Three Steps to the Ultimate in Escapism: VR Worlds You Never Need to Leave
“It’s fascinating to see virtual reality finally arrive,” says Philip Rosedale, founder of online virtual world Second Life, during a recent presentation introducing his company Hi Fidelity at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
The film festival, also co-founded by Robert De Niro in 2002 to help regenerate Tribeca, an area left in wreck by the September 11 attacks, says the approach into tech reflects how filmmakers are using new technologies such as virtual reality (VR), and platforms such as the internet, to show their work.
Games and filmmaking were discussed, however, the event was dominated by VR, which after about 10 years of gestation is destined to be primed the next big media platform. Over 25 virtual reality exposition which includes 360-degree VR cinema shows and partially interactive VR experiences, were on show to the public.
Rosedale’s Hi Fidelity is one of the growing number of companies experimenting with VR. Hi Fidelity aims to create a 3D interactive virtual world, a kind of Second Life that users can walk around using 3D avatars. The difference between the new project and Second Life is that the avatars are virtual bodies, with arms, legs, and facial expressions that can be controlled by the user. The ultimate goal is total immersion in a virtual universe.
That final goal is currently some years away from achieving. VR on show at Tribeca featured what could best be described as immersive movies – stories viewed from a stationary position via a headset, in this case, the Samsung Gear VR. Viewers can look from side to side, and up and down, as the action progresses on its own, like a film.
The medium is changing fast, spurred by venture capitalists looking to invest in the next big thing. Rosedale gives a useful description of where VR is likely to go in the future.
Phase one, “immersion” is next, he says. VR is currently experienced by using a visual headset and stereo earphones, and interaction in the VR space is limited – it’s mainly a 3D viewing experience, with a bit of locomotion. But the headset will soon be augmented by a hand controller, which will allow users to navigate a 3D space more effectively, and perform activities which simulate those we do in the real world.
Phase two, Rosedale explains, is getting “people” – that’s us users – into the virtual world, where they can walk around as lifelike avatars and interact with objects, and each other, in a human way. “We need to get them into spaces where they can look at each other. We need technology that captures the way we move our bodies, and the way we display our emotions,” he says.
Rosedale’s third phase, “space”, as in physical rather than outer, was futurism to the max. In the not-too-distant future, he predicts, the whole world will be replicated in 3D on computer hard drives, so we will never have to go out; we’ll be able to visit anywhere on the planet virtually. What’s more, we’ll be able to create new places which don’t exist outside our computers.
Only time will tell if Rosedale’s predictions for virtual reality are going to be reality or not.