The Most Important Developments in Virtual Reality in 2021

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As the western world finds itself increasingly gripped by 90s nostalgia, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Virtual Reality is once again growing increasingly mainstream. The 90s first saw this technology rise to prominence. 

VR may not always have been used to its full potential in the past (yes, Nintendo, we all remember the Virtual Boy, even if you’d rather we didn’t), but there is no denying that VR is back in a big way. 2021 promises to be one of the most prominent years yet in the rise of technology.

 

Price Decreases, Quality Increases

Virtual Reality has often been regarded as a niche technology, thanks in no small part to prohibitive price tags. While the sky has long been regarded as the limit for the potential of VR, expenses have reflected this. 

In 2021, VR has never been more affordable. The Oculus Quest 2 is widely regarded as the gold standard for mainstream VR use, compatible with most formats, and costs less than a TV. 

PC users who have money to burn and are determined to enjoy the highest specs possible can enjoy the likes of the HP Reverb G2 or Valve Index. The latter developers are also not owned by Facebook, making them more appealing for anybody that prefers to stay off the radar of Mark Zuckerberg and chums. 

Happily, a decline in standards does not accompany this dropping of price. The aforementioned Oculus Quest 2 offers fantastically high-res visuals (competitors are even more impressive) – as well as comfort for a user thanks to a lightweight design. Just like the cumbersome handsets of the early smartphone generation have given way to increasingly sleek devices, VR headsets are following suit. 

Like all technology, the expense and specifications connected to Virtual Reality depend on what you’re willing to spend. Unlike decades past, however, there is now an option to suit every budget. VR is no longer a plaything reserved for the idle rich. More and more people are welcome to join the revolution.

 

The Rise of VR Tourism

There is no escaping the elephant in the room. The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way we all live. While we may be rising from the ashes and dusting ourselves off, there is still the much-discussed New Normal to comprehend. We all need to adjust how we live and rethink activities that we previously took for granted.

The tourism industry, in particular, has taken a sizable hit in the age of global lockdowns. Museums and other attractions closed their doors for months on end, and international travel will remain an uncomfortable prospect for many. Board an aeroplane and politely cough – watch how many eyes immediately narrow in your direction as people shift uncomfortably in their seats.

Thankfully, help is at hand. Thanks to advances in VR, an increasing number of aspiring globetrotters can experience the world without leaving their living room. Ever since the launch of the Oculus Quest 2, travel experiences have proved hugely popular. Adventurous souls have been kayaking through Antarctica, smelling the flowers in the gardens of the Taj Mahal, gasping at the majesty of the Egyptian pyramids – and much more besides.

Virtual tourism is not necessarily a new phenomenon. Early adopters of the technology have long been using VR to enjoy experiences that may otherwise be beyond their reach. Recent events have changed the outlook of this activity, though. Cynics no longer view VR as a gimmick for those unwilling or incapable of seeing the world. It’s a chance for families or groups of friends to get together and take a safe, virus-free break from their lives.

Perhaps best of all, virtual tourism has no negative impact on the environment. Newsreaders and politicians may no longer focus on the global climate emergency, but it is far from resolved. The immersive nature of VR travel is likely to grow increasingly commonplace as an alternative to carbon emissions and desecrating fabled landmarks with footfall.

 

Virtual Reality Dating

It’s not just international travel that has taken a back seat over the last 18 months. For single people, it’s been increasingly difficult to arrange dates and meet new people. Online dating is a multi-billion dollar industry and only looks likely to grow in popularity.

There is still an element of separation and, dare we say it, coldness to online dating, though. Words on a screen can only convey so much subtlety, meaning and emotion. It’s considerably easier to appear charming in text form, especially when you have time to formulate a witty retort to your last message – or even ask somebody else to write it for you.

 Enter the world of VR dating. Users have been utilising the Virtual Reality space to make new friends – and possibly more – for some time. Surely, this is destined to become increasingly popular. A real-time VR dinner date is a perfect simulation of meeting in person without worrying about spilling red wine on a white shirt.

VR dating is likely to become increasingly prevalent due to the safety it affords, too. If the chemistry isn’t quite right, or one party feels uncomfortable, there is no need to place an SOS text to a friend and ask them to pretend your house is on fire. If things are not working out, simply make your excuses and disconnect. 

Of course, it’s only singles that can take advantage of VR to boost their love life. Virtual marriage proposals are growing in popularity, including in celebrity circles. Frankie Grande proposed to his boyfriend within Dreamscape. If you cannot physically make it to the top of a mountain and pop the question at sunset, why not do so virtually?  

