Virtual Reality (VR) has been re-introduced once more and this time round it is here to stay thanks to recent technology developments. VR is revolutionising the way in which we interact with digital content and it has a wide variety of uses such as entertainment, design and training.
In recent months there have been a multitude of VR headsets that vary in both performance and application. Take the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive for example as these headsets require a high performance computer to be connected in order to deliver what is considered to be a fully immersive Virtual Reality experience. They offer interactive and realistic real-time content making it ideal for gaming. However these headsets are currently part of niche market and are not widely accepted by the general public due to current hardware requirements and set up costs.
Mobile VR is the home for 360° content
This is where mobile VR trumps as it becomes more accessible and affordable to everyone with the release VR of headsets such the Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR and Homido. As a result we have seen an increase in preordained 360° content. Some of the best can be seen via the Within application available for both android and IOS and can be viewed using any mobile VR headset. The purpose of Within is to take you on a journey through story telling using 360° VR technology and delivering it via a mixture of CGI and Live action. The below video called “Evolution of Verse” is both powerful and strikingly beautiful to watch.
Mobile VR is certainly more suited for 360° live action photography and film. It has support from both Facebook and YouTube making it more accessible to everyone. Instead of panning around on a flat screen you can instead fully immersive yourself within a photo or video and look around using a VR headset and feel as if you were actually there.
Call it lazy marketing but it is worth noting that your typical 360° content is not technically considered VR even though it is what you may have been lead to believe. At a basic level VR should precisely track your position along with your movements offering 3D depth. The frame rate should be high enough to feel natural as any delay can cause motion sickness.
With 360° live action content you are essentially watching the camera POV and even though techniques are used to combat it, jerky movements are inevitable. You could argue that any experience within a VR headset is to be considered VR, even though you don’t get the full package with 360° content, the interactive viewing experience and the ability to feel immersed is still very much there.
Enhance the VR experience with depth
There are opportunities for enhancing the 360° experience, as most 360° photos and videos you see today are mainly created from monoscopic capturing devices resulting in no feeling of depth. The introduction of stereoscopic capturing devices increases the immersive experience using 3D technology that we are now so used to seeing in movies.
Stereoscopic live action content for VR is still relatively new as the equipment required is far more complex. Nokia, Google/GoPro and Facebook have released 360° stereo capturing devices but they are expensive and still very much in the development and exploration stage. Facebook’s version happens to be entirely open source with access to the hardware and software manufacture and development if you wish to manufacture the camera yourself.
Using CGI for generating 360° content is much easier to do as the required tools are already in place within the software, which is why the Evolution of Verse feels so smooth and immersive. With 360° live action, certainly for now we can use more main stream monoscopic capturing devices such as the Samsung Gear 360, Ricoh Theta S or the slightly higher spec and soon to be released GoPro Omni.
Experience sound in all directions just like real life
There have also been developments in audio as we see the introduction of ambisonic sound which can be used in both real-time and 360° content. This technology, combined with a VR headset and headphones allows for pre-recorded sound to be placed around the user and unlike traditional mono/stereo/surround audio, it responds to head rotation that is in sync with the content so what may sound like it is behind you, is actually behind you. This is known as spatial audio. Check out this simple demonstration below.
Select the right VR headset for the application
Virtual Reality in its simplest form involves two lenses that when placed in front of your eyes, corrects and displays the digital content clearly. Without them we wouldn’t be able to focus on something so close to our eyes. This technology is nothing new, but the recent advance in computer technology is what has driven the immersive VR you see today to become so successful. For now VR headsets are fairly bulky and it is hard to not look a little silly when wearing one. For most applications the blocking out of external light is part of the immersive experience but for some it is not so important.
Whilst working on an architectural project you may wish to have a quick glance inside a space to check your design. Not having to worry about a powerful PC to run Oculus, or to take your phone case off to place it in your enclosed VR headset. Homido have done something clever in designing their Homido Mini VR glasses and it is possibly over looked by most.
The Homido Mini is seen as a budget solution to experience VR and is as simple as it gets with the clip on open style design. It is very clever if used for the correct purpose, being able to carry them in your pocket and easily show content no matter the phone, screen size or OS. So whether you require a fully immersive VR experience, wish to view your 360° holiday snaps or to review a design there are VR headsets and accompanying tools to suit all applications and it is simply a matter of choosing the right tool for the right project.