With the unveiling of Valve and HTC’s Vive, and a release date for Sony’s Project Morpheus, virtual reality is finally making the jump to consumers. We look at how VR is set to rule

After the unveiling of Vive, HTC and Valve’s virtual reality offering earlier this week, Sony has provided long-awaited updates to Project Morpheus, the gaming giant’s VR peripheral for PS4.

Significantly, Project Morpheus has also been given a preliminary release date: it will be available to buy in the first half of 2016.

VR is looking to be a consumer hit, making it the biggest new class of consumer tech devices since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad

This follow’s HTC confirmation that Vive will be released for the 2015 holiday season, meaning we are likely to see it go on sale to consumers in early November.

Given that the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, the pioneer of modern VR, is widely rumoured to be coming out this year as well, it looks as if our January prediction that 2015 would be the year of virtual reality is coming true.

VR is looking to be a consumer hit, making it the biggest new class of consumer tech devices since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad.

Project Morpheus: Premium VR console gaming

As the only major VR device designed for console gaming, Project Morpheus is going for the premium living room gaming experience.

Not only has Sony upgraded the screen from a 5 inch LCD to a 5.7 inch 1920 x 1080 OLED, but the device will also be capable of rendering at 120 frames per second, giving the impression of reality-like movement and contributing to a sense of hi-def realism that will be prized by graphics-loving gamers.

The updated Project Morpheus, courtesy of Sony.

The updated Project Morpheus, courtesy of Sony.

Combine this with a latency of only 18 milliseconds, and the device is set to achieve the all-important sense of “presence”; the Oculus-coined term that has become the key goal for VR headset makers looking to ensure maximum immersion and avoid side-effects such as motion sickness.

Sony also said that the device will have improved tracking and will be lighter and easier to take on and off, features that should help to widen the appeal from the converted hardcore gamers to those still on the fence.

Those waiting for game details, however, will have to wait a little longer. Sony has confirmed those details will be announced at E3 and beyond.

In reality, the games will be the ultimate maker or breaker of Morpheus. Xbox’s Kinect was met with similar excitement when first announced, but few traditional games made use of the peripheral, rendering it a second class device that really only worked well for dance and fitness games.

Sony’s E3 presentation will need to include an array of triple A PS4 games designed specifically for Morpheus if it is to avoid a similar fate.

HTC Vive: Steam-powered VR from Valve

The HTC Vive, or Re Vive as it is also known, has very much been the curveball of this year’s Game Developers Conference. Essentially a PC peripheral for Steam games, it will bring high-quality VR gaming to computers, with Valve’s movement-tracking tech Lighthouse allowing wearers to move around in reality as well as in the virtual space.

The final consumer specs for Vive are still to be announced, but the developer version suggests that when these are released they will be similar to Morpheus.

Developers, who will be able to get their hands on Vive from April, will be using a version of Vive that doesn’t quite match Morpheus for specs, but still achieves that all-important presence.

The 1,200 x 1,920 screen will have a 90 frames per second refresh rate, a level HTC says will be enough to provide true immersion.

There will also be a custom controller, which will be designed for use while wearing the headset and so presumably will be easy to use without having to actually look at. This may be a feature that where Valve has an edge over Sony.

The developer version of Vive, courtesy of HTC.

The developer version of Vive, courtesy of HTC.

However, despite being a remarkable and exciting announcement, Valve’s lack of comment about a certain long-awaited game has left a small cloud over the news.

Anticipation for Half Life 3 has been building for years, turning fans into cryptographers as they pour over announcements for clues.

There was a hope that yesterday would be the big day, thanks to a Valve-run GDC session booked on 3/3 at 3pm about gaming physics.

However, it was just another red herring, and for now the hype train seems to have slowed. There could still be an announcement at GDC – Valve does have more talks scheduled – but at this stage unbridled optimism just seems foolish.