 

Shopping in Virtual Reality

You’ve taken a holiday to the Maldives and had dinner with your future spouse – all without leaving the sofa. These escapades still sound pretty exhausting. You have earned the right to some retail therapy. Why brave the crowds of a shopping centre and spend hours looking for a parking space, though? In 2021, shopping is another activity set to enjoy a VR boost. 

Much like online dating, traditional cyber-shopping has exchanged convenience for soul. It’s nice to think of an item, place an order and wait by the post box, sure. Many of us miss the experience of browsing brick-and-mortar stores, though, admiring shelf displays and weighing up a purchase.

Wandering through a supermarket without dragging the kids behind you will be appealing enough for many. VR can also bring luxury shopping experiences to those that would otherwise be unable to enjoy them. A trip to the flagship Dior store in Paris may feel beyond the reach of somebody in Peterborough. Not with the help of VR, though.

The automobile industry is another that could enjoy a significant boost from the rise of VR shopping. Picture the scene. You’re in the market for a new car, but the nearest manufacturer of choice is miles away. Using a VR headset, you can tour a showroom and even take a test drive using the technology. This will inspire a great deal more confidence than placing an order over the web and hoping your new vehicle lives up to expectations.

Retailers have been facing an evolve-or-die landscape for decades now as online shopping rose to prominence. VR browsing gives these stores a chance to compete with the likes of Amazon. While purchasing goods from the Bezos empire will likely always be cheaper, it cannot compete with the experience of visiting a store – even if you’re not actually there.

 

Introductions to the Working and Educational Sectors

This is the last reference we’ll make to adjustments brought on by COVID, we promise. It merits acknowledgement how much VR has benefitted the realms of business and education, though. In an era when large crowds and personal interaction are increasingly outlawed, Virtual Reality is the next best thing.

 Take health and safety training in the construction industry, for example. Nobody on the building site wants to learn about potential dangers through experience. A VR simulation enables anybody to learn the critical dos and don’ts of a workplace without any hazardous consequences. It’s an approach the healthcare industry has also embraced wholeheartedly.

Even corporate businesses can enjoy the benefits of VR. Zoom is great and all, but it cannot compare with the experience of being in the same room. Many business deals conclude with looking into the whites of the eyes of a potential collaborator and pressing the flesh. That may not be an option for a while, but a VR meeting is an acceptable substitute. What’s more, hosts can use VR to present 360-degree images and slides. 

Finally, we have the education sector. It’s believed that 15% of all schoolchildren in 2021 will enjoy access to Virtual Reality learning. Consider this an amalgamation of all the matters we have already discussed. History classes can take children on a journey through time. Biology classes can demonstrate human anatomy without any icky dissection. 

Best of all, Virtual Reality classes increase engagement and limit classroom disruption. Students clad in headsets are likelier to concentrate than when surrounded by peers and expected to listen to a lecture or read from a textbook. For children that excel in learning through interaction rather than the passive absorption of data, VR teaching is a dream.  

 

Unions with Artificial Intelligence

All the increases in VR that we have discussed are great, but they come with limitations. VR is still a comparatively new technology to many, and thus a degree of user interaction remains essential. Somebody that buys into the hype of Virtual Reality without taking the time to fully understand it may write off the tech as a gimmick.

The blending of Artificial Intelligence with VR will change this. AI is already all around us, in the form of chatbots and virtual assistants. Now, refer back to our discussion of VR shopping. Wandering around a store is one thing – having somebody on hand to discuss your potential purchases is quite another. AI assistance is often indistinguishable from a flesh-and-blood sales assistant.

Businesses can also use AI to build consumer profiles with a VR world, enhancing the experience for a user. You’d have to be pretty naive not to assume this is already happening with Oculus. Owned by Facebook and linked to a user account, the social media site is clearly harvesting user data. This does not need to be a bad thing. Embrace the fact that your headset knows what you want before you do.

Game developers can also use Artificial Intelligence to improve VR recreation. The whole point of entering a VR world is to integrate yourself into a different landscape. AI means that non-playable characters will interact in a meaningful, realistic way – thus improving the experience through an additional layer of realism.

 

Apple Joining the VR Party?

It’s rare to find a forward step in technology that escapes the attention of Apple. VR is no exception. It’s already possible to enjoy Virtual Reality on an iPhone or iPad using apps and third-party hardware. Apple finally looks set to launch a VR headset to call their own, though.

Apple has been hoovering up talent in the VR field for years. Dan Riccio, vice president of iPad Hardware Engineering since 2010, also transitioned into a new role in January 2021 – heavily believed to be overseeing the launch of an Apple-brand VR headset and pair of glasses.

We are unlikely to see these products released until mid-2022, so do not stake your place at the front of the line at the Apple Store just yet. 2021 will no doubt see a raft of announcements across the remainder of the year, though. Right now, we’re dealing primarily in the realm of rumour and innuendo.

