Don't give a crap about VR? Here's why you should

Commentary: Virtual reality isn't just a fad. It's a really, really cool way to interact with the world -- and it's going to be everywhere.

Josh Miller

If your eyes glaze over and your senses go numb at the mere mention of virtual reality, this is a message for you. Because I think you'll come around, and you'll thank me when you're prepared for the rush of VR experiences to come. Maybe not today, but in the next couple of years when it becomes part of your everyday life.

That's because virtual reality is one of those things that really hits home when you've actually tried it for yourself. Suddenly, all the videos of people riding a VR roller coaster and gushing after they've tried VR for the first time make a whole lot of sense. You get to be part of the club.

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VR is cooler than words can describe

Done right, VR's wow factor is incredible. You feel like you're part of the new world around you, even if it isn't real: you're whooshing along upside down on a roller coaster, the walls are closing in on you and you flinch, a giant whale glides by and stares you down eye-to-eye.

It's going to be everywhere

There's a ton of investment in VR right now. Expect it to change the way you watch TV and movies (and yes, porn), play games, learn new skills.

There's an emotional payoff

Awe, empathy, fear, lust -- for reals, VR porn is going to be huge. Because of its in-your-face nature, your brain treats virtual reality a lot like reality; you connect.

It can give you one-of-a-kind experiences

How often are you going to go to the moon? Probably never. VR could help you bounce around its surface, take in the enormity of the Sistine Chapel, go on an archaeological dig. In the classroom especially, VR will give your kids a connection to worldly places and things that they could never fully comprehend by reading in a book: a tour of King Tut's tombs, watching the sidelines of a samurai battle, witnessing Paul Revere's desperate ride during the American Revolution.

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It can make you more creative

I felt this acutely when drawing pictures with my hands -- all around me. I "painted" myself into the center, then stepped out to survey my work. Imagine a life-size 3D puzzle like Tetris or Candy Crush that uses your spacial perception and both your hands to solve.

It's fun as hell

I was grinning like an idiot during a hilarious HTC Vive demo in which I was a human on a robot world...and got "recycled" for my mere-mortal mistakes. AKA smashed to bits. VR goggles go over your face, so they cut out distractions, leaving you free to be fully immersed in new worlds; it can become a larger-than-life hideaway from daily stresses.


But, VR is in its early stages and has a long way to go. Here's what's not as good.

You can't do much with it today

VR is mostly being used for games or 360-degree movies right now, some of which are amazing, but the true killer apps are still not here yet, and the hardware will get a lot more comfortable and easier to use as time goes on. Right now, it's extremely early days. HTC thinks mainstream VR is about 3 to 5 years out.

Holy hell, the good stuff is expensive

Google Cardboard is cheap, but the real sophisticated stuff from Oculus and HTC costs hundreds, and Microsoft's stunning HoloLens isn't on the market yet. Samsung Gear VR is right in the middle in price and capability. Since we're still just getting started with VR, the platforms have yet to consolidate in a meaningful way, so it isn't clear yet which ones are the winners, and you might wind up buying the wrong one if you dive in too soon.

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Headsets are heavy; bad stuff makes you want to puke

Jerky graphics can make you nauseous, heavy gear can hurt your head and neck and you will probably have a connector cord hanging from your head if you go with the high-end stuff. At least for now.

Say goodbye to your living room and friends

To be able to really go deep into systems like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony PlayStation VR, expect to clear some space your living room for the setup and give it over to your VR setup. Cardboard and Samsung's Gear VR are more stationary experiences, but they're also less immersive. Since VR completely commands your visual field (and often your ears too), it's easy to get sucked in and shut out the world -- and harder for others to get your attention.

Still, we CNET editors are enormous fans of VR and can't wait to see where it goes. You should be, too.

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