I am a fan of immersion in gaming and movies and whatever else is an experience you can have without actually being in danger or within grasp of the elements etc. I wrote an article some while back about ASMR and how binaural ASMR recorded with 3D stereoscopic mics make for a surreal yet relaxing experience. Now to visuals, the battle for your loungeroom wall is an epic one and with the latest from the big brands vying to blow you away with their 4K resolutions on massive screens. Even though I am a fan of many inches… of screen real estate you still can’t sit that close to the screen and when you sit where you usually sit the whole affair is not much larger in perspective than my Macbook is sitting on my lap. This whole screen size thing is going to get silly, soon enough they’ll paint your wall with some liquid screen stuff hooked into a media controller and you will watch the wall. That or you will be able to purchase rolled up LED/LCD wallpaper that when applied to any surface or framed will be the screen. Basically really big TVs with virtually limitless possibilities with screen size and application.
I say the future isn’t in massive screens instead it is stuck to your face with some motion tracking because even though you can “feel” movement in an IMAX theater you can’t control it, you are taken hostage to whatever the director or cinematographer wants you to see.
Time to choose what to look at and when in the scene
So enter the Oculus Rift and all the promise of a lag free head tracked experience. I will not lie, I want one badly just not in it’s current development form (www.oculusvr.com). I am no developer guy and support for the device while available is reserved for dudes who know what they’re doing, I can’t say that much for myself so I opted to wait. What am I waiting for? I want to be able to play my favourite games feeling like I am right in the scene. Hollywood still has a way to go before making movies specifically ready for Oculus and it’s motion capabilities however in games, the developers create a world for you to inhabit and they have done this for years, it’s time you stepped into the game and lost yourself for a little while.
While I wait for Oculus VR to get the final version to market I need something to let me experience this VR stuff now and not that long ago Google decided to create a template to create a VR goggle thing yourself (developers.google.com/cardboard) out of cardboard. Now whether that was a little jibe at Oculus for spending their considerable funding on perfecting the fit, form and function we will never know, one thing is for sure with the Google version at least is that it is cheap like AUD 20 bucks so naturally it’s a winner. Not that the Cardboard will do everything an Oculus can, I am not saying that, what it can do at least is get my brain and sight ready for VR with some nice demos and interactive VR spaces. I am a little creative but I am not die cut and lens locating creative and some things I prefer to leave to the professionals as they have bulk buying power and can actually make it for just about how much it would cost me to do it myself, so I bought a kit on EBay for myself and my brother.
The Cardboard is much more than just some cardboard cut and folded into the shape of a HMD (head mounted display) it finally makes VR very accessible and when Google places it’s considerable weight behind something like VR, all of a sudden everyone is interested and the market grows considerably. People are developing more apps for the funky bit of sandwiched corrugated stock.
If you cast your mind back a few years there was premium mid-tier and budget phones. Most of us had budget phones like the Nokia 5110 (I know I did) as time went on I still didn’t get the fancy Nokia N-Series reserved for business like phones my dad used. Now everyone has the best phone, teens are sporting iPhone 5’s, university students use the latest and greatest Samsung Galaxy S5’s. The pinnacle of mobile technology is now in reach of everyone, there’s not really a premium tier anymore in terms of function and features, it’s almost a question of why not get the latest?
Ok so you have the phone that’s saturated the market, in this case it’s the Samsung Galaxy S4 (I know, I’m so dated) and it happens to be one of the phones Google tested and pretty much built the cardboard design for. You, like me have waited for ages for the Oculus but it’s not quite ready yet so an order for some locally made cardboard VR goes through on Ebay and now you have it in your hot hands…
What is it like?
I’m glad you asked because it’s a bucket of fun. you download as many apps as you can to fully experience VR. Although the edges of the cardboard do occasionally make marks and sort of cut into your nose a bit (for which you promise yourself to sort out some foam or rubber stuff to ease that) you can’t help but be amazed that not only do you feel like you are there but you also get 3D telly on your face!
The application to start you off is Google’s own Cardboard application. This app uses the gyros and the external magnet puller (reminiscent of the old 3D Viewmaster) to execute apps and exit them. This ensures you can keep the cardboard on your face throughout without the need to detach the backing and pull your phone every time you want to manipulate something. The demos are great fun with the Google Earth demo allowing you to feel just like Superman or a pilot as you either hang about in a 3D rendered city plucked straight from Google Earth or pull the magnetic ring and start flying around using your head movements as the direction you fly. It’s nothing short of amazing as you instantly forget where you are, not to be missed. The next app, called Windy Day suggests what the future of entertainment could be with a simple 360 degree cartoon scene you are plonked in the middle of involving a mouse. I won’t spoil it for you however all I will say is you’re not allowed to sit still if you want to capture the whole story, which is fantastic as you follow the mouse around you to see what happens next.
Outside of the Google Cardboard experience I found a free app called Dive City Coaster most likely designed to demo the Durvois Dive. This is probably the most disorienting and fun of the things to show friends and family. All there is to it is a virtual (albeit basically rendered) rollercoaster allowing you full 360 and up and down movement so you feel like you are strapped to the seat of this rendered coaster in the middle of a city. Everyone felt like it was happening to them right there and then and you could see how through body movements to compensate for the ups, downs and loops on the coaster, it’s fantastic to watch the effect it has on people.
What does it all mean for what’s next?
I am more likely than not going to get an Oculus Rift when that is ready to go mainly because I love immersive games so with Ubisoft’s The Crew on the way and the in-car view as well as Star Citizen and the FPS + cockpit view then straight into military sims like Battlefield 4. The anticipation is high for some low latency life like immersion however the application for Oculus Rift shouldn’t be limited to just the fun stuff, why not strap an Oculus to your head with a camera to turn your work desk into a virtual workspace? Imagine a clean and tidy desk with no more than a tiny PC hooked into a headset which then virtually converts your space into as many monitors as you want with information at a glance, switching windows will be a thing of the past.