South Africans wanting to try out a fancier virtual reality (VR) experience than the one offered by sticking a smartphone in a cardboard headset (or the somewhat slicker Samsung Gear VR headset) have largely been out of luck to date. But a new company called Blue Ocean VR wants to offer consumers the chance to try out the HTC Vive in its “Virtual Reality Experience Centre” in Bedfordview, Johannesburg.
Located on the 9th floor of the Bedford Centre Office Tower east of Johannesburg, Blue Ocean VR bills itself as an arcade and has two dedicated VR rooms — each green walled and equipped with the potent gaming PCs required to run the Vive — and a selection of games and apps for users to try out.
“We chose the HTC Vive because it offers the best user experience,” says Eric Huang, Blue Ocean VR’s CEO. “It allows for movement and, in our experience, it’s the most accurate. We want to offer the most advanced tech so that our customers can realise the possibilities of VR.”
Huang says many people mistakenly think that VR is only for gaming. “But that’s not true, there are lots of educational applications, too.” Huang illustrated his point with a demo video for a VR application that lets users — most likely medical students — pick apart the human anatomy layer by layer, with labels for every tendon and muscle and the ability to isolate a particular organ or limb and pan around it in any direction.
Nevertheless, it’s gaming that will likely serve as most consumers’ introduction to VR, and with good reason. Keeping zombie hordes at bay with a gun in one virtual hand and a torch in the other in The Brookhaven Experiment is deliciously nerve-wracking. Blasting flying robots from the sky while ducking and dodging their lasers — or hiding behind a translucent shield — in Space Pirate Trainer is exhilarating.
For those less inclined to shooting things, painting in three dimensions with Tilt Brush by Google is astonishingly engaging and addictive. In fact, we had to resist the urge to spend our entire session at Blue Ocean VR in this app alone.
Though Huang says there are plans to move into a retail space eventually, for now, folk wanting to try out VR — whether just to satisfy their own curiosity, or for a novel party activity or team-building exercise — will need to visit the Bedfordview office. Event organisers can visit ahead of time to decide which games or activities they’d like on the day.
A half-hour session costs R200, an hour R400, and a 90-minute session will set you back R550. There are discounts for students or for Monday to Thursday bookings, though. For more info, head over to Blue Ocean VR’s Facebook page.