New technologies can be mystifying, confusing, and intimidating. With a technology like virtual reality (VR), however, it pays to keep an open mind, to not disregard it as a fad or something only gamers would enjoy. Many decades after VR first appeared both as a theory and a technology, millions of users around the world are exploring its potential for entertainment, education, personal wellness, artistic and industrial uses. To the layperson, VR may still seem like frivolous tech but with the impending arrival of a social metaverse, autonomous vehicles guided by augmented reality (AR) features, and methods of learning that reality can’t compete with, the time to start exploring VR is now.
Something for Everyone
The first step towards becoming familiar with VR, and even becoming a VR user, is to have some idea of what’s available, what kind of VR content you may be interested in. Gamers, quite obviously, are the perfect target market for VR publishers and developers as they’re already accustomed to stepping into an alternate reality and experiencing something vastly different from their own real life. Gamers have also embraced VR to a huge degree with both Meta Quest 2 and Playstation VR leading VR hardware sales and being heralded as massive leaps forward in gaming technology.
Beat Saber, a rhythm game utilizing virtual light sabers, moves into VR the style of gameplay that made Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Dance Dance Revolution such runaway successes. Half-Life: Alyx continues the hit series from Valve with a deeply immersive sci-fi adventure experience. Elite: Dangerous takes flight simulators to a whole new level with enormous depth, intricate controls and stunning 3D visuals. These are only the tip of the VR gaming iceberg.
For discerning adults who aren’t especially interested in gaming, VR can provide other entertaining, educational, and otherwise beneficial options. There is, of course, the kind of adults-only experiences provided by the likes of VRPorn.com that are fit for male, female, and non-binary viewers of all sexualities and erotic interests.
Travel has also been given a boost by VR and numerous apps now employ data and imagery sourced from Google and elsewhere to transport you to another location, another point of view. Physical and mental wellness is encouraged by the use of workout apps that pair you with a virtual personal trainer or allow for shared workout spaces while meditation in VR can help deal with unwanted thoughts and work toward inner peace.
Industries as divergent as surgical medicine and automobile design are also employing VR to aid their endeavors. Surgeons are being trained with VR surgeries and vehicles are being modeled and displayed in VR before metal ever gets shaped in the real world. VR is well and truly everywhere and its uses are as varied as the needs of the humans using it.
Buying Your First VR Device
To paraphrase the Elvis Presley album title of many decades before VR’s arrival, 15 million Meta Quest 2 users can’t be wrong. The most affordable VR device for general use, Quest 2 has for years been the logical gateway into VR for new users. Even with a recent price hike, the unit still sits well below $500 USD. Meta is on the verge of unveiling new VR headsets but Quest 2 remains a sensible choice.
Hardcore gamers seeking to make the leap may prefer to stick with a brand known for gaming. Playstation VR is a top-quality VR device that, although it does require a Playstation 4 or 5 console and is not standalone like Quest 2, offers ample power and an awesome catalog of titles.
Pico 4 from ByteDance is another great choice for European and Asian consumers. Pitched as a serious challenger to Quest 2’s dominance, Pico 4 offers a similar hardware setup with a few noticeable improvements that make it both more comfortable and more powerful. Although not yet available in the United States, Pico 4 has huge potential to keep VR affordable and accessible to all income levels.
One thing to remember when considering purchasing VR hardware is that the industry is constantly evolving. The needs of VR apps, games, and experiences are increasing. So, too, is the capability of the hardware. Keeping apprised of forthcoming hardware releases can make your eventual purchase much more sound and, in the end, much more satisfying.
Your First VR Experience
Depending on what you’re most interested in, your first VR experience can be as simple or as complex as you desire. Games are an obvious first choice but can have a learning curve that some people find hard to overcome. Familiarizing yourself with just actually being in VR is key, which makes VR videos, movies, and more passive entertainment a good starting point. VR meditations can also help in this regard.
It also pays to remember that VR is not for everyone and some users upon first trying it will find themselves unnerved by the surreal, indeed virtual, nature of the tech. Women are reportedly more prone to VR-induced nausea, a form of motion sickness. The vast majority of users, however, feel no adverse effects unless playing for prolonged periods exceeding those recommended by hardware and software creators.
It also pays to give some thought to the actual physical space in which you’ll be playing or using VR. Giving yourself room to move freely – a radius of 6 feet in every direction is adequate though you can get by with slightly less – ensures you don’t accidentally interact with furniture or fixtures. Most VR units have some form of passthrough – a video feed showing you your surrounding area once you infringe on your designated playspace border – but it’s best to take stock of your environment before diving into VR.
Where to Next?
Once you’ve enjoyed a VR experience and explored available content it pays to think about where your use is headed. Games and entertainment will obviously be improving every year, bringing you more keenly realized VR environments and experiences. A social element to VR, which already exists in apps like VRChat and Meta’s Horizon Worlds, will also be increasingly prevalent. Guarding your privacy while interacting with friends and strangers will be an important part of VR use. Looking ahead, the arrival of major AR devices and tools will bring virtual content into many parts of life. From traveling in cars to exercise to a checkup from your doctor, the virtual will be all around us.