BY BRANDON RONK
On September 1, 2012, a truly game changing device created by Oculus completed its funding on Kickstarter with over $2.4 million from project backers. This device is called the Rift. They had set out with the goal of creating an affordable, immersive, and easy to use virtual reality headset for the consumer market.
The devices function in a similar fashion to the 3D you have experienced at home or in the theater but taken to the next level. It uses a single screen physically split between both eyes. Each side displays a different image from different angles that do not 100 percent overlap. This more or less perfectly recreates how our eyes actually see, so it can easily fool our brains into perceiving the display as a real space.
To top the experience off, the device can read your head movements and respond in real time with the display. This means that when you turn your head to look at the wall, your view responds in kind. Depending on the content producer, this could mean anywhere from a 180 to a full 360 degree viewing experience left, right, up, down, and backward.
Several months after successful funding, the pledged developers kits began making their way out into the public with the intent of game and app developers to begin creating future content for the device. Developers were quick to create simulations of roller coasters and simple outdoor scenes for people to just observe along with full-fledged first-person video games to rev up the immersion. Most notably the project drew the attention of Doom co-creator and Chief Technologist, John Carmack.
All of this seemed to just tap into the enthusiast and gaming markets until Facebook stepped up to the plate and bought Oculus and the Rift for $400 million and $1.6 billion in Facebook stock. This let the tech world know that this was no small fleeting venture like the majority of 3D content and equipment. VR is going to be huge and beautiful.
Being one of the most technologically adaptive industries in the world, the pornography business has been taking steps to bring this new tech into the fold. In recent years, we have seen the introduction of porn filmed in high definition for just a sharper image and in 60 fps (frames per second) for a smoother, more fluid visual experience and more realistic motion.
We have also seen the introduction of binaural sound, which is more than just your basic surround sound but rather specifically developed for an individual user to produce a more natural acoustic sensation that immerses the listener more deeply than the nicest enhanced Dolby THX theater you have ever visited. This is best channeled through a set of noise canceling or isolating headphones.
The pornography business has been taking steps to bring this new tech into the fold.
With both the eyes and ears completely shut out from the real world, your mind is left to believe that what it is seeing and hearing is real. Since the advent of this technology, there have been many tests and examples of how this holds true. The body will react to the input. People get nauseated or lose balance on the roller coasters. They get legitimately scared and put their hands up for protection in horror games. It’s quite adorable, humorous, and, above all else, inspiring.
The first company to enter the fray is a company called VirtualRealPorn.com. Before creating content, they had to overcome the first hurdle of how to display the content. So, they developed a video player that is capable of both segmenting the video correctly as well as accounting for head tracking movement. They call this VirtualRealPlayer and it is currently exclusive to the PC. You no longer are subject to what the director wants you to look at or thinks you want to look at. And people have been taken aback by it so far.
You are now the director. There are videos that place you as someone watching the sex act happen. However, where the tech really shines is when shot as POV. Now, they have content from both men and women performing assorted acts on you, the viewer as either a man or woman. There are also individuals working on animated and CGI content, with mixed results.
Response from individuals having tried this content is overwhelmingly positive. Because of the blockage of outside stimulus, the brain thoroughly convinces the user that what they are seeing and hearing are real. And this is only the beginning.
At XBIZ 2015, Brian Shuster, Internet and technology marketing mogul, gave an interesting keynote about the futures of VR in the porn industry and has also done some articles regarding education and VR as well. In this keynote, he describes the history of pornography in regards to technology and global trends that are worth taking note of.
Where the tech really shines is when shot as POV. Now, they have content from both men and women performing assorted acts on you, the viewer as either a man or woman.
In Japan, an increasing number of people under 40 are described as having sekkusu shinai shokogun, or “celibacy syndrome.” This significant portion of the population has almost no interest or outright despises the idea of real sexual contact. A recent survey by the Japan Family Planning Association found that 45 percent of women and 25 percent of men aged 16–24 suffered from this affliction. However, this strictly describes the physical. The vast majority still have an active interest in porn, allowing for a very strong market presence.
Shuster envisions VR brothels and the girls that make up the camgirl industry utilizing the VR technology along with the advancements that are being made in haptics, allowing a physical interaction to occur, to expand this economy greatly. Cost and safety are what are primarily driving these changes.
The Rift will mark the first commercially available fully fledged VR device on the market when it releases in the first quarter of 2016. There are other devices that are and will be available from other manufacturers. HTC is working on releasing their Vibe. Sony has had a prototype of their Morpheus headset for a while with minimal information being given to the world.
Samsung has a developers version of their GearVR headset, they developed in a mutually beneficial partnership with Oculus, that has been available for a short period of time. However, it only works with their Note 4 phone as the screen and driver. Reviews of the device have been very positive, with the only true problem being the limitations of only working with the Android phone system.
And then, the most commonly available version that is out right now just about everyone reading can pick up. These are simple accessories that you can slide your smartphone into and use an app suite to experience. These start out with the Google Cardboard, which I have purchased myself, that is exactly what it sounds like. It is a small cardboard box that you fold and tape into a functional headset with a simple strap to secure it to your face. Nothing fantastic, but it gives you a taste of what is to come for about $20.
Because of the blockage of outside stimulus, the brain thoroughly convinces the user that what they are seeing and hearing are real.
They escalate up to the Durovis Dive series, which is just a nicer more polished version of the Cardboard that will run around $70. With any of these, I would suggest making sure you have a newer phone. Samsung S5, iPhone 6, HTC M8, Motorola X2 or newer. Otherwise, the screens will be too pixelated to make it any fun.
There are exciting times afoot. The first real steps towards that ideal “Holodeck” scenario that stands as the science fiction ultimate goal. We want to jack into the Matrix, step onto the Holodeck, and log into the Oasis. The potential rewards are so strong in every field from military to entertainment that the tech cannot be ignored.
Brandon Ronk is a tech and pop culture junkie covering tech, games, movies, TV, comics and whatever else seems neat. You can follow him on Twitter @phroday.
Photo via Sergey Galyonkin/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)