Since the Nintendo Virtual Boy debut in 1995, 3D entertainment companies have tried – and failed – to capitalize on the potential of virtual reality. That is, until Oculus arrived on the scene with the game-changing Oculus Rift in 2012.
The product made headlines in early 2014 when it caught the attention of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who bought the startup for a whopping $2 billion in cash and stock.
“Every 10 to 15 years a new major computing platform arrives,” he said in a Q3 earnings call for Facebook. “We think that virtual and augmented reality are important parts of this upcoming next platform.”
These developments bode well not only for Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, but also for the virtual reality industry as a whole as corporate giants like Sony and Samsung race to build on Oculus’ success. But it’s not just the tech giants that are dipping their toes into the holographic waters of virtual reality: startups, perhaps energized by Oculus Rift’s nearly mythical level of success, are exploring this up-and-coming technology as well.
What’s most surprising about this emerging field is the fact that two of the most newsworthy virtual reality stories to emerge have come out of Orlando, Fla., a small but rapidly growing startup hub in its own right. The so-called City Beautiful broke not one, but two major VR funding stories within two weeks of each other.
Magic Leap, a virtual reality startup, raised $542 million from Google on Oct. 21 to “develop and commercialize the most natural and human-friendly wearable computing interface in the world.” Paracosm, raised $3.3 million in seed funding on Nov. 2 to build out its 3D mapping and modeling tools and fuel its customer discovery program.
Magic Leap has been notoriously tight-lipped about its future plans, but drew some pretty clear battle lines in an interview with Re/code in which founder and CEO Rony Abovitz claimed to be capable of delivering a more realistic 3D experience than those offered by current technologies, including Oculus Rift.
Technological Advances and the Push for 3D Worlds
What sets Oculus Rift and other industry front-runners apart from past failures like the Virtual Boy or Second Life? A big factor seems to be screen quality.
Past attempts at 3D visualization failed in part because of low-resolution screens and latency which had a tendency to cause motion sickness. The development of better technologies, like stereoscopic 3D, 360-degree visuals and extremely high-resolution screens, have paved the way for a better user experience.
Beyond the obvious gaming sector and TV programming, VR simulators have the potential to change the scope of military and police training, alter the quality of real estate, healthcare applications and so much more. But this market has yet to be proven. Its success will ride on affordability, accessibility and ability to live up to the hype in consumers’ homes.
Photo Credit: Global Panorama via Flickr