In early November, the New York Times included a Google Cardboard smartphone mount in every edition of its Sunday paper. The Cardboard product — a box and two lenses and some velcro — gives a very useful approximation of virtual reality that the paper used to tell the story of displaced Syrian refugees. It was, for many, the moment that virtual reality (though what Google Cardboard and similar technologies offer is more akin to “immersive video”) truly entered the mainstream.
Virtual reality, a flight of fancy since the ’80s in books like Snow Crash or crimson gaming systems, has so far remained a fantasy, requiring more computing power and technological development than was practical for it to reach consumers. That is set to change dramatically over the next year, as the long-in-development Oculus Rift headset — purchased by Facebook for $2 billion in March 2014 — will be released to consumers in the first quarter of 2016. Along with the Rift, we all learned today, will be Rock Band.
Developer Harmonix has made a virtual reality version of its popular series which will, we can presume, give players the chance to pretend more realistically than ever that they are talented musicians worthy of adulation.
Whether consumers will be willing to pay for a Rift and the computer required to power it in order to take a virtual stage and shred, or ride a rollercoaster or any number of other scenarios (for people of a certain minimum age the best might be a quiet beach, much like the game Journey) is a question that will remain unanswered for some time. Early adopters will be a vociferous minority, as usual, and a report out today says the industry is poised for exponential growth in the coming years.
Harmonix is not alone in bringing musical experiences to virtual reality. Palo Alto-based Jaunt is creating immersive concert footage from the likes of Paul McCartney, and we can undoubtedly expect some interactive music videos from major stars in the near future. As Jaunt’s CEO told Billboard last year: “We’re talking about bootstrapping a whole ecosystem,” said CEO Jens Christensen. “This is a call to action to the creative community saying ‘look what we can do.’ How often do we see an entirely new medium?”