One aspect that needs improving to create a truly immersive virtual reality experience is audio, says technologist Raghu Bathina. He believes the future to be bright for the industry – and hopes that it will be prepared to tackle challenges associated with emerging technology.
“I was there in the very early days of the internet and there will be a lot of good and bad that comes with the new technology. I think we're a little bit more grown up now from that time. We saw what can happen with the internet,” Bathina, the head of Conquest VR, says as he sits down to talk to Cybernews.
Having successfully sold several of the companies he had founded during his career, Bathina is now working to bring better sound quality – and comfort – to millions of people who use virtual reality headsets. Called Conquest Pro VR, his company’s product is a hi-res certified pair of headphones that can be attached to most of the major virtual reality headsets currently on the market, including Meta’s Oculus devices.
Bathina says that virtual reality is past its trough of disillusionment – a down point in a technology’s hype cycle – as the benefits of its practical application become increasingly evident in fields beyond the gaming industry, including healthcare.
The metaverse is yet to pass that point, Bathina says. As companies from Meta to Microsoft are pouring billions into building their virtual worlds, its future is still far from certain and could take years to shape. Psychological and even physical implications users might experience while interacting with strangers, sometimes unwillingly, are also a concern. Both companies and users will have to tread carefully.
Tell me more about your company and Conquest VR headphones – how do they differ from other products?
We said let’s try to create something that’s more integrated and will feel like part of the virtual reality headset and, at the same time, give extremely high-quality audio. It has a custom driver that was made just for us and it's highly certified.
Hi-Res is a certification by the Japan Audio Society, a group founded many years back to certify whether headphones and audio equipment, even audio content, is high resolution. It means you'll get the thumping of the lowest lows and the teeny sounds of the highest highs. It really does sound quite special.
If you want to be in virtual reality for a long time, it has to be really gentle on the ear. And we have this unique design, which doesn't push down on the ear. It doesn't push down on your scalp as typical headphones do.
Better virtual reality visuals and better sound lead to a better experience. Do you see any dangers in that?
It’s just like television or any other media. It's really the content that can make it dangerous. It depends on the nonsense that people are watching or streaming that could make it dangerous. Something that's harming children or is discriminatory.
In the industry, I think there's awareness of the fact that we are such a mind-bending kind of technology. Definitely, it can also be used for the wrong things. I'm hopeful that we're all very aware of this, and there is some level of curation that's happening to protect people.
There are social virtual reality places like VRChat, where people are bullying others or coming into their space. But I believe that because we are at the very nascent stage and there's so much attention paid to this, there's going to be more and more protection put in, so we don't end up in a bad situation.
What precautions should companies take as they build their virtual worlds?
Allowing people to block others or give them some sense of space around you, similarly to what we do on the internet. I've been in virtual reality experiences where people come really close and, although it's all virtual, it can actually feel a little crowded. It's a strange feeling. Especially if someone’s approaching with bad intentions – I can imagine people will get upset.
When you're creating a personal experience for something, you can make sure that it is not hurting or hurtful, but when you're doing a social experience where it's not so much controlled, then you have to put some kind of barriers in place. I think we just have to be all the more careful in virtual reality because it is such a much more immersive kind of technology.
As major tech companies, including Meta, Microsoft, and Sony, to name just a few, agree on common metaverse standards, Apple is noticeably missing from the list. Why do you think Apple is keeping its distance, and where do you think it is heading when it comes to the metaverse and virtual reality?
Apple is big on privacy. They want to make privacy and security one of their hallmarks. They stand apart because for them, it's to show that they're even better than the standard. I don't think it's that they don't care about it – I think they want to show that they care about it so much that they should be separate from the standard.
As far as the metaverse goes, I think they might have their own story. And it may not be a metaverse that Meta is talking about. For them, augmented reality is probably more of a priority – augmenting the real world with virtual information, virtual audio, or visuals that help you live your real life better with virtual optics.
Meta is working on its upcoming headset, reportedly called Meta Quest Pro. Meta seems to have focused much of its efforts on the device, which has been described as the company's most important opportunity. What are your thoughts on that?
It's a way to showcase all their greatest technology that's coming in the near future. I think it also reflects Mark Zuckerberg and Meta's passion for making social experiences more real, so they do eye tracking and they have mouth tracking. They seem to actually have inward-facing cameras.
I think, for Meta, their focus is cameras inside the metaverse and social experiences within it. Their drive is to have people feel like they're actually there talking to each other physically. I think they will push toward enterprise as a use case for that product. At the same time, they will be using it as a showcase of technology to come in a consumer product a year or two years from now.
What direction do you see virtual reality and the metaverse taking – what are the next major developments that we should expect?
I think the metaverse will go through a trough of disillusionment phase. I think virtual reality has gone through this phase – and is actually on its way up. Augmented reality is yet to hit the trough, it will happen soon. And metaverse for sure. It will go through a lot of iterations but it's 10 years out.
Meanwhile, virtual reality is now really mature. Hardware is powerful, it's got a lot of processing power, and there are a lot of very interesting applications that are coming out. I know there are so many different research and projects happening in healthcare – training, anxiety treatment, dealing with depression, dealing with schizophrenia, all kinds of amazing things.
I'm super excited, I think it's showtime for virtual reality.
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