Virtual-Reality check: Is VR technology worth the hype?

With VR there’s a whole new world to explore, one where you can look around, feel like you are there, and witness it; but is it really worth the hype?

By Rahul Sethi

Technology, in today's world, is one of the strongest threads binding the human kind. It often skirts the line between imagination and reality, and many believe that it is one of the most exciting aspects of life since the discovery of fire and linguistics.

But not all new inventions are useful in the day-to-day life. And when I say useful, it is not in any random context, but specifically for the genuine upliftment of our species. Wheel is a good example, it has taken us places. In the present day, Virtual Reality can do something similar. But, is it as useful?

It is mesmerising

Virtual Reality or VR, is a recent technology that uses complex 3D graphics and our sense of physical interpretation of depth, dimensions and motion to create a parallel world. All you need to do is strap on a VR headset over your eyes.

As soon as you put it on, there’s a whole new world to explore where you can look around, feel what it would be like to be there, and witness it; so real that you would want to touch it, and you struggle to beat off the notion. You could be anywhere you wish to be – deep underwater, running alongside wild animals, in outer space, or in the middle of an eerie battleground.

If executed properly, VR delivers a phenomenal visual treat, a ‘being there’ experience that you can never hope to get from something like a TV – be it curved or flat.

Is it also as mesmerising in India?

The state of Virtual Reality devices in India isn’t very exciting right now. The most affordable and basic VR option available is the Google Cardboard; wherein you can strap a phone behind a pair of lenses housed in a cardboard assembly and view the freely available VR content on YouTube. They are very limited in graphics though – imagine a Mario to GTA level difference – when compared with other specifically designed content, like for the Oculus VR.

A closer look at the Gear VR. Image: Samsung

A closer look at the Gear VR. Image: Samsung

At the moment, the Samsung Gear VR is the best variation available to the Cardboard, but it requires you to have a high-end flagship device – like the Samsung Galaxy S6, S7. You can also get a ton of content available on the Oculus app.

But due to reasons like the additional weight, due to the fact that you insert your phone into the device, and the heating issues of the phone, or the lack of serious content means that the Gear VR is not counted as the best. HTC Vive, on the other hand, solves many of these problems, but would be expensive to own, if and when it arrives in India.

HTC Vive – the best way to VR, tethered

Think of HTC Vive as a VR headset fitted with just the phone screen. All of its processed visual input is from a computer (with tremendous graphic prowess), to which it remains connected using a couple of cables. Consequently, its lighter, isn’t limited in graphics and can have several variations – like having sensors implanted on the headset. Using detectors placed across the room, your position can be marked and you can not only look around, but move in the virtual world at your own will.

A closer look at the HTC Vive. Image: HTC

A closer look at the HTC Vive. Image: HTC

Of all the advantages, seeing a virtual realm in high definition makes a world of difference. As all the graphical processing is outsourced to the computer, VR gaming also becomes possible, employing controllers with trigger buttons, their movement too, sensed by the detectors.

The Cons

HTC Vive is expensive, has setup tantrums and is still a complicated technology to use for fun, for many.

But when compared to portable phone powered VR technology – which is bulky, has heating issues that make it uncomfortable to use, and the limited VR content – you get the sense that the 'good ones' are far-off.

Viewing reality artificially can also cause psychological and physiological harm. Eye strain is common, and motion sickness can take over in as low as two minutes of use time. A predicted shortcoming is that it may steer away the newer generations (of humans) from the nuances of real life, and may actually end up making them dumber.

On the contrary, VR can also have a lot of potential for use in educational and training purposes, if used correctly. At least as far as the concept of psychic continuity explains it.

The Noam Chomsky Virtual Reality conundrum – we know it’s not reality

In his interview documentary – ‘Is the man who is tall happy?’ – multi-talented cognitive scientist Noam Chomsky points out a ‘classical error’ that runs through our prevailing knowledge about how we interpret things.

He says that we identify things in terms of their psychic continuity, which is not a physical property but a property we impose on things. Simply put, we identify things from our metal constructions of them, aided by our fragmented experiences.

Virtual reality takes this a step ahead. We see things in their visual form, not physical. But according to Chomsky, we are anyways disconnected from physical reality most of the times and live based on just our mental images. This proves that if something is demonstrated to us visually, be it virtually, we can grasp it.

And at the same time, we can be aware of the fact that it is not the reality. Did you touch what you have been reading?

The author (@techysethi) is a technology writer at Techmagnifier and tweets at . Apart from writing on technology, he dwells on photography and music.

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