It’s been over three years since the first VR headsets were launched to consumers to much interest, but sometimes the experience didn’t quite match the promise.
At Mbryonic we’ve been developing innovative VR and AR applications since 2014 and seen steady progress in this technology. Here is a quick guide on what’s changed and what’s coming over the horizon.
Early headsets used screens from mobile phones never designed to be viewed so close up – this caused pixelated images and the ‘screen-door’ effect which reduced immersion. We since have seen steady improvement in quality and fidelity of the VR screens and professional-level headsets such as Varjo and Pimax have twice or even four times first generation resolution offering ‘20:20’ vision – for a price of course!
More pixels need more processing power to render especially if we want photorealistic graphics. Luckily GPU power is increasing rapidly and foveated rendering techniques which allow the GPU to concentrate on just the part of the image where the eye is focused helps a lot. It requires accurate eye-tracking – already available on the headsets like the Vive Pro.
It’s only really comfortable to wear a headset for between 30 mins and an hour in a single session before our eyes get tired, limiting VR’s applications. That’s partly down to the weight of the headset which is decreasing and also down to ‘depth of focus’.
Our eyes converge differently when focussing on an object close up compared to far away. The lens on current headsets has a single focal length, meaning we have to go ‘cross-eyed’ to focus on objects outside of that length. Luckily Oculus has demonstrated new prototype lenses that can dynamically adjust that focus point to where your eyes are looking. An exciting byproduct is that this reduces the size and weight of the headset also.
VR content is divided into ‘mobile’ and ‘tethered’ versions (the latter requiring a PC). Due to the differential in processing power between mobiles and PCs, this gives users a very different level of experience. Oculus have just launched a link for their mobile Quest headset so it can be used in both mobile and tethered mode but this is only a part of the solution.
The rollout of superfast low latency 5G services means we could bypass this problem by rendering content in the cloud and stream wirelessly to the headset. Google’s Stadia is already doing this for traditional gaming, and bringing this to VR will be the next logical extension, though will require further improvements to the technology.
Streaming would reduce the weight, cost and power consumption of headset devices. Whilst making accessing content easier and cheaper since it won’t require download and installing individual applications. Instead, it will enable ‘meta-verses’ connected VR experiences that we can seamlessly travel between like we browse internet services currently.
We imagine this is still probably 3-5 years away from commercial release, but will raise lots of interesting possibilities and also questions about who will own the platforms we all experience our digital world on.
Finally, one problem with getting VR experiences has been ease-of-use.
Users had to learn how to use new handheld controllers whilst being effective blindfolded. And with no globally accepted design language yet each application behaved a bit differently.
Luckily there’s been increasing convergence in good design practices for VR making them more intuitive. New controllers like Valve’s ‘Knuckles’ controller cleverly combine finger detection with an innovative design that hangs from the hand so it doesn’t feel like you are holding something.
Developments in speech recognition mean we our say commands or talk more naturally to AI characters. If you want to look further out, mind control is also coming – devices already on the market that can be trained to recognise commands.
All this means more intuitive experiences – which is what ultimately VR promises.
One complaint aimed at VR was that it could feel isolating, cut off from the real-world. New headsets allow you to seamlessly cut between the real-world and the virtual world via cameras on the device.
The increase in headsets (6m shipped in 2019, up 30% from last year) also means more users online and indeed some of the most engaging experiences to date involve playing and being together in virtual reality. Meaning you never need to be alone. Facebook Horizon a shared universe for VR users coming next year will be an interesting milestone here.
You are not limited to communicating via cartoony characters either, the latest demos show photorealistic avatars that reflect subtle facial expressions, gaze cues and move like you are coming in the not too distant future.
Virtual Reality is a constantly evolving industry, and what makes it so exciting. If you’ve not tried it in a while, maybe now is the time to give it another spin!
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