1991 should have been the year of Virtual Reality. The Lawnmower Man told a semi-true story about the father of modern VR and captured the imagination of literally tens of movie goers, Virtuality arcade machines brought a fun take on VR to to the youthful masses and the groundbreaking special effects being brought to movies like Terminator 2: Judgement Day by companies like Silicon Graphics meant the future looked exciting, immersive and – for a time – formed entirely from liquid metal.
Now, of course, we all know that VR didn’t make it out of the early 90s alive. Various home VR devices from serious players like Sega and Nintendo were floated briefly before sinking without trace, and then the internet came along and we all just forgot about it. Until a few years back, when advances in tech rekindled the idea of immersive 3D gaming, and behemoths like Google, Facebook, Sony and HTC all began vying for the biggest slice of the Virtual Realit-pie, with headsets to suit all pockets now available for regular Joannas to take home.
Assuming it really is catching on this time – and pre-orders of one particular headset (HTC Vive) of 25 per second certainly suggests it is – how can we expect our website experiences to change?
Each of the big names in home VR – Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Playstation VR and Google Cardboard – have their own take on web browsing. At present, only the navigation takes advantage of the technology, with a field-of-vision-filling wall of screens and voice commands taking the place of the mouse and keyboard. The websites you browse on there are still very much flat. For now….
Facebook recently added a feature which allows one to put oneself slap back in the middle of a 360° video, where you’re free to look around the entire background and foreground of a video in high definition 3D. It’s similar to a technology which YouTube has been using for a while, and it’s only a matter of time until it is adapted to immerse a viewer within a 3D immersive website.
The possibilities of 3D immersive web browsing are endless: imagine a website for a theme park, where you could try the ride before booking your tickets; imagine building your very own Lego Death Star in the online store before deciding whether you’ll have the time to build the real thing; imagine swiping through information with your hands like the midget scientologist from Minority Report?
There are some VR experiments for Chrome you can check out if you have a smartphone and a Cardboard headset – check them out here for a glimpse into the future.
It may be a while before we start offering Virtual Reality websites, but a few years ago people didn’t even think they needed websites for mobile devices. We’d say it’s a safe bet that one day in the not-so-distant future you’ll need one – because if 1991 wasn’t ready for VR, 2016 most definitely is.