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VR is an expensive and disappointing luxury for most of us

“Making it up?” said Marvin, swivelling his head in a parody of astonishment, “Why should I want to make anything up? Life’s bad enough as it is without wanting to invent any more of it.”

– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy

I HAVE a confession to make, and as a seasoned tech journalist, it’s probably going to seem a bit rubbish of me.

Virtual reality (VR) leaves me cold. Ditto augmented reality (AR).

I hear people jibber and drool about how fantastic it all is and, well, I just don’t get it.

Yes, there are some amazing uses of it out there, but the type of thing that we muggles have on a day-to-day basis is very expensive for not very much.

Now, let’s be quite clear – I’m not saying it has no place, but at the moment, it’s just pointless. It’s the biggest waste of technology since Tim Berners Lee invented a posh version of Ceefax and we went and filled it with LOLcats.

If you want proof that its rubbish, you only have to look at the failure of Google Glass – it was fugly, the overlay looked like an eye-floater with words in it, and it was horrifically expensive.

Yet somewhere along the line, it has been sold in as ready for the public and it just isn’t.

I’ve lived through more than one attempt at VR. Oh yes. I had a ViewMaster. OK, as an analogue device, it’s not a direct comparison, but you see my point, right?

The Google Cardboard and subsequently Google Daydream are an economical way to try VR, but by the time you’ve set up the app, put your phone in the camera and fiddled with it till you can only see one image, you’ve lost interest.

Then the phone falls out, because, well, you know, cardboard, and smashes to the ground because, well, you know, glass.

Plus they’ve somehow managed to make the 2017 model less comfortable than the original.

At MWC this year, the only real talk of VR/AR was from HTC who had a demo pavilion for the HTC Vive. I could have gone anytime I wanted because I never saw it being used. Oh, I tell a lie – it was outside with some benches nearby so it was used as a smoking area.

I’ve tried Windows Holographic. The cable gave me a range of about five feet radius, as I wandered around a house made of vector graphics from the late eighties adding unicorns to a kitchen table or some nonsense.

Don’t get me wrong. I can see the potential of VR. To be able to perform an operating over a 5G connection with no latency as if you’re really there. To be able to rehearse landing on Mars without leaving Earth. To talk to your children on the other side of the world, but have them appear in the same room.

But we’re not doing that, at least in the home market. We’re playing Manic Fricking Miner with a pair of goggles, wearing an HDMI leash, and watching Netflix as if we’re in a cinema. Generally, I just go to the cinema.

At least at the cinema you don’t have to wear silly eyewear. Oh, wait… OK less so, then.

Next month I’m off to Nvidia’s annual GTC conference where they will doubtless show me lots of proof of concept around this sort of thing, and it’ll blow my mind, but as a potential consumer, I just don’t get it – it’s like the Emperor’s New Clothes. Everyone tells me how amazing it is, but I just can’t see how it will enrich my life. It’s just not consumer ready.

When there’s 5G and hyper-fast mobile and zero latency and graphics that are more CGI and a little less CD-ROM, at a price that I can justify, then I’ll probably look back at this post and laugh.

Because VR and AR are doing amazing things. I just don’t believe that, yet, they are things that warrant having it at home or even in the office.

You can never predict how these things will work out and we’ve all been in this business we call tech long enough to know not to guess. Perhaps VR/AR is here to stay. Or perhaps it’ll be like 3D – popping up and then disappearing as people realise it’s not as good as they expected, and just a little less rubbish each time.

Look, prove me wrong. Show me an amazing VR or AR experience and I’ll be the first one to say I’m impressed. Because I want it to work. I want it to be a life-changing, uplifting quantum leap in science. But right now, it feels like all its good for is second rate games that leave you with sweaty eyeballs.  µ

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