Now that we have had a FirstLook at the A/VR goggles, it is time to load up some content and see what the brain makes of this newfangled A/VR thing. We will be using the DODOCase goggles for this post and the Merge VR goggles for the next one. Once we have used them both, we’ll post some thoughts on they compare.
We have sorted the content into four major groups:
- Stereoscopic pairs
- VR photos
- 3D videos
- VR videos
What’s interesting is that, even though they’re all in the same space, the tech required for each are not always the same. Suffice to say, things have come a ways from the ViewMaster (even though it may not look like it).
1. Stereoscopic image pairs
Photos shown side-by-side to create a 3D effect have been around since mid-1800s. We’ve done a few articles on how to rig up the gear to shoot your own stereoscopic images. The effect, while clearly three dimensional, is similar to that of looking at the 3D pages of a pop-up book. Stereoscopic imaging has a technical limitation only being a single sampling of a scene using a fixed focus and from a stationary vantage point. There are technologies (light field, holography, etc) which are attempting to address the issue, but (right now) their achievements have been limited.
The Web has a huge variety of stereoscopic image pairs. When displayed on the smartphone and viewed through the VR headsets, the 3D effect really pops. We think it’s because the bright LED screen makes all of the details easily discernible, thus enhancing the effect. Regardless, we find the stereoscopic images enjoyable too look at, but not compelling enough to strap a viewer to our faces for an extended period of time.
2. VR photos
The above are 360º photos shown side-by-side (SBS), which creates an immersive 3D effect. The image is static, but moving the head lets the viewer “look around” as the 360º photo will pan along with the head movement. An app is needed to view these images properly because the viewer’s head position/movement has to be tracked in order to sync up to the scene in the photo. VR photos are definitely an improvement over the stereoscopic image pair. However, while 360º photography has potential in certain applications (travel, advertising, etc) and makes for fun demos, it is not the “killer app” for VR.
3. 3D videos
Similar to the stereoscopic images, SBS videos viewed through Google Cardboard VR goggles does create an engaging 3D effect. We find it more compelling than 3D-TV, but less enjoyable than a 3D movie experience at the theater.
3D video is similar to 3D photos in a lot of respect. We were impressed how quickly the brain was able to integrate the images to see depth, and fast movements in the scene are fairly smooth.
While there are a lot of 3D SBS video clips on YouTube and elsewhere, most of them are demos for games and products. The lack of homemade 3D video at this point is probably due to the lack of a consumer-grade, twin-lens camera which can record video; not everyone is going to buy two GoPros and rig up a 3D video camera. Additionally, the 480p resolution of much of the content is too low for the video to be enjoyable once the novelty factor wears off. Higher resolution clips make a heavier demand on bandwidth and storage, which are are of course solvable, but probably at the expense of speed and cost. The 3D video effect is real and will be great when the content catches up, but that will happen only when videocameras capable of capturing 3D start showing up on smartphones.
4. VR videos
Unlike 3D videos, VR/360º videos may be shown as a pan-able or as SBS videos. However, panning these videos will require: VR app/software, position-tracking hardware, and stereoscopic goggles.
In the past, this meant specialized and fairly expensive hardware. The recent excitement in VR is because all three of those requirements have been met, at relatively low cost, and widely available in most smartphones:
- Smartphone processors (CPU, graphics chips) are now powerful enough to support VR applications;
- Smartphone sensors (gyroscope, compass, accelerometer, etc) are sensitive enough for head movement tracking;
- Smartphone displays have high enough resolution for use in stereoscopic goggles.
What kind of VR content best shows off the potential of this new tech? Well, pretty much anything that a sane person might not want to do in real life—tightrope walking across a canyon in the desert, say, or bungee jumping into a gorge from unimaginable heights.
With VR, everyone will be able to “do” these things in a convincing fashion in the relative safety of their room 🙂
And that’s what we did, using DiscoveryVR’s “Walk The Tight Rope” video. The clip lets the viewer virtually walk on a rope spanned across the canyon. The viewer can look in any directions (up, down, forward, backwards) as he/she “moves” forward. With headphones on, the effect is surprisingly convincing, enough for some of us to walk into a desk while “walking” across the canyon!
The current goggles give a compelling view of the potential of VR, but their existing limitations are tolerable only to true VR enthusiasts. There is still a problem with the disconnect between what the eyes see and what the body feels. The brain will attempt to resolve the conflict and in many instances can lead to headaches and other discomfort with use (like falling down).
Still, both the excitement and enthusiasm surrounding VR is growing. Companies working on the tech have remained in stealth mode, but most of the major smartphone makers have made VR-related product announcements at the recent CES. A few will be shipping “something” this year.
Apple has not announced anything, but been buying up AR/VR tech under the radar. Look for them to introduce their own A/VR goggles/glasses when their hardware matches the vision.
Amazon links to items mentioned: