I keep hearing about VR, but I don't really get it. Can you break it down?
Virtual reality comprises computer-generated worlds that you view and interact with through sensor-packed goggles and, in some cases, dual-hand controllers. When you look left or right, the image pans just like in real life, and when you hold your hands in front of you, they appear on your screen as virtual hands, claws, robot arms — whatever makes sense in your digital world.
Right now VR is in an early-growth period, with industry analysts projecting sales to reach $2 billion by the end of the year. That's big money, but still just a drop in the $100 billion gaming bucket, which is dominated by mobile, console, and multiplayer PC games. But VR's ambitions are bigger than gaming.
The tech has the potential to spawn a new genre of interactive movies and educational simulations: Imagine a surgeon training on virtual patients, or astronauts using VR to prepare for their first moonwalk. Predictably, the porn biz is salivating at VR's prospects: The site PornHub already has a channel dedicated to VR users — though technically, since you can't yet interact with the stars, this class of content falls under the banner of 360-degree video.
One challenge VR faces now is that the highest-quality machines are expensive. Another is that some people report feeling nauseous when they enter virtual worlds, though that seems to be less of a problem as you move to higher-end machines with true-to-life refresh rates. Regardless, the tech is still new, so the decision to buy a VR unit now is primarily a gamble on whether worthy content will emerge. There aren't yet blockbuster franchises like Halo or Call of Duty to draw you in, but the outlook is good that there will be soon.