Siggraph: Oculus Rift Creator Says Wider Use of Virtual Reality Is 'Inevitable'

The panel warned that the industry needs compelling, immersive content while also overcoming technical hurdles

VANCOUVER — Palmer Luckey
, the original creator of Oculus Rift and co-founder of Oculus VR, said that the mass adoption of augmented and virtual reality is inevitable, but it was premature to say it was here already.

Speaking Sunday during a crowded session at the annual CG conference Siggraph, he said that this area, which has had been a niche market for decades, "will not disappear again. … It will happen; it's a matter of when."

He projected that the innovation will be led by the hardware, which he said needs to become "commoditized" in the same way that televisions are, meaning that there are multiple manufacturers, not just one, so that it goes mainstream.

"As a result, I think it will be VR content and software that will drive the industry long term," Luckey added. "I'm looking forward to the point where nobody can think of more [technical] improvements and instead are thinking about compelling killer apps."

Panelists agreed that content is king. Henry Fuchs
, professor of computer science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, asserted that a key obstacle to mass adoption is that "it's not clear what the application is that millions will want to use augmented and virtual reality for. Until we find that, we'll be limited to a few hundred thousand users. Not millions."

AR pioneer Steven Feiner of 
Columbia University emphasized that "entertainment is the next big thing in VR."

Hollywood is already giving this area a close look, from the potential of narrative content to games, as well as for marketing purposes, such as those used at the recent Comic-Con. Panelist Jeri Ellsworth, 
co-founder of VR company Technical Illusions
, noted that "it boils down to whether its fun."

Luckey noted that those who are starting to create VR content "will be so far ahead when the hardware is ready."

Calling this time the "Wild West" for VR, senior director at the Sony Magic Lab, Richard Marks
 — who is working with developing Sony VR headset Project Morpheus — agreed, saying "there are no established genres. You don't get that opportunity very often."

But there are still barriers that need to be addressed. For Fuchs, "most of the component technologies are inadequate," including "woefully inadequate" VR displays and "pitiful" tracking.

Feiner added that user interfaces also needed dramatic improvement.

Luckey warned that VR hardware makers should be careful not to focus too much on marketing a "quantifiable" feature such as resolution. He added that there needs to be improvement in numerous areas, including ergonomics and latency.

The subject of the potential to make users feel queasy was also discussed. Fuchs acknowledged that it is currently a problem, but he believes this will become less of an issue as features such as user interfaces continue to improve.

Luckey warned that creatively, what has become common in video games (i.e. fast movements) won't necessarily translate from a TV display to a comfortable VR experience. Marks added that on the production side, creative techniques "are being figured out" to address this issue.

Jason Jerald, 
co-founder of VR consulting firm NextGen Interactions, moderated the discussion.

Twitter: @CGinLA