Powerful Moments in VR

Powerful Moments in VR

There are certain moments for me growing up where my relationship to technology hits a milestone and I think "woah, this is something special". Building my first PC in my parent's kitchen and booting it up for the first time. Standing in the Apple Store in NYC holding an iPhone for the first time in the summer of 2007. The future becomes the present and the stuff of science fiction is still magical (before normalization sets in) but very much real. A few years ago I purchased a Playstation VR headset after hearing Jim rave about it, and from the moment it booted up everything I thought I knew about VR was blown away. I thought I would be seeing things through little eyeholes, instead I had 360ΒΊ full panoramic view and very much felt transported.

The PSVR is very much focused on gaming obviously and as truth would have it I'm not a huge gamer. The other headsets like the Vive and Oculus required a pretty strong PC to drive them along with whole tracking systems and while I had heard quality of the picture was improved a bit, it didn't seem like enough to explore further. But then I found out about Oculus Go and Oculus Quest. Two completely wireless headsets at fairly affordable prices that required no computer to drive them at all. The Go is focused on a variety of experiences and media consumption so apps like Netflix, YouTube VR, and the like are common (very few games). The Quest is the newest headset from Oculus and has similar tracking to the PC variant allowing for more advanced applications and games (though the built in computer isn't as strong as a desktop PC so there are still some limitations). Both headsets being within the Oculus ecosystem and being driven by Facebook allow for some really interesting social possibilities.

Oculus Parties allow you to create a "party" and invite others and as soon as they join you can hear each other talking. You don't have to be within a particular application, it just uses the built in microphone to connect you. Additionally there are apps that have multiplayer functionality allowing you experience an app together as if you were in the same room. Last night I got to experiment with my dad using this and it will go down for me as one of those defining technological milestones that opened my eyes to the possibilities that exist today.

My dad is not very mobile anymore. In his 70s he has suffered from knee replacement surgery that turned to infection, cellulitis, weight problems, and lymphedema that make even standing up and walking to the kitchen a real struggle. He gets out of the house with my mother to go to church and eat out once a week, the rest of the time he is confined to the chair that he sits and sleeps in. He will likely never travel again in his lifetime and things like going to the movie theater are out due to his weight and the pain of sitting too long in one location. When my mother was visiting this past weekend the thought occurred to me that perhaps VR could offer some possibilities so I handed her an Oculus Go headset and told her to give it to my dad and have him call me and we'd get things setup.

Well last night my dad called me and we worked through getting it setup, which is hard to do remotely as it requires setting up an app on your phone first before connecting to the headset (the headset doesn't require the use of the phone so I don't really know why Facebook doesn't change this). After a lot of initial struggle he was finally good to go and I opened a party and invited him and suddenly we could hear each other without needing the separate phone call. Then I had him download the Wander application. Wander allows you to use Google Streetview to roam any place in the world and be transported there. In VR it is magical and they have a multiplayer aspect where you can hear and follow others. I took my dad to the hometown I grew up at in Ohio and we walked the streets seeing the church he preached at, the house we lived in, the stores we would visit. He couldn't stop talking about everything. Then I took him to Germany and showed him the town where I was a foreign exchange student during high school for a year. It was magical.

A view of the multiplayer option in Wander

After that I got him to download the Bigscreen application which is crossplatform and allows you to stream movies within a cinema environment. After some additional configuration he was able to join me in a movie theater setting and I was able to show films and even YouTube and Netflix videos up on the theater screen. We each had avatars that responded to head and hand movements and we could talk as if we were sitting right next to each other. With the push of a button we could move to a campfire setting and talk sitting across from each other.

Bigscreen allows you to watch movies in a cinema environment

It's hard to put into words what this means for me, what it meant for my dad. What I can say is that it's not tacky or fake, I really felt like I got to visit and hang out with my dad yesterday and not like I just talked to him. To be able to go places with him that he would never see otherwise, to watch films and TV together, it's all just a really incredible experience and has me excited for what the next steps for VR might be.