It’s Eurovision again. I wonder how many Eurovision’s have been and gone since I started writing this blog? Probably just two, but it seems like an awful lot more. Surely once a year is maybe once too often to inflict a series of mundane but increasingly loopy pop songs upon us. Maybe not. The Euro lot seem to be loving it. Anyway from one alternate reality to another………….
The husband got an Oculus Rift about 3 weeks ago. Son No. 2 had spent two months debating whether to get one (unknown to us) and then took the plunge, at a hefty £700, plus a graphics card capable of handling the visual doodahs and various extra special USB sticks. (If any computer experts out there find themselves unfortunately misdirected to this blog, maybe they could explain what I mean by ‘doodahs’ and ‘extra special’, ‘cos I have no idea.)
The son brought his Oculus home and set it up in the lounge. This necessitated the bringing down of son No. 3’s computer, from upstairs, and hooking it up to the telly, where it sat marooned in the middle of the lounge floor looking very forlorn and out of place. Then one VR sensor was placed on a table and the other perched on top of the mantelpiece. The sensors detect head movement and also define the VR space, which appears to be 360o, being that you can turn all the way around. I think that’s what the sensors do; it’s all something to do with LED lights and infrared and such like. There were also two hand held controllers, around which your hands fit snuggly and quite naturally.
(Since I first used the Oculus I’ve become slightly worried about sitting within a field of radiation, whilst resting my peepers about a millimetre away from two screens (resembling a pair of really, really thick spectacle lenses) which must also be emitting some kind of awful radiation, and all the while encased in a claustrophobic, slightly heavy headset. But such are the demands of embracing a futuristic lifestyle.)
Son No. 2 had prepared the way for VR via Facebook posts, in which he’d taken screen shots of his Oculus experiences and posted them. I’d seen these images and been distinctly underwhelmed, forgetting that these images were in 2D. When the Oculus was all set up I placed the headset on my head (obviously) and immediately found myself standing in a small room on what was obviously a spaceship, while a little Wall-E type robot hovered in the air a few feet away from me. He was blinking his cute round eyes at me and then he waved, holding up a sign with a waving hand on it, beckoning me to wave back. Now this was the first time I’d ever experienced a VR set-up and I couldn’t work out what had happened. I lifted the headset from my eyes to check where I was. Yes, I was in the lounge, facing the TV. ‘I was on a spaceship,’ I said to no-one in particular. I put the headset back on and there I was, standing in front of a sort of desk while my robot friend hovered. I took the headset off again, my non-VR brain obviously unable to process what was happening. ‘It’s a training thing,’ said son No.2, ‘it’s to teach you how to use the hand controllers.’ The headset went on again.
Someone else on the net must have drawn this comparison. But do you remember the transporter in the old Star Trek series. They’d all stand on round circles on the transporter, then a wiggly, shimmering light would cover their bodies and the next thing you knew there they were, standing on an alien planet which was conveniently full of oxygen. That’s exactly what happened, minus the squiggly lines. One minute, nay one second, I was standing in the lounge, whilst the husband and sons sat around watching the TV screen, the next moment I was TRANSPORTED to another place.
Back on the dimly lit spaceship I got my bearings and began turning my head to look around. There was a 3D printer to my left; a sort of old style computer to my right; drink cans littered the desk; there was a door behind me. The robot handed me a floppy disk, which I had to place into the 3D printer, using my new ethereal, blue, VR hands. On insertion the printer sprang into life and printed off a child’s rattle with bells. I had to pick it up using my VR hands (difficult manoeuvre to get used to) and then spin it around – it made the sound of jingling bells! Then butterflies appeared and I held out my blue hands, and a fluorescent pink butterfly landed on one finger. I could fill this description of what happened with loads of exclamation marks, because if anything deserves the exclamation mark, it’s the Oculus Rift.
The husband had a go and was also transported, this time with delight and uncontainable excitement, when son No.2 loaded up something called Ultra Wings, which allowed the husband to fly a plane. We rushed a kitchen chair into the room, so he could feel that he was actually sitting in the plane. It must be said that the imagery on Ultra Wings is animated and very basic but it was as though the husband was in his own personal seventh heaven. ‘I’m flying, it feels like I’m really flying,’ he kept SHOUTING. This is a minor side effect of using the Oculus Rift. When you’re in the headset you suddenly start shouting at everyone. Being in a virtual spaceship, or plane, makes the brain think it really is on a spaceship, or plane, and therefore miles away from its present position, so you’ve got to shout from across the virtual miles.
This introduction to the Oculus Rift made the husband (and myself) determined to get one. And luckily the price had come down (somewhat.) We got the Oculus for £598 but then had to fork out £350 on a graphics card, but it was WORTH IT I say (and like I also say, VR makes you shout) – just so long as they don’t find any detrimental, mutant radiation affects in the future.
Since that first go, we’ve downloaded loads of FREE entertainment videos, because I like nice animated films (although it must be said that a lot of the films suffer from a tendency to be morbid.) The husband has downloaded a few fairly innocuous shooting games. And today I went on a tour of the White House given by Barack and Michelle Obama. There I was, sitting in the loft, the home of our Oculus set-up, but virtually sitting on the lawn in front of the White House, which was lit up in a pink evening glow. Son No. 3 was sitting next to me on his computer.
My chair gently glided through the doors of the White House and into a hallway with a lectern. Barack Obama’s voice filled my ears, as he began the tour. I looked up and down the red carpeted hallway and up at the ceiling. It must be said here that the images on the Oculus are not always crystal clear, particularly objects in the distance, but at this stage in VR’s development that’s probably a minor criticism. The screen then went black and a fraction of a second later Barack Obama was sitting directly in front of me, large as life and twice as natural, looking directly into my eyes and welcoming me to the White House. I nearly fell of my chair. AAAHHHHH!!!! I screamed. AAAHHH, AAAHHHH – I took off the headset and started laughing hysterically. Son No.3, who’d been watching the tour via the TV screen, joined in the hysteria, simply because his mother was HYSTERICAL. ‘It’s Obama,’ I screamed, ‘he just suddenly appeared – he looks REAL!!’ I put the headset back on. I could have reached out and touched him (I tried.) He was still chatting on, pointing things out in the room. ‘He’s so thin,’ I continued, ‘and he looks so nice,’ Then I was off again, materialising in the next room and the screen went dark again and suddenly I was sitting opposite Michelle Obama, at a highly polished antique table. ‘She’s so thin,’ I said, repeating myself, inwardly noticing her nail polish, and her watch, and her hair, as she burbled on, pointing out pictures hanging in the room. I was so taken up with the fact that I appeared to be in discussion with the Obamas that I didn’t take in a word either of them said.
It was an experience to rival the first time I’d tried the headset. When it ended, I found another Obama experience which I feverishly downloaded, eager to be in the presidential presence again. This time he was guiding me around Yosemite national park.
Well, Eurovision is nearly over and so is this post. It looks like Portugal is going to win – has the world, or rather Europe, lost all musical sense? And isn’t reality beginning to look just a little suspect?
Never mind, tomorrow I can put on my headset and escape back to the virtual world.