The economy grew at an annual rate of 5.6% in the first quarter of the year, according to Statistics Canada

The Canadian Press

Missing the moment: the ever-elusive virtual reality escape

NEW YORK (AP) – Virtual reality – computer-generated 3D environments that can range from startling realism to abstract wonders – has been on the verge of being widely accepted for years without ever really taking off. The pandemic should have been the highlight of virtual reality, offering an escape to millions of locked-in homes. Special helmets and gloves allow people to interact in a three-dimensional, 360-degree environment, which seems to be suitable for people trapped inside. But consumers preferred simpler, more accessible technologies like Zoom, Nintendo Switch, and streaming services like Netflix. It’s the latest disappointment in an industry known for its stop-start progress. Patrick Susmilch, 33, an administrative assistant in Los Angeles, thought it was time for a VR headset after the lockdown began. He has a PlayStation and Nintendo Switch and was spending about an hour and a half playing when he couldn’t do outdoor hobbies like rock climbing at the start of the pandemic. He had tried an Oculus while it was still a Kickstarter project in 2013, and thought it would be ready for prime time in 2020. “I was stuck at home here in Los Angeles,” did he declare. “I thought now must be the time.” Industry watchers have been thinking the same for years. Facebook was so impressed with the first Oculus Rift protests in 2012 that it bought the company for $ 2 billion. Competitors like the HTC Vive and Samsung’s Gear launched in 2015. The Oculus Rift finally went on sale in 2016. But consumers hesitated at the expense of hardware: a headset costs several hundred dollars, the same price as consoles. of video games that support hundreds of games. Early VR headsets also lacked a game or service that would make them indispensable, such as web browsers for consumer PCs or mobile internet for iPhones. The heavy weight of the headsets, sluggish software, and the tendency to sometimes cause nausea also kept VR from taking off. “It’s not easy trying to do a workout with a 4-pound weight strapped to your head,” Susmilch said. “And it doesn’t feel good to sweat straight into a $ 400 electronic device you bought.” Facebook halted the Rift last month. Its latest devices have been more successful. It launched the $ 300 Oculus Quest 2 in October, a cheaper and more sophisticated version of its original $ 400 wireless Oculus Quest. Facebook doesn’t release sales figures, but it does claim Quest 2 sales have been better than expected and have already surpassed all of its predecessors combined since launch. The stand-alone headset does not need to be tethered to a computer or game console and is designed for gaming with two-handed controllers. During a call with analysts in April, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the Quest 2, while still primarily used for games, was increasingly being used for activities such as fitness and sports. virtual workplaces. “I believe augmented and virtual reality will allow for a deeper sense of presence and social connection than any existing platform, and they will play an important role in how we interact with computers at the future, ”said Zuckerberg“ So we will continue to invest heavily in building the best experiences here, and that represents a significant part of the overall growth of our R&D budget. “Quest 2 is a necessary step towards the maturity of virtual reality,” said Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen. “It is also an expected step in the sense that consumers and the market have been conditioned by the tendencies of smartphones to see very regular technological upgrades.” Hardware updates are good, Nguyen said, but creating more content and ways to create content, and improving the usability of gadgets, are needed for the technology to fully mature, he said. he declares. Part of the success of the original Quest was the virtual reality first-person shooter “Half-Life: Alyx,” which sold around 680,000 copies in its first month, according to Nielsen’s SuperData. It’s a hit for VR games, but still niche compared to games like Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which sold 13.41 million copies worldwide in its first six. weeks. Creating content for virtual reality is “a big job,” Nguyen said. “A lot of companies are creating platforms that you can build things on. But the talent and content pipeline is not there yet. Susmilch scoured online retail sites until he found an Oculus Quest he could purchase at a local Best Buy. He liked it, but said the novelty wore off after just a few days. The “Superhot VR” first person shooter was fun, but it beat it after a couple of hours. He hoped that games like “Beat Saber”, a rhythm game that encourages movement, and the boxing game “Box VR” would help him exercise. but found the headset unwieldy. On the VR workplace side, the lack of networking capabilities has also held things back. Zoom was ready to go when the pandemic hit, and people could use whatever hardware they already needed to connect. While some small VR companies like Spatial offer VR meeting software, most people who suddenly found themselves working from home didn’t have headsets and employers weren’t likely to spend any money. money to ship them. George Jijiashvili, senior analyst at research firm Omdia, said The Quest 2 is a major turning point for virtual reality. I The lowest price and wireless connectivity are two big advantages. Omdia estimates that 2.3 million Quest 2s were sold worldwide in the last quarter of 2020. That’s roughly half of what it took Sony four years to sell its PlayStation VR headsets. Still, “the massive adoption of VR headsets remains well over a decade,” Jijiashvili said, due to the lack of successful games or a “killer app” and the friction required to set up and use the headsets. . He estimates that people spent $ 1 billion on VR content in 2020 – a drop in the ocean from the $ 168 billion in total consumer spending on video games in 2020. Susmilch ended up returning his Oculus. “I used the money to buy hiking gear and just spent the weekend hiking in the Angeles National Forest,” he said. Quest 2 might fix some of his comfort issues, he said, but he’s not planning on buying it. “At the end of the day, there just isn’t much to do in VR at the moment. Maybe when the Quest 3 comes out, ”he said. Mae Anderson, The Associated Press

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