In 1993, Aerosmith released “Amazing”, from their album Get a Grip. It was a huge hit for the band and marked its resurgence in the ’90s. The video was among the first appearances of Alicia Silverstone, who became one of the biggest stars of the decade.
Just as big a deal in the video: virtual reality.
For the last 20 years, companies promised that VR was just around the corner, but instead it became one of those codewords for tech that over-promises and under-delivers in the worst possible ways. We were told we would be skysurfing and having weird, Kai’s Power Tools-inspired avatar cybersex with Alicia Silverstone (Alicia Silverstone in her 20s, that is). What we actually got were headaches and 16 bit graphics.
Palmer Luckey was about one when the song hit the charts and TRL Live. Did the young Luckey catch the video, and did virtual reality become imprinted on his brain like some errant psychological experiment? Maybe. Maybe not. But Luckey would grow up to be one of the founders of Oculus VR, one of the new saviors of the technology.
Now Luckey’s Oculus VR, initially crowdfunded through Kickstarter and bought up by Facebook, will release its first consumer device in the first quarter of 2016. Up until now, Oculus Rift units have all been meant for the developer community, but the company promises the mass production models will build “on the presence, immersion, and comfort of the Crescent Bay prototype with an improved tracking system that supports both seated and standing experiences, as well as a highly refined industrial design, and updated ergonomics for a more natural fit”.
Like the VR Classic, nü-VR is all things to all people. Zukerberg sees VR a way to take part in a classroom, see a doctor or watch sports — all while Facebook collects the data of what you’re doing on the Oculus Rift headsets so it can push more “sponsored pages” to you, of course. Sony’s gotten in on it, showing off prototypes of headsets that are supposed to work with the PlayStation 4. Even Apple’s rumored to be working on a headset that the iPhone slips into and Microsoft let the press take a look at the Hololens, though it seems more like augmented reality than virtual reality.
Is it the real thing? Is it the realization of Johnny Mnemonic, without Keanu Reeves and the 80GB of data in his head?
Or will it crash and burn, again, and go back to being the stuff of wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if-it-were-true technologies like cold fusion, quantum computers and 3D TVs that actually sold? This is a post-Google Glasses world, where not even the tech juggernaut could make its wearable — with less functionality than the Rift — work.
In about eight months, we’ll find out.