Virtual reality is finally reaching the mainstream market with the recent release of Samsung’s consumer grade Gear VR virtual reality headset. Until November, most people really didn’t have access to virtual reality beyond the entry-level Google Cardboard setups, which have been slowly gaining popularity for the second half of the year. Even now, more than a month after the Gear VR was launched to the public, very few people have had the chance to try it.
I recently polled some of my family and friends to see who has had the chance to try VR, and unsurprisingly none of them, beyond those who’ve had the chance to try out the Oculus Rift DK2 that I had shown them, had any experience with any kind of virtual reality. Even my closest family, my parents, had not had the chance to try the future, despite having heard stories for years from me about the wonders of VR.
For Christmas this year, I decided it was high time that I correct the error of my ways and share the experience of virtual reality with my extended family. After all, you can’t explain what it’s like to try VR; I’ve been a stark believer in that theory since the day I first tried this wonderful new medium. I believe that showing people will be the catalyst that propels the growth of this market, and so I should be practicing what I preach.
I actually tried to share the Oculus DK2 with my family at Thanksgiving dinner, but the laptop I brought wouldn’t power the headset. This time around I brought a Gear VR headset and a Samsung Galaxy S6, which, as expected, proved to be a far more portable virtual reality setup.
While we were eating dinner on Christmas Eve, I casually brought up VR and asked if anyone had the chance to try it, or even knew what I was talking about. As it happens, my uncle Ray had actually just ordered a Cardboard viewer that he expects to receive very soon. Naturally, he was the most interested at the dinner table. He was very excited when I told him I had brought a Gear VR, so I let him have the first crack at it after dinner.
While my uncle was experiencing the wonders of WEVR’s TheBlu experience, the rest of my family became very interested in learning more. One by one, each person had a chance to try it, and everyone came out amazed and inspired. My uncle Gerald couldn’t believe the HMD is only $99. My cousins were busy imagining what possibilities there were, and they were delighted to hear that many of their ideas for how VR could be used, such as tourist destinations and various gaming experiences, were already available or being developed.
Grandpa Loved It!
When it became time for my grandfather to try, the whole family was paying close attention. This is a man who, to the best of my knowledge, has never watched a video game, let alone played one. He doesn’t own a cell phone, and he doesn’t know how to use a computer. The most technologically advanced thing he knows how to use is the cable box attached to the TV, but he tried my VR headset, and he had the time of his life.
I’ll be 32 in a few weeks, and in all of my years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen my grandfather smile so much. He had a grin from ear to ear the whole time he had the headset on. The whole family was in stitches from laughter as Grandpa was swinging his head around saying “OOOH! There’s a whale!” and “OH WOW! That’s a shark!” When he took the Gear VR off, the first thing he said was “Where’s Baba? She needs to try this!” Normally at this time of the evening he’d be taking a nap on the couch.
After everyone had a try, there were mountains of questions coming my way. Everyone was legitimately interested in knowing more and trying it again. Even the most cynical of my family members agreed it was pretty amazing.
Mom's Scared Of Sharks
On Christmas day, I had brunch at my mom’s house and dinner at my girlfriend’s sister’s place, and I made sure to bring the Gear VR along with me. My mom has heard me tell her about VR for nearly three years, but she’s never actually experienced it for herself. I set her up in TheBlu, and she was fully transported into that world. She was so convinced that it was real, that she screamed when the shark came her direction. She came out of it with a smile on her face and wonder in her eyes.
My girlfriend's father had a similar experience with the headset. He was completely in awe of the potential of VR. He didn’t play with it for long, but he definitely enjoyed himself. Her sister is very much a gamer, so she spent a good deal of time with the headset. I would not be surprised if she buys an Oculus or Vive next year. Her PC is ready for it, and she loved being in the virtual world.
My third and final dinner this weekend took place at my Nana’s house, and she was brave enough to go first. My aunt Cathy and her friend George were nearly in tears as my grandma cheerily watched all the sea creatures go by. She kept yelling "Oh, jeepers!" every time one of them swam under or above her. She had so much fun she didn’t want to stop. Rather than give her just one of the tours, she watched all three experiences in TheBlu. She couldn’t believe how big the whales were. She was talking about it for much of the evening.
Next up was my aunt, and she got right into it. She was moving her head all around, trying to get a closer look at the creatures on the screen. At one point she put her head right into the Christmas tree beside her. Finally, I gave George the headset to try. He too, came out with a giant grin on his face and tons of questions about what else there was to try. Unfortunately, many of the other experiences require an Internet connection, so I wasn’t able to show him, but he seemed genuinely interested in what VR has to offer.
Great Family Activity
If there’s two things I can take away from this experience, it’s that VR will succeed. We see regular comments from readers that don’t believe that VR will be anything more than a fad, like 3D TVs ended up being, but I have a hard time believing those people have tried VR in any capacity. If an elderly man that has no interest in technology can be so impressed by this, you know it has serious potential.
After showing more than a dozen family members a brief glimpse of virtual reality, it’s easy to see how VR will be here for the long run. Market penetration will be slow at first, but as more and more people share the experience of virtual reality with friends and extended family, the more awareness will spread, and the more desire there will be for VR.
I also learned that VR, despite what people likely believe, can definitely be a social activity, even with one person closed off in another world. It is genuinely fun to watch people experience virtual reality. I look forward to the coming months and years as VR breaks more and more into the consciousness of the general public. So many people have no idea what wonders await them.