As my two kids and I wandered into the Best Buy store on black Friday, I had little more than a sense of fatigue and materialistic overload infusing my being like a cheap tequila hangover. We wandered through the sea of tired eyes carefully scanning rows of neatly stacked discounted items for that one magic deal unnoticed by the consumer swarm.

Just as I was preparing to coax my kids towards the door a young man dressed in black smiled a warm grin at us drawing our attention.  I noticed a nicely designed white “O” on his tag and realized, this guy is about to show us the much touted Oculus Rift VR goggle in action.

At first I wasn’t sure if we wanted to go there having viewed a not so distant past version of 3D HDTV enhanced by active shutter goggles myself.  That experience, while interesting left me and the engineers viewing it along side me, not very impressed.  Furthermore it became apparent that the golf tournament we were viewing, shot with 3D stereo cameras, while nicely shot by a skilled crew did reveal some inherent issues with standard video editing and simulated 3D display of that programming.

I found myself feeling waves of vertigo, especially when certain sequences of shots were cut between.  For example a medium wide shot of a pro teeing off was engaging enough when a quick cut to another shot at a different angle displayed the recently cracked ball dropping onto the fairway.  Yet another standard cut to a tight shot of the pro’s facial reaction to the hit and I had to close my eyes for a few seconds.  After about 25 minutes of this, I removed my goggles and soon came to realize, I could not focus my eyes for more than a few seconds on anything.

It took at least another 20 minutes before I felt like my eyes, along with brain were ready to drive my car home.

A signed waver was required before we could put on the Oculus headset that I had seen so many pictures of. This fear factor heightened the physiological response a bit but I suppressed the apprehension quickly leaving my previous less than enjoyable experience in the past.

The smiling man in black assured me he would stay close and help me avoid falling or stumbling into my surroundings as I became enveloped by this newly improved VR space. The headset slipped nicely onto my head and I was impressed how quickly I could turn a knob to properly align the lenses with my eyes.  The ear pieces flipped down easily to my ears and a very pleasant 3D room appeared. As my eyes adjusted i soon became aware that the room was not just in front of me, I was inside it including the ambient sounds occupying it.

I could hear my kids giggling in the distance under the digital immersive sound as I looked around like a child inside an immense amusement park.  The scene changed to some low polygon animated animals that look like more like a videogame than anything virtually-real, yet somehow the environment moving about me felt convincing, engaging.

Another scene was higher quality and placed me on a high ledge in a 3D city. A glowing ball floating up from the abyss below.  The depth threw me off balance and had me feeling some real fear of falling.  This is when the power of these goggles, the eye tracking, the motion sensors, the speed of the technology engross the senses.  The potential of this virtual world had my mind racing with creative possibilities. Opportunities for new forms of communication, concept sharing, the opportunity to occupy any space with anyone else regardless of geographic distance.

This is just the beginning and we, the creators of digital continent have a new world of opportunity unfurling before us. It’s time to think outside the flat screen, as well as the digital box and allow a deeper human context to inform an expansive new paradigm.


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