Virtual reality is here but simulation sickness yet to be solved
Priced at $629 in New Zealand, PlayStation VR was released on Thursday.
The release of Sony's Playstation Virtual Reality has been described as a milestone moment in gaming history.
It seems Sony may have won the race to bring VR to the mass-market. Thursday's launch brings an immersive virtual world to the consumer, at a cheaper cost than competing products.
But just four months ago, gamers were reporting nausea, known as simulation sickness, when pre-viewing the Playstation VR (PS VR) at the gaming conference E3.
PS VR has been designed to bring virtual reality to the masses.
Dr Taehyun Rhee, senior lecturer at Victoria University, has worked on developing software solutions to simulation sickness with his PhD student Kieran Carnegie.
"VR is so engaging of the senses and particularly the eyes, which is where the problem area is," says Mike Pesce, a self-described futurist and pioneer of VR.
Pesce explains that "every human being is a bell curve", tolerance for the stimulation that VR provides differs from person to person, from day to day.
"At some points, for some people, it is just going to be too much, and for other people it is just going to be fun."
Pesce has worked with VR for 26 years and knows the issues. He was part of the company that sought to produce the first consumer VR device back in the early 90s.
They began to solve some of the problems surrounding immersion, when "this little video game company Sega came along".
The developing product, Sega VR, was shown at a trade event in 1993. "The buyers went bananas," Pesce says.
Prototypes were manufactured and third party tests were run, but when Sega received the results, the project was quietly shelved.
Why? Pesce isn't certain, but he thinks it was making kids sick.
"I do not think kids should use VR systems … for a whole bunch of reasons.
"A kid's sensory apparatus is still learning, and you want it to learn in the real world before you start giving it an artificial world, where in fact it's not really following the same rules."
When it comes to today's VR devices, such as the PS VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, he recommends no child under 13-years-old use the device. Sony lists the minimum age for the PS VR as 12-years-old.
"To be frank, I'm worried that kids are going to get this system between now and Christmas, and some of them are going to puke."
We're at day one, he says, the first generation. He sees more potential in using VR for business than he does for entertainment.
"Most of the stuff we're going to see is just bad first-person-shooters that somebody's shoved into VR."
Kieran Carnegie, a PhD student at Victoria University who works on solving simulation sickness, is excited about Sony's entry into the virtual reality space.
But the problems with simulation sickness "are always going to be there to some degree".
"In the similar manner to when someone puts a new pair of glasses on … we're providing a visual stimulation that's unnatural, not what the body's expecting.
"In some people the reaction's going to be worse."
Using VR headsets can cause a disconnect between the visual cues used to evaluate the distance of objects.
In reality, we rotate our two eyes inwards to assess distance, and we flex the lens of our eyes to focus what we're looking at.
A "depth cue disparity" occurs when these two cues don't align - as can be the case with VR headsets. Wearing a display brings images which appear to be far away, right in front of your eyes.
The body's response to this disparity is a primitive one. It assumes the user has been poisoned and attempts to fix the problem with nausea.
Carnegie has been working on a dynamic depth of field within VR software that will direct the user's sight and emulate our reality.
Current hardware manufacturers have considered the ill effects "pretty well", he says. And the audience will bear the potential head spin.
"People that are going to buy PS VR are not going to be families with young kids, it's not going to be your grandparents … it's going to be the dedicated gamers."
But yet, there is a fear among proponents of VR that this first wave of consumer hardware could have arrived too soon.
"Simulation sickness is going to be a market-breaker if it isn't sufficiently solved when it becomes mainstream, and we won't get new devices past this generation's - just like in the 1990s,' he says.
Carnegie's supervisor, senior lecturer Dr Taehyun Rhee agrees. He says hardware companies prioritise fun and immersion over comfort.
"[In order] to make the market ready, this problem should be solved."
A new hardware system is needed to solve this - one that has a multi-focus display that can refocus with the eye.
"But it takes time," he says.
"The head mounted VR … it's cool. When you see the 3D TV and 3D movie, it was cool. After some time, do you still like the 3D TV?
"I worry about that."