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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > April 2016 > A vision of the future

A vision of the future

Virtual and augmented reality technology is developing fast. it's already changing our lives

The principle of Virtual Reality is easy enough to explain: you put on a headset and you are, metaphorically, transported to another place. You’re completely immersed. You look around a three-dimensional landscape just like you would in real life, by turning your head. You’re there, wherever “there” is: perhaps a recorded or live-streamed different part of the world; perhaps in a simulated environment created from scratch with computer graphics; perhaps in a combination of these.

What’s diffi cult to explain is what this actually feels like. Above all, it’s a startlingly emotional experience. When I visited VISUALISE, a London-based Virtual Reality (VR) studio and purveyor of some of the world’s most advanced immersive film experiences, Henry Stuart, the company’s CEO and co-founder, explained their mission to me in terms of power and responsibility. Unlike conventional cinematography, capturing a VR experience does not involve any cuts, zooms or fades. Instead, you place the viewer at the centre of events and allow him or her to take control as the story unfolds. “When your mind is tricked into thinking you are somewhere else,” he told me, “the fact that you think you are there and the connection that you have with people in the scene makes it feel real, and that is really powerful. You can also make a bad experience, which is extremely intense for someone. It has got to be done very well, and this is one of the problems with VR to date, as everybody is rushing to do stuff...”

The rush around VR is close to a stampede. The last two years have seen $3.5bn poured into the market by venture capitalists. This doesn’t include the most significant single investment of all, a cool $2bn coughed up by Facebook for Oculus: the pioneering VR company founded in 2012 whose prototype headsets currently serve a community of over 200,000 developers. In January, online pre-orders for the first public version of the headset opened at $599 apiece—with the site promptly overwhelmed by demand. Goldman Sachs conservatively estimates the overall headset hardware and software market will grow to $80bn within a decade.

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In Prospect’s April issue: Sam Tanenhaus profiles Donald Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican Party Presidential nomination and asks if Trump makes it to the Oval Office, what would he do? Stephen Glover, examines what is happening at the Guardian as the newspaper looks to cut costs. Ferdinand Mount says Tony Blair transformed Britain but he should have cared more about the Labour Party. Also in this issue: Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI5, says that Brexit would not damage the UK’s security and Christopher de Bellaigue questions whether France’s clampdown on radicals is having the right effect. Plus Miranda France looks at the legacy of Don Quixote and the Duel asks: “Should the Church of England be disestablished”?
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