But if Valve want to make Vive a guaranteed success, HL3 as a launch title is an obvious choice. As always, fans will just have to wait and hope.

Oculus Rift: Left in the dust?

From a gaming perspective, Oculus is starting to look like the last one to the party, despite being responsible for the re-emergence of VR as a viable form of technology.

It has no consumer release date, although will probably be released this year, and last year’s purchase by Facebook left many baffled.

The Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, courtesy of Oculus.

The Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, courtesy of Oculus.

Valve had previously had talks with Oculus, and it is entirely possible they had originally planned to partner with them before Facebook came on the scene.

The company does, of course, already have a mobile VR offering in the form of the Samsung Gear, but the mobile VR market is unlikely to be the main area once VR-proper makes the jump to consumers.

As it is, it is increasingly looking like Oculus will be as much about non-gaming VR uses as it is gaming ones. And that isn’t a bad thing.

Virtual reality has some incredible possibilities outside of gaming, from exercise to cookery and VR internet to healthcare, and it would be a shame to see these swallowed by the gaming behemoth.

However, unless Morpheus or Vive open up to non-gaming uses, Oculus will need to tackle these areas alone, and the popularity of these other applications will rely on high device ownership.

Given that gaming is set to be the main way most people will access VR, Oculus will need to work for gamers too if it is to be guaranteed the level of ownership that has been projected.

But one thing looks certain: VR headsets are going to be in high demand, and it may not be all that long before we struggle to imagine a time before they existed.

Games industry veteran brings cooking training to virtual reality

Learning to cook like a pro can be an expensive process, fraught with disastrous results when recipes fail to go as planned. However, a new virtual reality experience is set to change that.

Dubbed CyberCook, it is described as a “hyper-real cooking simulation” by creators Starship, who are run by games industry veteran Martin Kenwright , the man responsible for gaming studios Evolution and Digital Image Design, and games such as DriveClub and MotorStorm.

Kenwright spoke to Factor in June last year about CyberCook, but was unable to reveal many of the key details of how it would work. Now, however, with the release of a demo version for the Samsung Gear VR, the company is ready to share all.

CyberCook trains you to make an array of dishes in virtual reality in enough detail that you can transfer your new culinary skills to real life. Both ingredients and time behave as they would in reality, so it’s just as easy to burn your VR shrimp as real ones.

The system also teaches you different techniques and how to best use different utensils. Perhaps best of all, CyberCook uses a scoring system to assess your cookery performance, allowing you to iterate and improve without wasting ingredients.

“As well as offering an engrossing experience, CyberCook dispels the fear of experimenting in the kitchen,” said Starship CEO Martin Kenwright.

“You’re involved with every stage of the cookery process. Why learn from a video when you can practice hands-on and without a single bit of waste?”

This fear of experimentation is a familiar issue for food fans with little cooking experience. People love to buy recipe books and watch cookery shows, but what they actually cook is often unadventurous and unremarkable.

While fear plays a part in this, cost is also a concern, with the price of food making experimenting with many ingredients too risky a prospect.

CyberCook is designed to change this, providing recipes from all over the world using ingredients spanning from the everyday to the highly exotic, and using a points system to encourage you to keep learning.

Eventually the system will even integrate a real shop, allowing you to order the ingredients and utensils to replicate the virtual recipes in a real kitchen.

cybercook-prawns

The demo version, CyberCook Taster, may have just been released exclusively on the Samsing Gear VR – the VR headset created by Samsung and Oculus – but Starship plans to make the final version available more widely as VR headsets become more widespread.

In the meantime, a version for mobile devices will soon be available, known as CyberCook Slice.

Over time, Starship also plans to increase the level of realism in CyberCook, which will be interesting to see given its already pretty impressive graphics.

“We’re proud to work with partners like Oculus and Samsung so early on in the VR lifecycle on a Gear VR exclusive,” said Kenwright.

“In a couple of years, we’ll reach new levels of realism.”


Images courtesy of Starship Group.