Here’s what we are led to believe so far.

  • Apple is working on a headset and a sleeker, more streamlined pair of glasses
  • The headset will come first and resemble the Oculus Quest 2 – though, as is Apple’s modus operandi, it will be lighter and smaller
  • Both appliances will boast 8K displays that provide image sharpness that outshines the latest and greatest model of Mac
  • The headset will primarily be concerned with VR, but it will also offer Augmented Reality functionality
  • The price point is expected to be pretty steep. If you plan to be an early adopter, start paying off your credit card now!

With Apple joining the VR revolution, expect the technology to gain further traction in the mainstream. By the time Apple glasses are available in 2023, we’ll likely spot celebrities and influencers sporting this headwear with abandon. Regardless of your personal views on the house that Steve built, Apple’s influence suggests that the future of VR is bright.  

 

The Release of the PS5

Sony’s PlayStation 2 is the biggest selling console of all time, but the PS4 pushed it mighty close. Countless homes around the globe boast a PS4 in their entertainment package, and many of these enjoyed Sony’s VR package. The PS4 was the first console since the ill-fated Virtual Boy to truly embrace Virtual Reality gaming.

Of course, the PS5 is now upon us. The launch of this next generation console has led to a short hiatus in the realm of VR. The original headset has been discontinued and can typically only be purchased from a used consumer goods dealer. Sony has turned its back on the technology, though. PSVR 2 is being prepped for use with the PS5 console. 

At the time of writing, details about the new headset are a little thin on the ground. As with the Apple headset, we’re unlikely to see PSVR 2 in 2021 – but that has not stopped details about the product emerging.

  • The rumoured resolution is 4000 x 2040 pixels, which is slightly superior to the Oculus Quest 2
  • Connection to the PS5 console will require a single cable
  • Gamers can use standard PlayStation DualShock controllers on VR entertainment

Anybody interested in VR video gaming outside of Steam will need to invest in a PS5. Microsoft has shown no interest in this technology and will not incorporate it into the Xbox One X. 

Equally, Sony is seemingly not entirely dedicated to VR. Quite understandably, priority is being given to meeting the demand for PS5 hardware. The PS4 has enjoyed plenty of VR success, though, with more games available than many people realise. Which brings us neatly into our subsequent development in the realm of Virtual Reality…  

 

Prolonged, More Immersive VR Gaming

Whether you play games on PC, PlayStation or directly through Oculus, VR gaming formerly suffered from accusations of brevity and simplicity. Such a reputation has undergone a shift in recent years, and 2021 looks set to see another giant leap forward in the realm of interactive entertainment. 

Major releases, including the latest additions to the Assassin’s Creed, Hitman and Splinter Cell franchises, are joining big names like Resident Evil and Star Wars as VR-compliant. Of course, if you prefer not to line the pockets of conglomerates, there are plenty of original games becoming available every day. Heart-stopping horror, in particular, is growing in popularity alongside more traditional simulations. 

VR gaming may not be for everybody. Some users may lack comfort with the motion involved in such direct gaming, while the wholly interactive nature of Virtual Reality can feel disconcerting. For passionate gamers, however, 2021 is another step forward. VR games are no longer overpriced novelties. 

 

The End of the Rift Headset

The march of technology refuses to slow down, and sadly there will always be casualties. In this instance, we’re referring to the Oculus Rift S headset. Facebook, owners of Oculus, have announced that they will no longer produce or sell this hardware from 2021 onward. If you haven’t already, this could be the time to consider upgrading to the Quest 2.

Such a development does not mean that your Rift headset is only fit for the bin. Facebook will not brick the hardware. Now is not the time to purchase the tech as a first-time buyer, though. As stocks deplete, they will not replenish. Eventually, this means that the Rift will no longer enjoy a presence on shelves, whether offline or on.

The reasons for this decision have never been publicly disclosed. The choice has also not sat well with crucial figures at Oculus, such as co-founder Brendan Iribe, who resigned in 2008. It’s safe to make some assumptions, though. Facebook has gone all-in on the Oculus Quest 2, embracing this design as a catch-all VR solution. As the Rift S was PC-only, it could have been considered a product with limited market reach. 

The Rift S, while popular, has also been superseded by other hardware in terms of specs. The Valve Index, for example, dramatically overpowers the Rift S in terms of refresh and screen resolution. The same also applies to the Quest 2, which enjoys PC compatibility and thus serves as a replacement.

 

Conclusion

Virtual Reality is here to stay and is only going to continue gaining traction. 2021 may yet be looked back upon as a gala year in advances of this technology. It’s an exciting time to be a VR enthusiast.