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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Step into a virtual world -- Part II

While all this news about VR might seem like it has come out of nowhere, Sony and Oculus have been working on this technology for quite some time. When Sony executive Shuhei Yoshida showed off the company's new slick black-and-white headset recently, he noted that the company has been working on VR for more than three years. This doesn't mean that the technology is ready for the public, however. "This prototype is by no means final," said Yoshida. "We will continue to work on this to improve it."

While there is more work to be done, the people behind the devices are confident that the technology will soon be ready to change the world. Back in January — before he became the newest recipient of Facebook's riches — Oculus co-founder and CEO Brendan Iribe hinted at virtual reality vacations: "Imagine putting a 360-camera with audio on the top of Mount Everest or a beach in Barcelona." Iribe also mentioned applications in areas such as architecture and real estate. Users could tour new homes before they are even built or check out dozens of apartments without ever leaving their real estate agent's office.

Sales of Oculus' development kits — early versions of the VR headsets that are sold to technology industry insiders — are already 10 times bigger than sales of all other headsets in the history of virtual reality, said Antonio Rodriguez, general partner of venture capital fund Matrix Partners, an early investor that put US$18.5 million (approximately NT$560 million) in Oculus starting last year.

He said he decided to invest within minutes of trying on the Oculus Rift headset. Games he's seen being developed for the system include one where the player jumps off the side of a building and tries to avoid hitting things on the way down, and another where the player moves around building blocks to construct their own world.

There are still plenty of questions surrounding VR headsets. Technology analyst James McQuivey questions whether Oculus will escape niche status. Unlike mobile, where you can use your phone or tablet for hours a day, McQuivey wonders how long people can realistically use these headsets without getting dizzy or tired. However it evolves, the growth of virtual reality seems inevitable. As Zuckerberg reminded us in his post announcing Facebook's purchase of Oculus: "Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the Internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones."

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