I’ve always wanted to be a Jedi, ever since I saw the Star Wars movies around the age of six. But just a few years ago, I got close to my dream with the help of a VR HMD.
But what is VR?
VR is the abbreviation for “Virtual Reality” and it is the next level of immersion for applications. VR technology gives the opportunity for developers to create new worlds, to share experiences, to train people, and more.
Is VR a new idea?
Not really, the idea was around since the ‘50s (in the movies). In 1957, Sensorama was invented, a large booth-like machine, intended to combine multiple technologies to give one to four people the illusion of being immersed in a 3D world, complete with smell, stereo sound vibrations, and even atmospheric effects like wind in the hair.
How does it work?
What a VR set does is primarily simulating the vision, each headset trying to perfect their approach to creating an immersive 3D environment. The headsets use screens (only one, or maybe two, one for each eye) placed in front of the user’s eyes, thus blocking the visual input from the real world and generating a false world right in front of the user. There are two autofocus lenses placed between the screen and the eyes that adjust based on individual eye movement and positioning. Current technology use a phone or HDMI cable, connected to a PC, for rendering the visuals on the screen.
There are some prerequisites for creating a truly immersive virtual reality environment:
- A minimum frame rate of 60fps
- A refresh rate of 60Hz or more
- A minimum 100-degree field of view (180 is the ideal through)
If any of those aren’t respected, the user can experience latency, or too much of a time gap between their actions and the response from the screen. The response should be less then 20 milliseconds to trick the brain.
Elements which can improve immersion:
- Sounds: When combined with the visuals, it can create very engaging effects.
- Eye and Head Tracking: Eye and head tracking can be provided by using laser pointers, LED lights or mobile sensors.
Why does VR work?
I see two major categories here:
- Simulating the real world: Creating a virtual world of a space which already exists in the real world, which wouldn’t be so easily accessible, or simulating an action before trying it in real life. E.g.: Visiting a famous museum or trying a parachute jump
- Creating new worlds/experiences: This is where the potential of VR is unleashed. For me, it created the opportunity to experience the Jedi life without being in danger of cutting my hand off
Where does VR stand now?
Since 2010, when the first prototype for the Oculus Rift was shown, the VR hype started and the technology evolved. Today we have access to a multitude of ways to experience VR (e.g: Google Cardboard, HTC Vive, etc.), but they are still dependent on other hardware, PC or mobile.
There are two main categories for VR headsets:
- Mobile headsets, which are easy to use and setup. You need a headset, a mobile phone and an application installed on that phone. It can be used anywhere, as long as you have the phone charged. However, the immersion is limited.
- PC dependent headsets are harder to setup and need a larger place to enjoy its full potential, as well as a pretty strong PC to be able to run the applications for the headset. But this category provides a way more fulfilling experience, letting the user interact with a more complete environment. For now, the PC dependent headsets are mostly recommended for arcades, companies or larger setups, so they are not that consumer friendly.
Where is it heading?
That is still unclear, maybe a full-dive system, or a fully AR (augmented reality) system. But what we now is that in 2019, a new independent headset is coming, the Oculus Quest (hype hype).
How did I meet VR?
Well, I always liked video games, so I played lots of them. Later I also got into programming, so that got me to become an engineer. One day I came across a lab (GameLab), with the purpose of letting people experience the game dev industry, so I didn’t hesitate and participated. After some failures and lots of people dropping out, I teamed together with someone and started working on a VR project, as the organizers had a headset. This project also evolved and turned out to be my diploma thesis. It was amazing; we had to think about everything, the real space in which people would experience it, as it would be easy to hit walls when immersed into the experience, how the interaction with the objects around would feel, we tried to keep it as close to reality as possible, which would mean letting people do things we wouldn’t expect, like throwing objects at random in the scene (they always do this).
Later on, I got my own headset, a HTC Vive, as its tracking is better than the Oculus’s one in my opinion, but it does take longer to set up and needs more space. And this gave me the opportunity to experience the Jedi life (more on this later).
What is VR Day?
As VR is an awesome experience, I like sharing it with other people. That’s also how VR Day in our Cognizant Softvision Timisoara Studio came to life. It was a day in which my colleagues gave up reality and experienced virtual worlds.
Our agenda included:
- A short VR history (guess what the device in the picture did)
- Experience Color Blindness: A VR experience where people get to experience different types of color blindness and perform everyday tasks with fewer to no color vision.
- Beat Saber: My favourite VR game, where you are a Jedi and you cut cubes with lightsabers. The music is also cool ;). The game lets people get into it right away, at least for the easy difficulty. For higher difficulties, it needs training to get some muscle memory formed for that song and for good hand-eye coordination.
- Waltz of the Wizard: Harry Potter fans had to be pleased also. This VR game lets you play around with creating and casting spells. The game will give you the possibility of being a magician in pursuit of different spells, combining different ingredients to obtain the wanted spell. After you got the spell created, you can use it as much as you want, letting you become a giant, make a puppet dance, or let things float around.
VR Day Testimonials
“I was excited about the idea of a VR Day since the beginning. I heard a lot of things about VR, VR vs. AR, but never tried VR before. It was both educational and entertaining, as I experienced different levels of color blindness and fun, as I got the chance to play some cool games.”
– Mihaela Pasculescu
“Few days back I heard about a VR montagne russe experience from a colleague of mine and so when Andrei proposed a VR Day, I was so into it! They made me curious about what can VR actually offer at this point and how it can make you feel. It was nice to find out a little bit about the history of VR and how the device setup is done, but the best part was seeing other people’s reactions when immersed into the VR, the same as what I experienced: we were focused, attentive, having fun, sad when the body coordination didn’t work as expected, struggling in the beginning to move and use the objects in the virtual place, unaware about the real space we were actually playing in.” –Alina Stefan
“VR day was full of new experiences and things to learn. I first heard the history of VR, I didn’t think it started so long ago. After we set up the equipment the games started. VR can help you learn a lot about yourself, how you behave in a new environment and in a new situation. We had to adapt to a new reality, but it was fun and challenging. I would definitely repeat this experience.” – Cristina Manitiu
“It was really nice experiencing VR for the first time. The presentation by Andrei helped us get informed about past attempts and the evolution of the entire concept and technology. We got to play around with VR and experience some unique scenarios which we wouldn’t be able to in real life. An overall great day.” – Octavian Salcianu
After some years of playing around with VR experiences and getting into different worlds, I can finally say “It feels awesome to be a Jedi.” The VR technology deserves it’s hype and it is worth following to see in which direction it will evolve.
Latest posts by Andrei Tautu
- Short Dive into VR for a Day - April 18, 2019