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It's Going to Be a Virtual Reality World at TED

But can virtual reality live up to the hype?

Bret Hartman/TED

The TED Conference has always had a reputation for being something of an alternate reality, but this year it is virtual worlds themselves that are taking the stage.

At least a half dozen talks and exhibits at this week’s conference are centered around the budding technology.

“There are speakers at TED who’ll be arguing that VR and augmented reality offer the chance of a dramatic shift in how we interact with computers and with the real world,” TED curator Chris Anderson told Re/code. “From digital to analog, from two-dimensional to three-dimensional, from observation to immersion, the demos they are working on are jaw-dropping. We can’t wait.”

Among those presenting is Meta, which has a new augmented reality technology that has Robert Scoble gushing. Scoble likens his experience with Meta to seeing the first Mac. The last time he got this overwhelmed, it was Microsoft’s World Wide Telescope that had him all weepy.

Speaking of Microsoft, HoloLens and Kinect creator Alex Kipman is speaking on Thursday morning.

Last year saw the presentation of Chris Milk’s film “Clouds over Sidra,” the story of a 12-year-old girl living in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. This year, Milk is going to give another talk.

The audience will get in on the act by using a custom app from Vrse, Google Cardboard and headphones from Urban Ears — all of which will be provided to attendees.

Attendees will also have the chance to experience The Void, an interactive experience designed to show off what VR is capable of on the entertainment front.

Getting people to try virtual reality is key if you expect them to plunk down several hundred dollars or more on a system like Oculus Rift, said James Jensen, chief visionary officer at The Void.

“How can we expect the average consumer to purchase a head-mounted display for over $600 plus the high-end computer to properly run it, when we haven’t allowed them to understand what it is?” Jensen said. “People need to experience VR before they will want to take it home with them.”

Meta CEO Meron Gribetz said he sees 2016 as a big year for both augmented reality and virtual reality and said some people will begin to replace computer monitors with headsets.

“Our objective in our own offices is to replace our external monitors by the end of the year,” Gribetz said.

But Gribetz said the industry still faces the challenge of becoming a tool and a utility versus a toy and a novelty.

Milk, meanwhile, sees greater adoption of VR as a new way to tell stories. The medium demands more of the storyteller, though, including new techniques for moving the action forward in a movie where the user is free to look in any direction.

“Tropes and storytelling devices that worked in movies and TV have to be rethought and reworked for virtual reality,” Milk said.

Virtual reality isn’t the only tech topic on the docket, with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, Linux creator Linus Torvalds and Google X head Astro Teller all slated to give TED talks.

Beyond tech there will be plenty of discussions on science, climate change, education, criminal justice and the arts — all frequent topics at TED.

Last year’s talks included former Google executive Alan Eustace, who spoke about his experience diving back to the ground from the Earth’s stratosphere, Bill Gates on the challenges of fighting global disease outbreaks and Monica Lewinsky’s poignant speech on the dangers of cyberbullying.

Re/code’s Ina Fried will be soaking it in all week and reporting back on the most interesting stuff.

And here’s all our coverage from last year’s TED conference.

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