State of Virtual Reality
In the first phase of the project, the partnership researched the current state of virtual reality, trialled different types of technology and considered the potential impact on teaching and learning.
The most immersive category of consumer virtual reality technology is often described as ‘Full Room VR’. These setups require a powerful desktop computer along with a dedicated headset. They allow the user to move around the environment and the controllers enable sophisticated interaction. The average setup costs approximately £2000. Most content is based on computer generated environments and is expensive to produce. Although some colleges have been experimenting with making a small number of Full Room VR setups available to students, the partnership decided early on that this technology was not yet accessible to the average classroom and therefore out of the scope of this project. However, it is hoped that the teaching approaches and evaluations discussed will be equally applicable to this type of technology.
At the other end of the cost spectrum, in 2014 Google introduce their Cardboard standard in order to drive the adoption of entry-level virtual reality. Special apps available on most modern smart phone can be used with a head mount to create basic immersive experiences. These head-mounts cost on average £10 but the price of a smart phone must be taken into account if the user is not able to provide their own device. The original Google Cardboard was released as an origami kit to keep costs low but other manufacturers have released compatible head-mounts that do not require construction.
One of the limitations of head mounts is the small number of apps available and the limitation of the phone’s camera to capture truly immersive photos which can be experienced within the headsets. Manufacturers have now released entry-level 360o cameras which can capture a photo or video in every direction from a particular position which can viewed on compatible VR devices. Entry-level cameras cost approximately £200.
Finally, in 2018 with the release of the Oculus Go, a new category of device has matured known as Mobile VR. These headsets combine the computing power of a mobile device with a purpose-built head-mount that can create stand-alone virtual reality experiences. Unlike Full Room VR, users can not move around the environment but can still interact using special controllers. These devices are relatively in-expensive at approximately £200 per unit, which is comparable to buying a dedicated smart phone and head-mount.