Virtual reality. It's a phrase that's often thrown around with both excitement and wariness – some proclaim it as the next big leap in gaming technology, while others question its potential outside of a niche audience.
While the current wave of virtual reality may have started as the dream of start-up companies, these have now worked their way into the mainstream – the prime example being Oculus, which was purchased by Facebook last year for $2bn, just two years after it raised $2.4m on crowd-funding platform Kickstarter.
This success has encouraged other tech giants to join the fray.
One such firm is AMD, which announced at last month's GDC that it would take its first big leap into VR by launching LiquidVR, a set of technologies designed to expand virtual reality's appeal by making headsets plug-and-play compatible and boosting performance. This will in turn help eliminate possible side effects like nausea, which can be caused by poorly-performing applications.
The enormous potential of VR has created immense excitement in the computer industry,” says Sasa Marinkovic, head of software technology marketing at AMD.
Our current VR initiative focuses on the ‘Three Cs' of ensuring an enjoyable VR experience: content, comfort and compatibility.”
He adds that ensuring these three conditions are met ahead of the launch of devices such as the Oculus Rift, Sony's Morpheus and Valve's Vive may be vital for VR's success among a wider community.
Mainstream users will fully embrace VR,” he says. VR is not niche; it is going to be the most compelling and engaging computing platform ever.
The biggest obstacle is to make sure that the first user experience someone has in VR world is a positive and comfortable one.
We as an industry cannot rush in – we need to fix these problems before the headsets are released for consumers to purchase.”
"We as an industry cannot rush into VR – we need to fix problems before the headsets are released to consumers."
Sasa Marinkovic, AMD
One of the biggest challenges with virtual reality is inherent in its very name – it must convince users that it is a ‘real' experience. This sensation is referred to as ‘presence', and is a focus for AMD.
Presence can be measured as the degree to which the virtual environment faithfully evokes a sense of reality that causes you, the user, to suspend disbelief,” explains Marinkovic.
The greater the suspension of disbelief, the greater the degree of presence achieved.”
He adds that chief among the firm's LiquidVR aims is to eliminate ‘motion-to-photo latency' – the speed at which a VR headset adjusts the user's view as they turn their head. Having the image change even a fraction of a second too slow can be disastrous – some users of early VR tech have even felt sick afterwards.
But once providing a virtual eyeful has been perfected, Marinkovic says VR could even extend to recreate smells, tastes and the feel of surfaces for users.
Long term, achieving full presence in virtual environments involves innovations in basic senses other than sight, like hearing, touch and other stimuli like temperature, kinesthetic sense and balance,” he comments.
We see a great opportunity to leverage our heterogeneous and scalable architectures to deliver acceleration to simulate all sensory experiences in years to come.”
Virtual reality is sure to rock the games industry when it arrives in a variety of consumer-digestible forms later this year.
But the real excitement is what follows that.
Marinkovic concludes: We want to continue changing the future one day at the time.
"With VR around the corner, we are thrilled to be leading the most visually compelling computing era yet.”