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Ready Player One

29-May-2018

Submerge into distant worlds

In "Ready Player One", people escape into a virtual reality with data goggles. Although this is a science fiction film that takes place far into the future, much is already technically possible today.

Life in the year 2045 is dismal: human beings have brought themselves to the brink of the end of the world and live in trashed mobile homes and containers. A welcome refuge from this is offered by data goggles. With them, users can lose themselves for hours in a virtual world with the name "Oasis". Who do you want to be? What do you want to do? This computer universe is limited only by one's own imagination.

The framework described by the science fiction author Ernest Cline in 2010 provided Steven Spielberg with the foundation for a blockbuster film. In "Ready Player One", moviegoers can now experience how heroes and villains deliver an exciting competition with one another in the pixel paradise. Another fascinating aspect of the film: one can imitate the protagonists outside of the cinema, because there are already data goggles with which one can escape into fantasy worlds.

A diversity of experiences

Applications for virtual reality, or VR, aren't yet as extensive as shown in "Oasis". However, data goggles already offer a variety of experiences in the entertainment segment: those who wish can, for example, stroll through digital chat rooms with an avatar, go on a monster hunt, play a board game with far off friends in a computer room or participate in live concerts from the living room. More than a thousand different apps are available for devices of the Facebook subsidiary Oculus, for example, including many free ones.

Nearly every fifth German aged 14 and up has tried out VR goggles at least once, a survey of the digital association Bitkom revealed. The market researchers from Gartner presume that the technology will already find its way out of this niche in the coming two to five years. From the provider side, nearly all of the major computer and smartphone manufacturers are represented on the market.

An obstacle to date: with prices between 400 and 700 Euro, the devices themselves are no bargain, and also require a computer with a high performance graphic card. However, manufacturers are working intensely on producing more affordable goggles that can also be used without a separate computer. Facebook, for example, has been selling the starter model Oculus Go at prices from 220 Euro since May. Plastic or cardboard headsets with inserted smartphone serving as a display provide an even more affordable start.

Affordable for everyone

"One can refer to a democratisation of technology, because it is becoming affordable for nearly everybody", says Christian Geiger, Professor for Mixed Reality and Visualisation in the Media department of the Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences. There are still nonetheless technical hurdles to deal with. Some VR users complain of dizziness and nausea. There is also room for improvement with regard to the control system: up to now one generally navigates through virtual worlds, besides with head movements, with an additional controller.

More elegant alternatives can be found in "Ready Player One": users in the film wear data gloves, and there are special treadmills allowing participants to move as naturally as possible in Oasis. This is reminiscent of the VR exercise pens developed by the US company Virtuix: harnessed with belts, the users can move in all directions and the movements are transferred to the virtual world. Start-ups are already working on full-body suits with which the protagonists in the film can actually feel contact in Oasis.

"Magical" experiences required

However, whether VR will establish itself in the entertainment segment over the long term depends not only upon the hardware, according to the estimation of Geiger. "Just as once with the first film recordings, VR initially offers a wow experience", says the expert. "In order to assert itself in a sustained fashion, 'magical' user experiences are necessary." The goal is immersive experiences; users should be able to submerge mentally as deeply as possible into the virtual environment and forget the real world around them. Just like the protagonists in Spielberg's film, who escape to "Oasis".

Related information:

The portal VR World (only german language) regularly tests hardware and reports on innovations from the industry.

Wired has taken the occasion of "Ready Player One" to take a close look at new VR technologies (only german language).