Virtual Reality: what you imagine is what you get

Winnie TangIn August 2015, Time magazine predicted that the over 40-year-old virtual reality (VR) technology was ‘about to change the world’. In the following month, the State Council of China announced an acceleration of the triple-play services throughout the country. These developments are suggesting that VR is ready to reshape our future.

In China, a pilot test for triple play in selected cities was launched as far back as 2001. The aim of the trial was to promote resource sharing and interoperability among fixed line telephone network, cable TV network and broadband Internet network. In other words, the state-supported policy encouraged a variety of services to be provided by a single operator, i.e. TV programs, Internet broadband services and fixed line voice services. In Europe, the US and Japan, triple play or quadruple play (bundling fixed line, TV, broadband and mobile network) has been popular for years.

Triple play intends to promote stiffer competition, rather than network consolidation. Such change is bound to give subscribers choices, which would directly lead to price reduction. Therefore, fierce competition or even price war among service providers is likely to follow. Apart from competing in price, program content, in particular, is crucial for operators to differentiate themselves from the others.

From triple play to VR

The answer for offering unique applications and program content is VR. That’s why Facebook bought a virtual reality technology company Oculus VR for US$2.3 billion last year. In an hour-long question and answer session on his social network, CEO Mark Zuckerberg offered his view of the company’s future—the focus on text, photo and video will one day change to an “immersive experience like virtual reality”.

Recently Zuckerberg also showed off a new VR toy developed by Oculus VR that allowed users from different parts of the world to play ping pong. Meanwhile, global IT giants like Google, Samsung, Sony and companies from mainland China are focusing on the development of related hardware.

VR development in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, most VR-related research projects focus on its applications in the business world, including medicine, architecture and construction, logistics and retail, as well as video games and entertainment. This is a reflection of our economy’s characters.

Most research projects are undertaken in the universities. One of them is the Virtual Reality Laboratory at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. It aims to provide multi-imaging data for surgeons to better understand the human anatomy and improve surgical skills accordingly. At the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, a VR-based training program is developed to help patients with cognitive impairment. By providing virtual environments of a grocery shop or public transportations, patients suffering from learning disorder or brain injury can be trained for rehabilitation.