For the past few weeks, Facebook has been showing off its virtual reality Oculus Rift technology in various pop-up stores around the country.
I stumbled across one at the Denver International Airport and gave the six-minute demo a try.
The demo is just a taste, a way to get people who have really never tried VR to see what all the fuss is about. On that level, the pop-up store was a good idea and the demo worked well.
The first time I ever tried VR, maybe two years ago, I strapped on a headset and looked around a 360-degree fantasy world and knew this was a game-changing new experience.
However, with every demo I’ve tried since, I’m reminded that VR still has a long way to go before it becomes a mainstream new way to consume entertainment beyond video games.
Facebook spent up to $3 billion to acquire Oculus in 2014. (CEO Mark Zuckerberg just revealed as testimony in a lawsuit involving Oculus that he actually spent up to another $1 billion or so above the originally reported $2 billion purchase price.) And that doesn’t include what Facebook has spent in the years since developing the technology.
The demo consisted of a few very short scenes where I stood still, with a nice stable chrome bar railing to hold onto, and looked around the virtual world.
There was a scene in a boat on a far away island, a scene with a Mongolian family in their yurt. At one point I floated in an asteroid field in space. At another, I was hanging out with elephants, and as I turned around to look at them, they looked back at me. The coolest one was the dinosaur (a Brachiosaurus) who zoomed in and peered right in my face, making me take a step back.
This demo didn’t include any hand controls, so I was limited to just looking around. Those producing VR content are working on new ways to tell stories for this medium, to get people to focus their attention on where the action unfolds, and not have you staring at a cloud somewhere while the villain appears behind you doing something important to the plot.
It will, eventually, be fun to be part of the stories. Riding alongside the hero in a car chase, maybe even directly helping take down a bad guy.
For now, the experience is more akin to an IMAX or 3D movie. It’s interesting for a little while. It’s kind of gadget-y. It’s not yet compelling enough to make me want to buy one.