Patrick Buckley and Tony Parisi
Virtual Reality has the potential to be the most powerful medium ever devised. The ability to be transported to other places, to be fully immersed in experiences, to be really there– present— with others in real time, opens up unimagined ways to communicate. This is the beginning of an entirely new chapter of collaboration, one that has the power to reshape our culture much the way radio, television, the internet or mobile phones did before. The promise of this technology is so compelling that it has spawned an entire industry and fueled the imaginations of millions worldwide. Virtual Reality is the next revolution in computing and human communication.
Unlike the big companies vying for control of this new medium through high-end hardware and closed software, we in the DIYVR movement believe that smartphones, low-cost viewers, and open source software are where the Virtual Reality revolution should and will catch fire. The smartphone is to Virtual Reality what the PC was to the internet in 1991: a critical mass of adopted technology that only needs a novel component to turn it into something far more powerful. For PC’s, it was a modem to get onto the web; for smartphones, it is a box with 2 lenses to get into Virtual Reality.
There are close to 2 Billion smartphones in use across the world. A marvel of modern technology, these devices are packed with more processing power and sensors than the first computers we put into space. They have high resolution screens and the motion tracking sensors needed to create a virtual reality experience, and they are getting better and better every month. With a cardboard box and two lenses your smartphone can be transformed into a Virtual Reality device. That is amazing! 2 Billion people could get started experimenting with VR tomorrow– if this knowledge was evenly distributed.
Oculus and Samsung are doing awesome things by pushing the boundaries of what is possible with Virtual Reality. However, their products are either far away in terms of when they will ship– Oculus will not have a commercial product for at least another year– or not affordable by the average consumer: the Gear VR headset costs a few hundred dollars and only works with a Note 4, which is an $800 phone that few people own. They are building Lamborghinis, when what the market needs is a model-T Ford. These systems also require serious expertise to develop apps for, essentially requiring professional game development teams with high-end graphics programming knowledge and deep pockets.
We think VR should be for everyone:
- Affordable headsets that work with any smartphone NOW – 2 Billion of them.
- An open technology stack, based on web standards like HTML5 and WebGL.
- Built on an open, democratic and inherently collaborative foundation like the Internet, so VR experiences can flow into each other seamlessly and anyone can publish their work without gatekeepers.
Virtual Reality is too important to be a closed system.
Imagine if the Internet was owned by AOL and we were all still getting CD-Roms in the mail with our allotted online minutes. Imagine if Gutenberg’s family controlled what got printed on paper. These are things that could have come to pass if people never fought for those technologies to be open platforms. The Internet and the printing press started as technology for the few, but became fundamental mediums of human collaboration, communication and creative exchange because they were inclusive, open and democratic with no single entity controlling them. Virtual Reality has the same potential, maybe even greater. But if the platforms are controlled by a small number of players, and the costs out of reach for most consumers, then VR will either remain stuck in its current technology novelty phase, never to cross the chasm to the mainstream, or– far worse– it will become just another corporate channel for blockbuster entertainment. Either way, it will fall far short of what it could become as a medium.
We have already lost major venues of communication to closed, locked-down proprietary systems (radio, television, mobile phones). You need to be a multibillion dollar company to afford the cost of entry to these mediums. Let’s not lose Virtual Reality. Let’s not enter a dark age where we let a couple of companies with a lot of money own Virtual Reality, and become the gatekeepers of what gets made, who gets to play, and who doesn’t. No one company or person should wield this much power. Virtual Reality is for everyone.