February 15, 2016

What VR could, should, and almost certainly will be within two years

If you got an Oculus Rift you can already try out some great VR experiences. Parking a massive truck with it feels natural as you can just stick your head out of the window and look backwards. If driving a truck is a bit too mundane for you, locking the guns of your spacecruiser on a target has become much easier because now you can kill with your looks. Ever felt like going to the movies with friends on the other side of the world? Try out a virtual theater! On the other hand, if you are afraid of heights and spiders crawling all over your face you might want to skip on The Pit and Don't Let Go. The worlds of games like Half-Life, Skyrim and many others are waiting for you to immerse yourself in them... and if you are feeling really adventurous you can even play sexy gender swap games with your partner! http://vimeo.com/84150219 (NSFW)

Although all these experiences are completely bonkers in a good way, they are only scratching the surface and according to Valve they are missing something crucial that will take the experience from totally bonkers to dangerously addictive.

Valve, the renowned software developer, has teamed up with Oculus, the developers of the rift Virtual Reality headset, and together they recently unleashed the Crystal Cove Prototype onto the world. Almost anyone who tried it on described it as "the future of entertainment". Is the age of VR finally upon us? Almost, but not quite yet says Valve. They see the CC prototype they developed with Oculus as a massive step in the right direction but they believe that we still have to wait a little bit longer for VR to truly go mainstream. At least one more year to be exact.

The last couple of years they've been developing their own state of the art and extremely costly VRD prototype and at the SteamDevDays they've finally shown it off. Keep in mind that they have no intention to bring this particular headset to market but will instead help Oculus to create something similarly specced at a more realistic price point that consumers can actually afford. They only built this costly one to showcase what is to come and to get both industry and consumers ready for the revolution they think is almost at hand. Hyperbole on their part? I don't think so. It really seems to be blowing people's minds.

David Hensley of Tripwire was particularly hyperbolic, and said that going back to his Oculus Rift would be like switching from an Xbox to an 8-bit Nintendo. "Valve’s VR demo at SteamDevDays felt like being in a lucid dream state and very much like a holo deck."

Johnathan Blow (developer of Braid & The Witness) explains that he was skeptical of VR technology based on what he'd seen so far but that Valve turned him around; "It's so much better than anything else I had used that I was instantly very excited by it." "Right away I could see games you might design for this system that had been impossible before."

One of Valve's brainiacs, Michael Abrash, regularly spreads words of wisdom from his blog; http://blogs.valvesoftware.com/abrash/ and he did the same at the SteamDevDays event where he delivered a very interesting talk on the future of VR in which he outlined the somewhat magical experience of presence in VR and pointed to 2015 as the year that it's likely to be achieved on consumer devices.

"Once hardware that supports presence ships, we think it has the potential to cause a sea change in the entertainment industry. Not only could VR rapidly evolve into a major platform, but it could actually tip the balance of the entire industry from traditional media toward computer entertainment."

If you think that sounds like he's overselling it, you might want to think again because already the film industry is beginning to pay attention. The Oculus booth at the Sundance Film festival pulled in a huge crowd and Alfonso Cuaron, director of Children of Men & Gravity even stopped by Oculus' headquarters for an extensive try out... One can only imagine the kind of adrenaline rush you'd get from experiencing Gravity through a VRD.

Valve's research into Virtual Reality has allowed them to really explore the space and they've found that the key ingredient we need for VR to go mainstream is something they call "presence".

"Presence is hard to quantify, but our demos have shown that it is a very real and compelling phenomenon, one that hooks far deeper into the perceptual system than anything that’s come before, and it’s why we’re so excited about the future of VR. It’s our belief that great VR will be built on presence, because it engages you at a deeper, more visceral level than any other form of entertainment, and can only be experienced in VR. "

"Presence requires a wide field of view, adequate resolution, low pixel persistence, a high enough refresh rate, global display, specialized optics, rock solid tracking, low latency and fine tuned calibration. I want to emphasize that presence is not a property of any one of these elements; it’s a property that emerges when all of the elements are good enough. If the optics aren’t calibrated perfectly, then the scene will warp as you turn your head no matter how good everything else is. Likewise, no amount of fidelity will convince your visual system that a virtual scene is real if latency is too high. Presence can’t be induced if even one of the key elements is subpar. It's worth noting that inducing presence reduces motion sickness because what your eyes see will more closely respond with what your vestibular system reports.

According to Abrash presence requires the following minimum specs;
• 20 ms motion-to-last-photon latency
• 3 ms pixel persistence
• 95 Hz refresh
• 110-degree FOV
• 1k x 1k resolution per eye
• High quality, well calibrated optics
• Tracking
- millimeter accurate resolution translation
- quarter degree accurate rotation
- volume of 2 meters cubed

"This head-mounted display would support a powerful sense of presence and would have an excellent shot at widespread adoption. VR can certainly get much better yet down the road, but that’ll require time and major hardware R&D. In contrast, we believe everything on this slide is doable with relatively minor tweaks of existing technology; no breakthroughs or miracles are needed, just solid engineering."

Still, it's important to note these are the minimum specs to achieve presence. When these arrive in 2015 they will enable us to step into other worlds but there will still be A LOT of room for further improvement. "For one thing, presence would benefit from every one of the key elements getting better than what’s in our prototypes. We could literally use up to 100 times as many pixels, and a wider field of view, lower latency, and all the rest would also improve the experience; the optics in particular are far from optimal. Also getting per user lens positioning right is a challenge. As I mentioned, we think we’re close on head tracking, but we don’t have a shippable solution yet, and then there’s eye tracking, which could greatly enhance presence but is nowhere near solved. Going to a wireless connection and eliminating the tether would
be a big plus."

Full presentation;



Virtual travel, think of the possibilities!
Athens Tech Demo Siggraph 2013

Virtual Reality pain relief

AR-Rift: Stereo camera rig and augmented reality showcase

3D webcam mechanics with oculus

HydraDeck Humans (NSFW)


Omni in Skyrim - with Kinect 2 (head sensitivity adjusted)

Substituted Reality - https://plus.google.com/108487783243149848473/posts/NPJQvoRT5FS


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