of immersive games and innovative apps, it’s an appealing mid-range choice. Notably, the Gear VR app store boasts a VR web browser for viewing your favourite sites in a completely new way, including Netflix, so you can watch House of Cards as you’ve never seen it before.

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samsung gear vr

High-end – Oculus Rift

Released earlier this year, the Oculus Rift stands strong at the upper end of the VR headset market. Unlike Cardboard or Gear VR, with its own high-resolution display built in, the Rift doesn’t rely on a smartphone. Also included are sensors, lots of sensors. The result is not just buttery smooth head motion tracking, but also full body detection, making the Rift experience one of the most interactive and natural devices on the market.

It’s no wonder then that the main focus of the Rift is delivering a mind-blowing gaming experience. If that’s pressing all your buttons, we must warn you, there are a few buts. Like other high-end devices, the Rift is our most expensive option (£899), and must always be tethered to a very high specification PC that drives the games and apps.

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Oculus rift headset

What other uses are there for virtual reality?

You may well be thinking that this virtual reality business sure does sound interesting, but you’re not really into games. Admittedly, the technology is yet to find a compelling use that appeals to non-gaming consumers. However, this doesn’t mean the tech giants haven’t got any exciting future applications in the pipeline. Indeed, whilst VR may not yet be a must-have gadget for the average consumer, it’s potential is being clearly demonstrated in other sectors.

One such sector is education. For astronomy students, a universe of stars, constellations and galaxies can be explored, all with the power of VR – who said space travel had to be dangerous? Budding surgeons are also benefitting from the tech. In April, the world’s first 360° live video of an operation was broadcast to medical students via VR, allowing them to follow the surgery up close.

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VR Surgeon

For engineers, VR provides an immersive platform for modelling their projects. Car manufacturers are able to visualise their latest prototypes, while architects can take interactive walking tours of their creations way before the first brick is laid.

VR also promises to revolutionise the entertainment industry. Virtual theme parks will one day provide a queue-free day out to thrill seekers eager to experience the world’s best rollercoasters. Last year, even the British Museum jumped onto the VR bandwagon, transforming one of their areas into an ancient historical virtual landscape for visitors to explore.

These are just a few of the many ways in which VR fever is spreading across industries. But we’ve deliberately saved some of the best for last and we’re super excited to share them with you.

KIJO’s grand VR vision

As a creative design agency, KIJO is always on the look-out for fresh ways to engage people. With that in mind, we’ve been watching the VR revolution like kids at Christmas and have even been playing with trialling some of the top smartphone-based headsets on the market, for important research purposes. We’ve also been exploring ways in which 360° content can be captured through the many specialist camera rigs, from manufacturers such as GoPro, that are becoming available.

samsung 360 camera

Here at KIJO, we believe VR has the potential to completely change how we consume content. Forbes magazine recently claimed that ‘virtual reality will save retail’. Imagine walking through your own personal virtual shop, filled only with items tailored to your tastes. This is just one of the revolutionary applications that we’re actively exploring.

Read more: Forbes – Virtual Reality Will Save Retail

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KIJO is also looking into how VR can be used to deliver interactive training packages, a method that has long been used by the military to provide trainees with realistic scenarios in a controlled environment.

Finally, we’re aiming to make ‘fear of missing out’ a thing of the past by bringing social events right into the home. Tickets may have sold out, but with a VR ticket you can still enjoy the concert or football match you’ve waited so long for. At KIJO, we believe that quiet nights in won’t be quiet for long.

Whilst virtual reality will continue to be a brilliant gadget for gamers, we hope we’ve shown you that this revolutionary technology is just getting started. As the technology gets smaller and more affordable, VR is likely to play a leading role in our entertainment, consumption of content and even our workplace. At KIJO, we’re working hard to achieve our vision and intend on being a key contributor of immersive interactive VR content in the future.

If you have any virtual reality related questions then feel free to call one of the KIJO team on 0121 663 0523

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