I trust you had a happy Thanksgiving. The University (and I) take a thorough vacation being thankful, so I am being a bit sloppy on posts. But I am back, for better or worse.
Judging from the media, the world is agog with the thought of virtual reality devices and programs being available at a reasonable cost. VR, as it is sometimes called, is being heralded as the next best thing, the replacement for television, and so on. Apparently billions of dollars are being spent on developing the hardware by major players in the digital world and which is imminent on the market. I am definitely not involved, and my only experience with VR is because a few weekends ago the Sunday New York Times put together a down-loadable sample of how their material could be presented in VR, and included one of Google’s cardboard box viewers with their paper.
At this stage of the game, one cannot expect to receive a technologically mature product for free, but we had had a lot of fun playing with it. and it is indeed mind-boggling to be able to turn your head and watch the world swim by. The image in the sample was not comparable in quality to that presently available on a TV or computer screen, but probably superior to the first TV image I ever saw, and if the decreasing cost and increasing ability to handle data continue, it will continue to improve.
But I have had the privilege of observing movies go to color and sophisticated sound and projection equipment and now three-d, TV going to color and larger screens with ever-increasing resolution and accompanying surround sound, opera doing a wonderful job with "hi-def", and everything from theater through vocal performance to classic orchestras taking advantage of technology. These improvements have definitely made for a more complete experience, but I am not sure how much they have revolutionized the experience, because people seem to adapt to technological innovation, and take it for granted.
In my opinion, the main factor in entertainment, is the quality of the message being presented. Three dimensional films have not obsoleted the “old fashioned” film approach, which does not totally surprise me, because I happen to know a few people who have lost sight in one eye, and do not claim a great loss in their enjoyment of life. My wife and I seem not to desire a TV screen that covers most of a wall. Neither do we need woofers that cause discernable changes in the size of our chest cavities. In fact, we are often drawn to presentation of first class material presented in a more primitive way (old movies?)
So my question about VR, which obviously requires more complex and therefore expensive camera and viewing equipment, is what is it best to be used for? Obviously it will be used for games —it will add to the realism of war games if one has to worry about being shot in the back or bombed from straight over head. But I recently looked again at the New York Times sample news presentation and found the VR to be somewhat distracting to its purpose. The New York Times story in the sample concerned children who had been displaced by war, something with which we should be very concerned, but the wheat fields behind my head, seemed to fill no great need, especially because I kept checking what was there rather than focusing on the children and their problems.
Theater often has great power because it focuses on a few characters and a set which adds to the story. I am not aware of a travelogue movie that has used three d. In fact, travelogues are usually made more interesting by including interesting characters and some sort of plot, on which the viewer can focus. Even then, I am not sure that they are superior to high quality still photos. Advertisements in Grocery stores tend to try to focus our attention, not allow us to see the merchandise behind us.
So I think the future of virtual reality, other than in games and as a novel way to present information (for a while), depends on the ability to generate programs that can accomplish things that can not be done more cheaply, with simpler equipment, and perhaps more effectively due to less distraction by material not germane to the intention of those producing the material. Good luck to it, but I plan to focus on real reality for a while.