Oculus VR goggles could change the future. Or not.

Originally published March 26, 2016

By Ian Sherr

The future of tech is here, and it may not be as much fun as you think.

To join in, you’ll need to strap a black, 1.5-pound mask to your face so you can have an out-of-body-like experience that might make you queasy. There’s also the chance you’ll trip on the 13-foot-long cord that connects the device to a PC.

Once you put the headset on, it really can make you feel like you’re in a different place. You may be sitting in a chair at home, but through the headset — which is basically holding a computer screen inches from your eyes — you’ll think you’re standing beneath a Tyrannosaurus rex, climbing Mt. Everest or exploring the ruins of the nuclear disaster zone in Chernobyl.

That’s the virtual-reality vision that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg will be delivering Monday, when the Oculus Rift headset officially launches. It’s also Zuckerberg’s big bet. He spent $2 billion in 2014 just to buy Oculus while its VR tech was still a prototype.

When the Rift goes on sale for $599 US (£499 or AU$649), most experiences will be video games, like the space shooter Eve: Valkyrie, the card game Dragon Front, and Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives, where robots have replaced all human workers.
But Zuckerberg, 31, has much grander visions. He sees a future where education, communication and entertainment take place inside virtual worlds that we all see through these headsets.

In that future, we won’t just take a video or photo. We’ll capture a moment using 360-degree cameras that record the people, things and action around us. Zuckerberg believes VR will allow us to relive precious moments — like, in his case, the first steps taken by his 4-month old daughter, Max — in a way we never could before.

“We’d be able to share that with our family and other close friends, and actually have them be there and feel it and see what it’s like,” Zuckerberg said at a conference last year.

To understand, try

Sam Dolnick got his first taste of VR about a year ago when he downloaded Vrse, an app that plays 360-degree videos on an iPhone. You can also explore those videos by opening the app, plopping the phone into a headset and then peering through the eye holes. Turn your head, and the video pans around.

“It blew me away,” Dolnick said. “There’s something powerful about this place where you just look around.”

He showed his phone and Google Cardboard VR viewer to his colleagues in the newsroom at The New York Times, where he’s an associate editor.

By spring 2015, the paper was working on what would become a specialized VR app and NYT-branded version of Cardboard, which it sent out free to a million subscribers in November. That first weekend, , including its flagship reader for viewing content on phones and tablets.

“There were many people in the building who thought it was a stunt, a neat trick to do and then move on with our lives,” Dolnick said.

Now they think differently.

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