I boxed, looked for adorable aliens, flew a laser-shooting robot, and created my own masterpiece last week in virtual reality in Las Vegas.
Some of the headsets I tried out to test out these experiences were almost twice as expensive as the smartphone we used to take the picture up top. They arguably have significantly less functionality, at least temporarily. So, are they worthwhile?
The new HTC Vive XR Elite will retail for $1,099 or £1,299. Recently, Meta's Quest Pro became available for the price of £1,499 or $1,499.
Meta declined to provide us with the number of units it has sold to date, but I would venture to say that it is not many. As a teaser for Meta's vision of the future rather than a bestseller, it is geared toward businesses and (wealthy) early adopters.
Virtual reality (VR) hardware has frequently been referred to as intimidating, and to be fair, it once was. Early headsets were infamous for being cumbersome and heavy, and many of them required cable tethering to a powerful enough high-end PC to handle the graphics.
These modern headsets are much more transportable and lighter in comparison. A case the size of a tub of peanuts can hold the Vive XR Elite headset when it is folded up.
The lenses on HTC's newer headsets can be adjusted to correct common vision problems, which is good news for short-sighted people like me who don't like to wear glasses and a headset at the same time.
Both headsets lean much more toward mixed reality than the previous fully immersive experience, and the Meta Quest Pro always lets you see the outside world through the sides.
The majority of the HTC demos I tried used a camera to show the real world behind the graphics. As a result, my virtual boxing target didn't land directly in front of my colleague Ammie when he was in front of me in person, saving him from taking a punch to the nose.
I'm using the term "virtual reality" (VR) in this article as a catch-all, but I believe that mixed reality, also referred to as augmented reality (AR), is more likely to gain popularity. It is more about digitally enhancing your current reality or seamlessly transitioning between the two, as opposed to completely losing yourself in a virtual world, which is unsustainable for an extended period of time. Theoretically, this will enable you to wear your headset for an additional hour or as long as the two-hour battery life allows.
For example, the HTC Holoride is intended for use by passengers in automobiles. It's a collection of games that move at the same speed as the moving vehicle you're in. Your flying robot will also stop at red lights if the car does.
The only drawbacks are that there are only 10 games and it costs €900 (£800). Although I'm not sure how long it would keep my kids' interest, I think they would enjoy it.
To be completely honest, the Quest Pro demo was a little strange. I had to use a kind of magical torch to search the floor for an alien, rabbit-like creature before it bounced through the wall and into a fantasy world that I was not allowed to enter.
Then I encountered an avatar who could imitate my facial expressions and had a youthful green face with pink flower petals for hair. It was, according to Meta, an illustration of how I might show up in its built-out metaverse.
Since the founding of Meta, Mark Zuckerberg has been quoted as saying that "legs are hard" at the Quest Pro launch, Flower Zoe is not an exception to the rule. Watching this creature act exactly like me was both fascinating and oddly detached.
A few real-world uses exist for VR. It is frequently promoted as a helpful training tool, allowing engineers to practice intricate aircraft repairs and surgeons to safely learn how to perform delicate operations. It makes it possible for millions of people to attend massive live events concurrently. In 2019, almost 11 million people watched the DJ Marshmello concert that was held inside the video game Fortnite. It's incredibly popular among gamers.
But rather than becoming a staple of our lives, it remains a novelty. Many people I know outside of the tech industry have either never tried it or have maybe tried it once or twice in an arcade.
However, I should warn you that after my week-long VR party, I ended up with a case of real conjunctivitis, so be sure to clean your headsets.
Even if you choose to spend a lot of money, don't anticipate having an intuitive understanding of the experiences. It takes practice using the controllers. Using the HTC Vive XR, it was frustratingly challenging to pick up a guitar and play Guitar Hero.
I couldn't get my virtual fingers to connect to the fret, and then when I thought I was moving the guitar closer to my body I ended up making it bigger, so why couldn't I just - you know - pick it up. HTC conveniently deleted the recording of my awkward, failed attempts to become a virtual rock star, so maybe I should be grateful for that.
Last but not least, the entire image has a rather large hole in the shape of a fruit.
Apple, the tech giant whose 2007 iPhone revolutionized the mobile phone industry (it wasn't the first smartphone, but it was the one that gained widespread adoption), hasn't released a product as of yet.
Apple has so far remained characteristically silent despite numerous rumors and alleged leaks about a pair of augmented reality glasses that may hit the market this year.
Since boss Tim Cook has previously called augmented reality (AR) "a profound technology that will affect everything," there is little doubt that something is currently being developed in Cupertino, Apple's US headquarters.
If the price is right, maybe some Apple magic will transform VR from a nice-to-have into a must-have.
You can follow Zoe Kleinman on Twitter using the handle @zsk.
Watch Zoe test out the newest VR headsets and intriguing technology at CES 2023 on Click on January 14 and on demand after that on iPlayer.