Flying coach sucks right? The in-seat entertainment of even the most well equipped plane is quickly outdated by newer technologies leaving the experience a frustrating and obnoxious one. There is seemly no escape from the toddler sitting in the seat ahead of you screaming their head off. Well soon these once teeth grinding experiences will become minor annoyances. We are quickly entering an era where virtual reality can whisk you away from the overly small seat and inadequate leg room to a private theater with an IMAX screen.
There are several major players in the VR game. HTC, in collaboration with Valve Corporation has created the HTC Vive, a VR headset targeting the gamer market. Facebook purchased Oculus VR and produces their own headset targeting gamers as well. In six weeks, Sony will enter the game with Playstation VR which will bring the world of virtual reality to millions of gamers. Each of these headsets requires a console or a PC to be connected at all times to drive the display.
Oculus and Samsung just released their newest version of Gear VR, a dongle in which you can view a VR world using your phone’s screen. This is the only headset on the market that has a mobile version that could be used anywhere. This technology gives us a taste of what’s to come.
The Oculus video store is the number one app available for use with the Gear VR. A few simple taps on your phone’s screen and you will be transported into a new world. All movies currently being filmed are shot in 3D so the technology is available right now. Over a dozen titles are available to stream in 3D right now on Netflix. It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see how this technology will affect air travel. The standard M.O. (method of operation) will be to strap on a VR headset after take-off and pass the hours cocooned in a virtual world.
There are still challenges that need to be overcome. Currently the screen resolutions on phones is still too low to completely overcome the ‘screen door effect’, a visual artifact of displays, where the fine lines separating pixels become visible in the displayed image. Sony has already started releasing 4k screens into phones which have a combined pixel count of over eight million, which should help alleviate the problem. Driving this many pixels can also be a challenge. New advancements in cell phone GPUs are rapidly increasing in performance to meet the challenge of driving this many pixels and hard wired video decoders can limit how much CPU is needed to playback a video.
A time is coming soon when you may look around a plane and see everyone with a screen strapped to their face. I’m excited for the prospect of being able to escape the monotony of long distance flying.