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Virtual Reality

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The tools of modern media are pretty good at portraying human experience — a computer-generated arrow fired on a movie screen can make an audience duck. That’s nothing compared to the next step in manufactured verisimilitude: virtual reality. Next to it, even 3-D movies are just an improvement on cave paintings. Media approximate experiences. VR produces it. A face-covering display takes over a user’s sense of sight, while sensors mimic the body’s subconscious mechanisms responsible for balance. The result is the actual feeling of being someplace when you’re not. VR proponents say that liberating computing from the confines of glass rectangles will change the way people interact with information.

Virtual reality, a training tool for fighter pilots for at least three decades, can now be had at home for the price of a 40-inch TV. Oculus is shipping a $599 consumer version of its Rift headgear, after selling more than 175,000 development kits for the device. The company, which was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion, is teaming up with Microsoft and its Windows 10 operating system. It will face off against Sony’s PlayStation VR, due in October. Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC and game publisher Valve released HTC Vive, costing $799, in April. Samsung’s $99 Gear VR is a set of goggles that uses its Galaxy Note 4 smartphone as a screen. Because the hardware is still in its infancy, there is little content to enjoy. Demos like spaceflight and roller coaster simulators make up for the lack of polish by cranking up the wow factor. They’ve impressed at least one influential early adopter: the porn industry.