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July 30th, 2016

Space: The Biggest Problem Facing The Future Of Virtual Reality

In space, nobody can hear you scream.

Space and time. In sports like soccer, hockey or basketball, space and time are what players need to exercise their creativity and build success.

In the forthcoming world of virtual reality, space may be the most limiting factor for the future of adoption.

According to the Asian PlayStation website, the requirements for using the forthcoming PlayStation VR headset are very specific, reported PCMag.

You, of course, need a Sony PlayStation 4. Children under the age of 12 are not supposed to use PlayStation VR. You should be sitting down. Some titles will require the long-forgotten PlayStation Move motion controllers—the ones that looked like they had a ping-pong ball attached to them—but the key to the whole experience is space.

To be more precise, a 6-by-10 foot area of space.

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The reason for the spatial requirement relates to the other peripheral device that you need to use PlayStation VR—the PlayStation Camera. Sony said that the height of the play area must be equal to the height of area captured by the camera, with an additional caveat being that the entire area must be free of any obstacles.

Basically, you need a large-ish living room without any nasty obstacles … like furniture … that get in the way.

See also: What It Is Like To Climb Mount Everest In Virtual Reality

Obstacles might not seem to be a problem if you are sitting down to experience virtual reality, but they are a pain in the backside if the title you are playing requires forward movement at certain points. But not everybody has the luxury of clearing a space every time they want to dive into a virtual world.

virtual_reality_playstation

If you are one of those people who owned a Nintendo Wii, you will know that the chances of tripping over at a vital point of the game are increased if there is something on the floor. On the flip side, at least the Wii didn’t require the player to effectively go blind in a confined space.

The document also reveals that Sony has allocated a two-foot dead zone directly in front of the camera, with players given a relatively limited sweet spot to maximize the tracking abilities of the device. In addition, if a game asks a player to stand up at any point, the camera may have to be repositioned. Which kind of sucks.

Nobody said the forthcoming virtual reality era was going to be easy. Or even make all that much sense.

And while the 6-by-10 play area required by Sony is larger than the 6.6 feet by five feet needed to use the tethered HTC Vive, the document makes it very clear that developers need to take into account potential movement and height restrictions when building a virtual reality experience.

Virtual Reality Is About Freedom Of Movement

When I climbed Everest at the Virtual Reality Developers Conference back in March, I moved around. Well, I kind of shuffled around. But there was nothing to stop me striding confidently within the confines of the experience. At the Samsung Developer Conference, I watched a group of people fight a virtual reality battle against (presumably) aliens while holding plastic guns in a set play area. At no point was a chair involved.

But there is a fundamental difference between the demos you will see at a convention hall and the realities of real world habitats. One is a controlled environment. The other is a place where people live. The best laid plans in war, politics and technological advancement go astray when actual people—and all their unpredictability—become involved.

The freedom to explore without just sitting on your couch is one of the elements of virtual reality that I find most exciting. Imagine having your own Star Trek-type holo-deck available to you and then being told by a digital Captain Picard that you should stay seated. Virtual reality is supposed to be only limited by our imaginations … but Sony obviously sees things differently.

everest2

Nobody is saying that virtual reality must be constrained but Sony’s hyper specific instructions may inadvertently put off prospective customers. Ironically, Sony has anticipated this potential fly in the ointment by advising people to try Playstation VR before they buy.

“PS VR uses 3D vision technology,” said the Asian website. “As there are individual difference in viewing 3D graphics and feeling of wearing VR headset, please try PS VR at shops or trial events before purchase.”

Usually technology companies want to lower the barriers for entry to new devices and products. Sony seems to be adding layers upon layers of barriers.

Why Space Matters In Virtual Reality

I do get Sony’s position. Really I do.

Investing in a virtual reality headset is a big decision and everything about it has to feel right from the start … what the industry likes to refer to as presence.

When the motion-controlled Wii was launched, there were numerous reports of controllers flying through the air and game-related injuries. A virtual reality headset is the Wii or Microsoft’s Kinect (remember that?) on steroids. Sony is just taking steps to reduce the potential for liability claims, as TechCrunch notes.

But the main issue is the space.

Not everybody has 60 square feet to play in. In my small San Francisco apartment, giving up 60 square feet would be a struggle. The fact that I don’t have a Playstation 4 is besides the point.

And, importantly, lets not forget that developers don’t normally build applications with physical boundaries in mind.

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