Photo: The PlayStation VR, launched earlier this year, is expected to give a major boost to the adoption of VR in fields beyond gaming. Photo courtesy of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.

With the recent launch of PlayStation VR, a virtual reality headset compatible with the Sony PlayStation 4, the future of gaming looks set to change forever. But could VR change the way we learn, travel and communicate, as well?

Rakuten.Today caught up with Yasuo Takahashi, Sony Interactive Entertainment’s Director of Hardware Global Product Strategy & Management, on the sidelines of the Rakuten Technology Conference in Tokyo last month, and asked him about the new headset and the future it heralds.

Since its release in 2013, Sony’s PS4 game console has sold over 40 million units worldwide, so the launch of the PS4-compatible PlayStation VR will likely give a major boost to the adoption of VR as a way of interacting with games and other applications.

PlayStation VR's Yasuo Takahashi says that VR has that ability to enhance social communication.

PlayStation VR’s Yasuo Takahashi says that VR has the potential to enhance social communication.

“Making a game immersive has always been the goal of the game industry,” Takahashi explained to attendees at the conference. Up until now game developers were limited to showing their content on a television or mobile device screen, but with the arrival of VR, genuine immersion is suddenly possible.

Known as “Project Morpheus” during its long development phase, PlayStation VR consists of a head-mounted 5.7-inch OLED screen with a 100-degree field of view, a processor unit and cable connectors.

Gamers will have access to just 50 or so VR-enabled titles by the end of the year, but that hasn’t dinted interest. So far, strong demand has led to supply shortages. Takahashi chalks that up to the system’s unique features compared to competing platforms.

“We have a closed platform, so developers can optimize for one device, and over 40 million PS4 users can have the same experience,” Takahashi said.

Applications beyond gaming

As VR gradually gains widespread acceptance within the gaming realm, developers are also looking further afield for other types of applications. Takahashi explained that those could include controlling and seeing one’s avatar in a 3D virtual chat room, virtual hands-on experiences with merchandise when considering an online purchase, virtually attending real-world events such as concerts or sports matches, as well as simulations of flight or surgical procedures.

VR also has the potential to change the way we interact with others in the digital space, for example in VR chat rooms. “With VR, you can be in a virtual space and you can feel that other people are really close to you. VR has that ability to enhance social communication,” Takahashi said.

Simulated travel is another potential application. “With virtual travel, you can go anywhere, like Mars or the top of Mt. Everest. We can build such experiences with content development,” he explained.

Takahashi is convinced that, once experienced, consumers will understand the value of VR.

“Putting the headset on is a really high hurdle for the user, but it can give you incredible new experiences,” he said. “I think VR is a good candidate to become a new technology for the masses, like TV and radio.”


Read more posts from the Rakuten Technology Conference 2016 here.