Remember 2012? It was the year of Facebook's IPO disaster, Gangnam Style's unprecedented pop-culture dominance, and the year of Obama's reelection. It was also the year that LG's 84-inch 3D television debuted at CES. The behemoth "Ultra Definition" TV was impossibly thin, impossibly expensive, and everything wrong with the 3D TV push all the major manufacturers were making at the time. 3D had (and still has) practically no content save for the CES demos and some movies, and it still required those silly glasses in order to work right. At the following year's CES, 3D TV's were barely mentioned in keynotes and lost significant booth space on the show floor. We haven't heard from them since.
We thought 3D was the next big step in consumer tech and it completely failed. In 2015, virtual reality occupies that same hyped-up space in tech, but it's going to succeed. Here's why.
From Humble Beginnings
People have been talking about virtual reality since the 1990's. Midway through the decade, Nintendo's Virtual Boy was one of the earliest glimpses of what virtual reality could mean for gamers. Most of them removed the red and black headset ready to vomit if not for the terrible headache distracting them from their nauseous stomach. Games didn't translate well, the colors were harsh and disorienting, and the hardware was clunky and uncomfortable to use. Simply, the tech just wasn't there.
But if it weren't for the Virtual Boy's failure providing a road map for the future, VR wouldn't be where it is now. Fast forward to the past few years, and modern VR is the phoenix rising from the ashes of the Virtual Boy. Latency issues have received a major fix, modern smartphone technology allows for proper motion tracking and easiness on the eyes, and the hardware is smaller and more practical. While VR headsets aren't perfect in 2015, many of the fundamental problems introduced in the 90's have been eliminated thanks to 20 years worth of technological advancement.
Part of that advancement is crowdfunding. Kickstarter gave Oculus Rift, the product responsible for the resurgence of VR, the platform it needed to either succeed or fail as an idea. It democratized the amount of hype it was receiving in addition to funding, and It allowed the company to remain independent for two years. Oculus used that time to grow and prove itself as a plausible idea before being acquired, and before Microsoft, Google, Samsung, etc. wanted to take a piece of the pie.
The Gaming Zeitgeist
Running parallel to to the reinvention of VR is the booming Indie Game industry. The idea of designing a game one could immerse themselves in like they never have before had independent game developers chomping at the bit for Oculus dev kits. The small indie game success story is very much a reality in a world where crowdfunding and Steam Greenlight exists, so it isn't much of a surprise that some developers want to get in on this unexplored space. Essentially, content is being made.
Additionally, the barriers to entry as a consumer or developer aren't very high. To develop a simple game for the rift, all you need is a computer and Unity (a software used to make games) which has a free version with VR capabilities. To play those games, you simply need to purchase a headset and play. Headset prices range from a few hundred dollars to under fifty, and games are often free.
It's the Right Time
What 3D TV's and virtual reality headsets have in common is that they are both niche consumer items with, at one point or another, massive amount of hype surrounding them. What makes them different, however, is that virtual reality makes sense in 2015. The kinks of the 90's have been worked out, there's content for it already, and it's relatively affordable as long as you already have either a smartphone or computer. 3D may get there one day, but it may have had to fail a few years ago in order for the stars to align as they have for VR.