2016 looks set to be the year of virtual reality. It seems that almost every technology company is invested or developing their own kind of headset (apart from Nintendo, which is still trying to get over the nightmare that was the Virtual Boy). Facebook owns the Xbox supported Oculus Rift. There’s also Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive, and even Google is making a cardboard headset of their own, while Sony will eventually release PlayStation VR. The challenges all these companies face is making it relevant to consumers.
The price point is already proving a real test for whether or not people want to spend their limited income on what will hopefully be seen as more than just a gimmick and actually the next big thing in immersive and interactive entertainment. Oculus has stated that pre-orders for their set start at $599 while HTC confirmed the Vive will set you back $799. Sony is expected to announce their price and release date for PlayStation VR very soon, and while it is rumoured to be lower than its competitors, the average gamer might still think twice about spending an amount equivalent to a new console on an accessory. Not only that, but Sony has also issued a warning that will limit the amount of people that will be able to use the headset: specifically, it's not for kids.
Pretty soon pre-teens will not only be complaining that they can’t go out to bars or go see R-rated movies alone but also they won’t be able to play virtual reality games. Part of the PS4’s latest firmware update has new guidelines that make a point of saying that ‘the VR headset is not for use for children under 12 years old.’ Video games already have a number of health and safety warnings, including advising players to take breaks and to be aware about the dangers of seizures that can be trigged by flashing images.
Is it just a precautionary measure? Gamesradar did some digging for information and managed to find a Redditor called kumoshibo, who is clued up on the issue. They explain that it is down to how the headset fits on a person’s head and the distance between eyes on the display.
The biggest issue when dealing with children and any Head Mounted Display (HMD), is to take into consideration the Interpupillary distance (IPD). Simply put, IPD is the distance between the centre of the pupils in our eyes. It's essential info for binocular viewing systems where pupils need to be positioned within a certain range to experience VR correctly and without strain. Adult averages usually fall around 63mm however there is quite a variation based on gender, race, and age making these values fluctuate between 48 and 73 mm. This means the further your eyes are from this average, the more distorted your view will be. Young children on the other hand have values that span between 40-55mm. So for them, their perspective through the Gear VR could be so erroneous that the perceived display will be very incorrect and can cause (short term) disorientation, discomfort, headaches, migraines, eye-strain or even nausea.
Children under 12 rarely have a significant amount of allowance stashed away that will be enough to buy their own VR headset. At that age, you are more than likely dependent on a generous parent or relative to dip into their own savings. Arguably the price point already indicates that it is not a product aimed at kids, but parents probably won’t want to buy it for them following these health warnings. If VR really takes off, it will be interesting to see if any company tries to develop a headset that can accommodate younger eyes; after all, Minecraft VR is a definite must.
The price and release date of PlayStation VR is expected to be announced at an event in San Francisco on March 15.