Virtual Reality is the hottest tech topic in the world right now and the hype surrounding it is palpable. So are the eye-watering sums of money that the likes of Facebook, Microsoft as well as numerous investors and VCs are currently pouring into it. With so much invested, the expectations are extremely high.
All this for something which even now is only just starting to trickle through to the most evangelistic users. Many of us who have been brought up as the ‘digital generation’ have been waiting all our lives for Virtual Reality to arrive. Well, this month it became a reality with the simultaneous launch of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
Here at the Luminous Group, we have been developing VR content for nearly two years and have seen how this new sector is already starting to mature from clumsy tech demos to much more polished experiences. For us it was the demand from the more commercial sectors that steered us into VR.
We’ve successfully used the technology to help our clients in sectors as diverse as oil and gas, real estate and architecture to improve their business processes from interactive walkthroughs around luxury apartments to training tools for engineers. Recently, we teamed up with Kaspersky (a global security software business) to create an exciting VR project which will give a greater visibility to what they do and also create an exciting way to engage clients and customers.
So how do you go about starting to develop Virtual Reality content? The first part of any brief is to work out who your target audience is and how you will deliver the experience to them. The new breed of consumer VR devices can be categorised as either desktop systems (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation) or mobile systems (Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR).
It has been the desktop systems that have been getting the most press, mainly because they bring with them the most engaging and immersive experiences, but these do require high end PC systems. So it is the mobile that most people are using for their first VR experience.
Mobile VR is low cost and extremely accessible with the headsets now being given away for free with new Samsung 7 Edge contracts. If you don’t have a Samsung you can still enjoy a reasonable VR experience for around £8 with any smartphone and a Google cardboard.
So what content works on mobile? Most VR companies are producing either 360 images, 360 Video footage or low poly CGI experiences or games. Creating this content is still very experimental. When shooting images or video there are many factors to consider from stereo or mono, static or moving. Conventional and linear storytelling goes out the window when a user is able to move around or look in the wrong direction.
If you’re not willing to experiment, then work with a company who is already experienced at capturing 360 content. Just shooting the video is challenging, most people are using custom rigs to do this as there is very little in the way of off-the-shelf systems. This can range from 12 GoPros strapped to a 3D-printed holder to the latest £500k+ set-up.
To make this content accessible on a phone it needs an app and an interface and the weapon of choice for most VR developers is Unity. With its emphasis on portability and device support it makes an excellent environment for authoring VR applications.
For those who want a full-blown interactive experience on a desktop system the Unreal games engine is the front runner for developing content. Its incredible real time rendering and lighting is bringing photo realism to the table.
The next issue is interaction and how you navigate your virtual world, there are already a range of devices and controllers on the market, items like the Leap Motion will scan your real hands into the world allowing for lifelike manipulation of virtual objects. However, some things work better than others – turning quickly or jumping to another view works better than slow pans that can be uncomfortable for some users. Best practices are starting to emerge but a lot of it is still trial and error.
One thing is for sure, VR is a bold new frontier, ready for those looking to break the rules and unafraid of the unknown. Here at Luminous we’re only just starting to touch the surface of what it can do but it’s everything we’d ever imagined the future would be like.