Virtual reality has been fluctuating in popularity with mainstream gamers & the general public for years as the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR & mobile phones struggle to gain broad adoption as the future of interactive entertainment.For all of the innovations in recent years, there are a lot of challenges between hardware cost for the premium versions, lack of killer software & the persistence of disorientation for some users.
That said, it offers a compelling way to experience new things in a safe, controlled environment that may otherwise be inaccessible for many users. Virtual reality for seniors matters because it allows a large, underserved audience to participate in a broad range of experiences from gaming to travel at high fidelity. Microsoft is a leader in performing usability studies, discovery, socialization & building products that address the desires of seniors to explore this technology.
As a mainstream gamer, I find it fascinating that games which have declined in popularity due to age & lack of visual fidelity such as Wii bowling continue to be hits with seniors; it is a stark reminder that different things matter to different audiences. Games that allow seniors to learn, interact & explore with others are still valued as traditional gamers have moved on to newer, trendier games in a non-stop release cycle.
Another interesting observation is that virtual reality can have comparable health benefits to regular low impact exercise & social interaction. The ability for digital experiences to detect early cognitive and/or visual impairment, provide training, train new motor skills, help with dementia & distract from pain are impressive benefits that I hope facilities such as senior homes & treatment centres will pay close attention to.
One of the beautiful things about digital technology is that it is an equalizer: the barrier to entry, learning curve & potential benefits combine into the most transformative change in the last century of human society. It’s important that people of all ages are included & valued in that journey as virtual reality or other technologies continue innovating into the future.
In recent years, the line between console generations has become increasingly blurred with the increase of games running at different resolutions between platforms, dynamic resolutions, different upscaling approaches & now with the current product cycle of partial upgrades in the PlayStation 4 Pro & Xbox One X. Sony opted for a modest power increase to support their VR headset & be the first to market with a mid-cycle console product, while Microsoft spent an extra year to benefit from faster/cheaper harder along with an emphasis on 4K resolution as their distinguishing value proposition.
Why does 4K matter? This increased resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels (also known as Ultra HD, 4x the resolution of HD) is slowly but surely gaining traction as one of the major quality tiers for interactive media. High Dynamic Range colours (HDR) and/or 60 frames per second (FPS) are also meaningful capability/performance achievements, but the ability to consistently deliver a 4K resolution is the main advantage of Microsoft’s newest console over the PlayStation 4 Pro for the next generation of games.
The Xbox One X is the first console targeting 4K as a baseline for new releases as well as select catalogue titles that can automatically take advantage of the improved hardware or become patched to do so. If it can consistently deliver on this publicly announced goal, the X offers a significant leap over the sporadic 4K availability of the PlayStation 4 Pro and the 4K upscaling of Xbox One S among intermediate or in-between generation products.
The new console also arrives on the market at an opportune time: 4K televisions have dramatically increased in popularity & decreased in price throughout 2017 while content providers from sports channels to Netflix have begun creating a steady supply of 4K content. The demise of 3D televisions paired with the lukewarm reception to dedicated VR headsets have established 4K as the natural successor to traditional HD screens, where the inclusion of a 4K Blu-ray player in the X but not the Pro may also prove enticing to high resolution enthusiasts.
The ball is now squarely in Sony’s court as they determine the timeline for a PlayStation 4 Pro successor, which may be accelerated in response to Microsoft’s latest offering. The X is an expensive premium product that is unlikely to ever take over as the highest selling Xbox One console variant, but it marks an important step in driving the industry towards consistently higher quality visual experiences & creates a competitive challenge to Sony that should benefit all console gamers in the long run.
At the launch of the Xbox One, backlash against the original plan to launch with mandatory license checks was still raging online after Microsoft had reversed course. The idea that games would be so pervasively tied to digital licenses, paid subscription programs and require an online connection (even periodically) was anathema to a vocal part of the gaming community.
A few years later, Xbox has returned to much of its original vision with a combination of Games With Gold (free games every month for Gold members), EA Access (early access, 10% off digital purchases & a digital vault) and aggressively marketing digital pre-orders for upcoming games. The controlled rollout of Xbox Play Anywhere with console + PC availability for selected digital games further commits Microsoft to the games as a service approach to Netflix has popularized with video and Spotify with music.
Their latest foray in the Xbox Game Pass is another complementary service that provides a rotating library of Xbox One and 360 games (all backwards compatible) for a monthly fee, starting with a heavy emphasis on first party games but with the promise of expanding to additional publishers over time. We’re starting to see that already with the arrival of Resident Evil 6 in the last title update, a promising sign that recent AAA games will be an important part of the Game Pass.
Games are added to your system quickly, a setup process that mirrors Games With Gold and continues the focus of local installation in sharp contrast to Sony’s streaming service in PlayStation Now. They play exactly as regularly purchased games do with no restrictions on earning achievements or connecting online. The benefit isn’t limited to trying new or library games; existing installs of games purchased on disc will seamlessly recognize the digital entitlement and load upon request. Games that have faded in online player base over time may also experience a small uptick in available players, adding a shot in the arm to previously dormant multiplayer games.
Xbox Game Pass matters because it offers a large library of games at a small fixed price, offering value as either a standalone service or as a complement to Games With Gold, EA Access and the assortment of free to play titles on Xbox One. For about $25 per month, gamers can access a library of over 100 games with regular additions on a nearly weekly basis. It’s a paradigm shift in how we acquire and experience interactive entertainment, one that I’m excited about as a gamer who appreciates both value and the preservation of communities on lesser known titles.