Virtual reality - proper virtual reality, rather than that thing you used to see in straight-to-VHS movies called things like "Grid Warrior" and "Cyber Maxx" - will soon become a thing that we can all own... providing we don't have more important things to spend hundreds of pounds on.
If you've been following the early coverage of this year's Consumer Electronics Show - kicking off imminently in the desert Gomorrah that is Las Vegas - you'll know all this already, already:
- Pre-orders for the Oculus Rift are due to start this week.
- The HTC Vive will feature "nose gaskets".
- Other things.
The jury remains out when it comes to VR, and if you've read any of my other rants about the technology (scroll down to the bottom for those), you'll know I'm more than a little sceptical.
In short: I think the cost is going to be prohibitive, and the obscuring nature of the hardware is going to hold it back. Basically, I can't see people wanting to spend hundreds and hundreds of monies to thrash around in their living rooms or boudoirs, not knowing if a prowler has broken in through the conservatory, and is currently rifling through their knicker drawer.
Or whether they're about to tumble knee-over-face; unfortunately, most of us have stuff like walls and furniture in our homes, and don't live in empty aircraft hangers, or drained swimming pools, like millionaires do.
A new version of the HTC Vive hardware has been unveiled ahead of CES, which includes a more comfortable headset, a sharper display, refined controllers (with an optimistic four hour battery life - as if anyone's eyes would stand up to four continuous hours of VR...), and a front-facing camera.
The latter feature may prove to be the closest the Vive gets to a winning X-factor, and makes it the only one of the upcoming VR headsets to address the sensory deprivation which I have so many reservations about. By pressing a button on the controller, the world around you will "ghost" into the virtual world, so you can see if you're about to trip over a coffee table.
Will it be enough? I dunno. I mean, I really don't know.
My gut is screaming at me that there won't be sufficient numbers of people who will want one of these devices. And then my head tells me that there are some major, major players investing billions in their development, and they wouldn't be doing that if they didn't think there was a reasonable chance of VR taking off.
Out of all the contenders, I think the PlayStation VR has the upper hand... though I accept that I might feel this way because I already have a PlayStation 4, and currently don't have anything on which to play the Oculus Rift and Vive. To be able to use one of those, I'd have to fork out at least a grand-and-a-half for a PC.
There's no question that VR is an incredibly cool thing, but - and I accept that I might be being short-sighted here - I can't see beyond its faddish qualities.
Yes, being able to play shoot 'em ups and flight sims while feeling you're actually there is a very, very neat thing to be able to do.
But is that really going to replace traditional gaming, with ordinary screens and joypads and keyboards? And, unfortunately, given the cost of the hardware, given all that has been invested into it, I think VR is going to need to replace traditional gaming - at least to a degree - in order for it to be considered a success.
Talk of the format being used for films and documentaries is all well and good, but it turns sitting and watching a film, however immersive, into a solitary experience. To those around you, you are for all intents sitting on the sofa, or in bed, with a bucket on your head.
A forward-facing camera goes some way to solving the problem of external awareness, but it still feels like only half a fix.
So I dunno. I feel slightly more won over than I was, but then I cycle back round to all the arguments against it. Who is going to be able to afford the gear? Who is going to be able to use it enough to justify the expense?
VR needs to be a mass market proposition, something which regular people use regularly, and I fear - on a deep, intrinsic level - that it isn't anything of the sort.
In conclusion: INCONCLUSIVE.