Retail, Innovation and Manufacturing reporter for the NZ Herald

Taking a tumble down the rabbit hole of virtual reality

One of the strangest experiences, similar to how I imagine Alice felt while chasing the white rabbit through Wonderland, comes from using the latest HTC Vive virtual reality headset.

There was no tea party and I had clearly missed the Cheshire Cat, but it felt very much like an out-of-body experience.

One minute I'm standing in a small area in Noel Leeming Queen St with a tech guru explaining the strange headgear I'm about to put on.

The next, I'm in a lab - gaming machines to my right, a whiteboard to my left, and a few hundred metres away, the other side of the building. I instantly get the strange experience of standing in an empty room with a voice talking to me.

It's easy to forget that I probably look silly to passers-by. My reality is now what I'm seeing through the goggles.

The HTC Vive has been designed to be more interactive than earlier models.

Tests using another company's virtual reality product, Oculus Rift, put subjects on the edge of a cliff before telling them to jump, but despite knowing they were safe and their reality was merely being distorted, the majority could not move.

My set-up has been programmed for gaming and I fail spectacularly at space invaders, getting hit with a flying fireball that's fairly realistic, before taking on some archery and defending a castle. I pick this up slightly better and am able to pick off the targets as I move around on the parapet shooting flaming arrows.

The last experience, painting, was my favourite. Standing in a 3D box and using the controls, you can paint a picture or landscape then walk around in it. Even the most basic of artists can have fun with this one and I could happily have stayed and played all day.

Taking off the headset gave me the strangest experience of all, as my mind adjusted back to normal reality, and it was easy to imagine wandering around a virtual Wonderland and meeting the mad hatter in a not-so-distant future.

The HTC Vive headset will be at Noel Leeming Queen St for the next two weeks for the public to test. A date for the start of sales is yet to be set.

- NZ Herald

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