2016 Is The Year Entertainment Changes Forever

Published: May 16, 2016 22:11pm EDT
By Dylan Moore, for Konsume Technology

Please Note: This article was updated May 16, 2016 @ 10:11pm EDT


This year has proven to be of enormous significance for technology. So much new consumer hardware is being developed and as of writing this, we are nearing the official Nvidia launch of the Pascal graphics cards on May 17th.

As is typical with huge news, there are many opinions surrounding each detail. In the event that you've been living under a rock, it's worth bringing up VR (virtual reality). The VR world has remained in the headlines ever since Facebook bought, and thereby financed, the once-Kickstarted Oculus Rift project. Every company that has been researching and developing these technologies wants a huge portion of the market and there is a lot of competition to look forward to, and it's going to change the way we interact with machines forever.



Virtual Reality

VR is a controversial subject and for some, it starts with the two brands pioneering the human interfaces. We're talking about Facebook's Oculus Rift, and Valve/HTC's Vive headsets. The two have some key differences that also affect the price-point, and a major industry factor is the HTC Vive is currently available, while we will not see the Oculus on a massive scale until their well-known manufacturing and shipping problems are resolved. Customers, as of this moment, have yet to receive their headset from Oculus ordered in February. Rather than focus on the well-known launch issues, let's talk about the differences in the headsets and why they are going to help change everything.

Some people may view VR as a fad that won't go away, largely due to the temptation of creating a head-mounted device that has the capability to take us to a different "world". That is proving to simply be too much to resist. However, those who have used the device for any period of time at all will likely tell you otherwise. The vast majority of people with experience using a VR headset remark on its ability to trick your mind into putting you into a different plane of physical existence.

Everything from motor functioning to the critical understanding of our environment (such as gravity, etc.) changes when the head-mounted unit is on. There's a reason people are so excited this time, and why any doubters should stop comparing it to the 80s and 90s VR of yore. They are incomparable.

In games (the native use of these devices upon their creation) we can expect very real reactions to the phenomena, allowing us to remember the experience intimately, and be impressed upon. We've seen this already in games with jump-scares or scary themes. People are authentically terrified. This is a good thing. It has been quite some time since people were collectively and thoroughly shocked by an experience. Most of us have to pay our way into a theme park and find the biggest roller coaster, and many people are waiting for the newest thrill. VR has it for them. People who use it can expect very vivid phenomena when they play modern space-shooters; they can expect to get closer to the stars than they previously imagined.

VR can be used to teach students concepts that can be grasped much more holistically using a newly physical approach. The technology isn't novelty, as I was arguing against earlier; it's novel. Many people learn much quicker and much more thoroughly by experiencing things, and being physical. I'm no technophobe, but research has proven that the tactile experience of writing notes with a pencil often has a complementary role in remembering the contents written when compared to the ease remembering typed content. In a cooperative study (“Notes on Note-taking”) conducted by professors from UCLA and Princeton with a large sample pool of students, those who wrote their notes by hand remembered them much better than the portion that typed them into a Word document. This is a fantastic support for my theory that getting up, using our bodies, and seeing things in a 3D environment that we can innately relate to will uniquely critical for learning among generations to come.

Many people may say, "VR is too expensive, don't be ridiculous. The average person can't afford the hardware to operate it with a positive experience." To which I say, "...Not really."



Mobile Technology and Personal Computers Resemble Each Other More Than Ever

Maybe it has occurred to you that phones have 4K resolution displays, quad-core processors, and a practical minimum of 8GB of RAM lately. The interesting thing is this technology is reaching more and more people as well due to the affordability. Especially in Asian countries such as India, where the technological divide is rapidly shrinking and where millions of human beings are still newly connecting to the Internet every day. This means a huge market for devices, and with that comes more powerful hardware for the power users who want it.

This is why we've seen a surge of innovation, from the predictive touch on the new iPhone models to 100% waterproof cell-phones. The technology is looking for a place to go and now phones are beginning to make VR accessible. There are hundreds of display-mounts that turn your phone into a portable VR unit for around 50-100 USD extra (or get the Google Cardboard for free). The tech giants we are used to navigating our daily lives with don't want VR to be out of reach. They've made a lot of effort to experiment with various options so that anyone can feel what VR is like if they want to badly enough.

These matters may seem like an obvious step in our never-ending technological progression of making smaller and smaller things more advanced each step of the way, and that's true. However, it's worth noting that we were making big leaps before and none of it was good enough to provide the experiences we crave and require in order to be absolutely blown-away. Frame-rates weren't high enough, resolutions weren't high enough, transistor manufacturing wasn't advanced enough – we've truly hit a breaking point in terms of the requirements for a VR culture.



Intel, AMD & Nvidia Mean Business


You've inevitably used one of these companies' computers. Certain people are very familiar with all of them. However, not everyone knows that each company is releasing industry-changing technology this year. Intel has a performance-oriented chip coming out before 2017 called Broadwell-E, AMD is releasing a graphics card chip called Polaris as well as their codenamed-Zen CPU. Nvidia is releasing their new enthusiast graphics card line in 48 hours from writing this. What a huge chain of events; where do we begin?

Let’s start by talking about AMD for a second. If you haven't been keeping up with the details of every relationship between these companies, I feel obligated to mention that AMD has been the underdog in terms of central processors and graphics chips alike for some time. They've been consistently outclassed by almost every release from their competitors, Intel and Nvidia. Why will anything be different this time?

Primarily, because they've done business very intelligently and made a few key deals, including one with a Chinese server distributor using their processors. This resulted in a 90% spike in their stock at the end of April this year. This, combined with their imminent releases, could truly be turning points for the company so oft behind in the race. So long as their promotional slides for their new offerings aren't inflating the truth with typical marketing hype, we can expect to see more affordable and, for the first time in a while, competitive offerings from one of the major players. Competition is very good, of course.

Speaking of competition, Nvidia has their toes dipped in a vast number of markets that prove to be pivotal in the future. Both companies (and even Intel to a lesser extent) want to prepare for the graphics-dependent future that irrevocably includes VR (again, so long as you're not a naysayer) though Nvidia has also been in the machine-learning game. They've been behind the development of the visual recognition system used by Google's self-driving cars and every breakthrough brings us closer toward a future of the aforementioned VR while we're in transport to a location.

Both major graphics card companies are also working on a technology sufficiently described as stacked memory. Rather than add to the 2D plane, HBM (high-bandwidth memory) is a stacked architecture that allows for transfer speeds virtually 2x faster than previously available. This is also going to play a huge role when manufacturing yields finally hit acceptable volume, likely by the end of this year.


What Does It All Mean, Realistically?


It's true that 2016 won't likely be the year we reap the benefits. The cumulative technology is still off in relatively random corners and the collaboration between companies necessary on many fronts still has yet to happen. HBM isn't ready for consumers just yet, and phones aren't quite able to give us an ideal VR experience (think of it as VR-lite) when compared to computer rigs around 800 USD. There are some cracks to smooth out in terms of how we're already attempting to use it, just as film has constantly been evolving as a medium. Some ideas and implementations are better than others.

That being said, what 2016 absolutely is can be said like this: We're preparing for a wonderful change regarding how we consume entertainment and media as a whole. Soon, there will be a second generation of VR technology, as analysts have already said that the public interest calls for it. There will be phones that are more powerful when HBM becomes the norm for memory mediums. There will be displays with resolutions high enough and experience experiences sovivid that to some, the images on screen are indistinguishable from reality.

All of this will become drastically more accessible than previously imagined by the average person and what this will, and always will result in, is a world full of new possibilities and innovation once enough people collaborate.




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