Virtual Reality or VR is the next step in entertainment revolution. The television, except for incremental updates like the upgrade from black and white to color, dome to flat screens, CRT to LEDs and LCDs, more pixels and then even more pixels, mood lighting and so on and so forth.
Despite all this, at its core, TV hasn't changed much. We still sit in front of a 2 dimensional screen and look at things. Sure, when James Cameron did that thing which he does every decade, and released Avatar (and then got busy to make 2000 sequels to it), the TV folks jumped into the 3D bandwagon. Every company started selling 3D televisions. Of course, most of them forgot that there wasn't any 3D content to consume because, although I love Avatar, there is only so many times anybody can watch it. So yeah, the TV companies were selling empty ice creams with no ice cream in it. One thing did not lead to another thing, and eventually, nobody bought 3D stuff and those who did realized that they have been made chumps. Early adoptors!
Now, VR is here. It sort of has been for a while now. There is the Oculus Rift, which for some reason is currently owned by Facebook. There is HTC Vive, and god knows HTC is betting the farm on this, after losing the mobile battle. Google has its Cardboard. Samsung has its Gear VR, which for some insane reason works only works with its own phones. There is Playstation VR. Even as I type this, I realize how crazy and messy the situation has become. It reminds me of the VHS and Betamax battle. Of course, the HD DVD and the Blu Ray war.
I dont know why but sometimes, companies need to stop confusing the consumer with too many options. Even if I could afford the expensive VR stuff from Sony or Rift or HTC, I wont buy them. I dont know which of them will win this VR format war because then, like the owners of Betamax and HD-DVD, I dont want to stuck with something that will become rather expensive paper weights.
That is why, as shown at CES, the foray of Microsoft (rather, it's many many hardware partners) into VR with windows. Sure, Microsoft lost the mobile battle and it hurt me more than anybody else. Sure, people may think that they can get a lot of work done on their mobile. Heck, I am blogging this on my tablet right now. Still, when you want real work done, you will have to turn on your PC. As long as folks wish to get real work done (and that is a lot of people) Windows and Microsoft is not going anywhere. That is why, I am happy that Microsoft has decided to provide the platform for VR. This is an ideal situation to be in because Microsoft is very strong when it comes to providing the software, and allowing its hardware partners to do the actual stuff building. In fact, CES this year had VR hardware from all the usual PC makers like Dell, Lenovo and such.
I like this for a number of reasons. One reason is that it's Microsoft. The company that knows (after some mistakes) to build solid software. The other vendors like Rift, HTC and Sony wish to control the entire ecosystem. Microsoft VR does not do that. So, all the partners win. Tomorrow if Dell gets out of the VR game, folks who invested in it can look elsewhere and ensure that their investment continues to have value.
The next reason is cost. Windows VR appears to cost a lot less than its peers. Most headset that work with windows VR are looking at prices around 300 dollars. These are simply preview prices. Once the thing hits the market, innovation and scale should reduce it further.
The next reason is the neccessary hardware. Microsoft (and it's Windows 10 OS) are promising that their vision of VR is going to work off onboard graphics card. Stop and think of that for a minute. Currently, almost every VR solution requires dedicated hardware. This applies to everybody from Samsung to Sony. Microsoft is saying that if you have decent laptop or PC (which will have some kind of a onboard graphics solution), it is VR compatible. That means, what you probably already have, is enough to get VR. The only investment is the VR headset which is still cheaper than others.
The final reason why Windows VR makes sense is because, I dont think VR is for mobile. VR, like 3D before it, depends on pushing two sets of videos but with a lot more pixels pushed into the screen. The VR headset then combines these two imags two create teh expected virtual reality stuff. This also means, completely becoming blind to what is in front of you. So, could I ever use VR, say in a public place or at office or at the mall or at the coffee station or any other place where I simply whip out my phone to watch a vide? I really doubt that. It would become a safety issue. Further, it also means, I am going to look like a complete dort. My poor choice of clothing already does that dorking for me. I dont need to strap on an accessory to further that impression.
All this means, VR is best suited for use at home. Home where we have a PC. Unlike phones, a PC has access to some fantastic processing power. It also access to continous power supply. It also has access to storage space. All the stuff that is a huge issue for mobile VR.
So yeah, I think Microsoft may solve the VR problem for all of us. Of course, it may not. Either way, excited times lie ahead of us.