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We’re Done With The Primer: 2016 Is The Real Year Of VR

I’m back! Did you miss me? It’s been a full month since my last post, and I have a lot to talk about. While I’ve been on my sabbatical (not really, I still have a day job), I’ve been busy taking in everything VR-related that I can.

As I’ve mentioned before, my regular job is as a writer for Tom’s Hardware. That position has put me in a place of considerable privilege, specifically in regards to my access to virtual reality. VR, as you probably know, is going to be making waves this year, with various headsets coming out and thousands of companies betting big on this new medium. I’ve been playing with VR for some time, and I’m probably one of the lucky few people on the planet that have had the chance to try just about every version that will soon be available.Gear VR

Shortly before Christmas, I received a Gear VR head-mounted display, or HMD, with a Galaxy S6 to review. As an additional experiment, I decided that I would take the headset to my family dinners during the holidays and subject my entire family to the wonders of virtual reality.  You can read about the whole story here if you’d like; suffice it to say, everyone very much enjoyed it. The experience gave me even more confidence that VR is going to succeed. In the near future, I believe you’ll be in the minority if you haven’t experienced VR.

Samsung’s Gear VR, if you aren’t familiar, is a portable VR headset designed to work specifically with Samsung’s current smartphone lineup. The headset was engineered with help from Oculus, and it represents the most sophisticated smartphone-derived VR headset available today. The device costs $140 and you can get one now, but it’s not the full experience.Oculus Rift

To get the full VR experience you’ll have to wait, at least a couple more months. The first headset that will be available is the Oculus Rift. Pre-orders for Oculus’s highly anticipated VR HMD started in early January and the device will ship to the first round of orders on March 28. I had the chance to try the consumer version of the Rift at CES this year, and it really is incredible. I can’t talk much about it, mostly because I haven’t published my report about the experience yet, but I can say this. If you have a Rift on order, you will not be disappointed when it arrives.

I also had a chance to try out HTC’s new Vive Pre developer kit at CES and it is equally incredible. The Rift will be great for seated experiences, but the Vive is going to redefine what you think a video game can be. It’s more than just a headset. HTC partnered with Valve, and the two companies have come up with a system to track your whole body within a 3D environment. It lets you walk around, crouch, reach at and grab things, you name it. The experience is beyond description and I can’t wait to share it with BaseLAN attendees in the Demo Zone. I will be doing everything I can to have a Vive set up at our coming events. This is truly something people need to experience.Vive Pre

Speaking of things that you need to experience, Active VR using the Virtuix Omni is one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had in a long time. I was incredibly fortunate to get a chance to try out the Omni at the Virtuix booth during CES, and I was absolutely blown away. I’m not the type of person who would ever own a piece of exercise equipment in my home, but I will most definitely get myself an Omni. I can see myself getting really into this and making it my exercise routine.

Basically, the Omni is like a 360-degree treadmill that lets you run in place, in any direction. Your foot movement is tracked and translated into the game, and you can use a tracked lightgun to play shooters. The system pairs with a VR headset to immersive you completely in a first-person shooter. It’s truly an experience you need to have to understand what it is like. I hope to have an Omni to demo in the future as well.

CES was full of virtual reality and immersive video products. 360-degree cameras and VR accessories were absolutely everywhere. It was easy to see there is a lot of faith that this new industry will take off, and from what I’ve seen so far I have no doubts it will.

This year is going to be exciting. We’re not yet a month in, things are just getting started. There’s a couple months until VR is in the hands of the regular consumer, so you can rest assured that there will certainly be much more news coming soon. I look forward to bringing you my perspective on this topic. It’s my favorite obsession of late.

Kevin Carbotte is Senior Editor, Hardware for He knows a little about a lot, and a lot about a little. The opinions in his columns are his and his alone, but you are free to have them.

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