Versions is the essential guide to virtual reality and beyond. It investigates the rapidly deteriorating boundary between the real world and the one behind the screen. Versions launched in 2016 at the eponymous conference dedicated to creativity and VR with the New Museum’s incubator NEW INC.

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Virtual house tours and the future of buying property

Virtual house tours and the future of buying property

For most people, a house purchase will be the biggest financial transaction of their lives. OK, that’s a bit of a lie, the dream of home ownership is probably dead for much of society, but let’s roll with it. So how much would you need to know before plunking down the cash? How certain would you need to be? This isn’t really a purchase you can return.

I bring this up because two startups, Matterport and Virtual Tour, have merged, thereby raising the looming prospect of virtual reality property tours. To an extent, that is already our present: both companies already touched on this space, and the idea of a virtual tour, while a moving target, has long existed in real estate circles. “Both companies share the same vision of enabling people to experience places as if they were there,” Matterport CEO Bill Brown said in a press release quoted by VR Focus. “We’re excited to continue to expand our vision together, on a global scale, for more people and across more industries.”

Up to a point, that seems fair enough. The technology for virtual tours is still something of a work in progress. Navigating non-organic spaces in relatively predictable ways is far from the most intractable of problems, but it is still one that needs some solving, and maybe the merger will help. That is one of the many functions mergers can serve.

Is it really about photorealism or is there something more intangible?

The deeper question all these virtual tour startups raise, however, is how much of our experience of space can be emulated through virtual reality. Is it really about photorealism or is there something more intangible? Is it about touch? Is it about some harder to quantify feeling? Those aren’t all problems that the new and improved Matterport can be expected to solve, but it will be interesting to watch the virtual tour industry try and figure all of this out.

There is, however, an entire arm of the real estate industry tasked with giving advice on all the things one ought observe before buying a house. Sit out front at night! Make sure trains don’t steam through the neighborhood at 4am! Do you know if the Loch Ness Monster lives in the swimming pool? Well, do you? (Disclosure: I briefly did this for a living.) Maybe VR solves some of these problems, which seems like a net win for all involved. But it’s just as possible that, instead of solving these problems, VR just changes our expectations of how the shopping process should work.

That, to an extent, is what has happened with other forms of online shopping. In either case, VR is transformative, but as in other examples it isn’t really clear what the transformation will look like.

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