Virtual Reality is here

Naji El-Arifi - April 2016

The other day (Tuesday 12th April 2016) we spent the day at VRWC (or Virtual Reality World Congress) an event that completely sold out with over 700 attendees held in Bristol. Talks ranged from mastering audio in VR experiences to the nuances of designing and testing that experience.

Queue for registration first thing in the morning

The event consisted of a show floor with a range of different companies that have a foot in the VR market, from PC manufacturers to design house that create software for the HTC Vive. Throughout the day were a multitude of speakers with expertise in creating experiences on VR and were there to really showcase what they learnt from the work they had done. Attendees gaining a large amount of information on how to build a great immersive VR experience, which is important in a world where VR is still very new and we are all learning.
Our favourite speakers talked about the difficulties they faced while building a mobile VR title which was solely for the Samsung Gear VR headset. Most of those really centred around not giving up and doing continuous testing. Not to mention accepting that a lot of what you are going to do may very well get thrown away. Although, the waste you produced should be items that you have hopefully learned from and can apply straight away to the project to make it better. Lukas and Anil from Opposable VR also gave a great talk, that expanded on more information across some of the graphical limitations of mobile devices.
As for the convention itself both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive devices were in strong attendance with enough computing power in that room to rival a supercomputer. Most of what was being shown were games, which makes sense, as that is really what has been driving the technology forward. Companies like HTC, Samsung and AMD had booths with AMD and the HTC Vive having the longest queue with their multiplayer VR zombie game.
One of the more interesting non-game uses that we discovered was the use of VR by PropertyScape.co to give virtual tours of real and under-development property for sale in London to customers based overseas. In the hyper competitive real-estate market use of VR gives an obvious market advantage for business willing to invest in the equipment and technology.
When it came to development of these experiences it was interesting to note how Unity has come to dominate VR as a deployment tool. This can be traced to the shift in business model to a “freemium/subscription” model. With more than 3 million new developers now using Unity since the launch of the free personal edition in 2012 and more than half of the VR launch titles using Unity.
As for the hardware that was on show, you may want to know which headset to purchase. Well we were able to try the Vive and the Oculus headset, one after the other which gave us a good idea of who is ahead at this point. You would think that the best screen or the best lenses or even the best field of view would really make the difference. However from our experience it was the Vive that came in on top due to two things;
  • The controller
  • The amount of movement you can do
The controller really did make a massive difference with the fact that you can basically put your hands into the experience means that it takes the realism and immersion to a whole new level, one that doesn’t really matter if the screen is a little grainy or not perfect because you can really lose yourself in the virtual world.
To sum it up we spent most of the day in talks and below you can find our main learnings from the event:
1.  Get everyone working on the product together at the beginning
2.  Sound is more important than you can imagine so treat it as such
3.  Don’t be afraid to fail, it happens get used to it
4.  Make sure you learn from those failures
5.  Get users testing and trying your product early on
6.  Think about the order in which you render objects that can make a difference to performance, especially on less powerful mobile devices
7.  Gaze detection is one of the most important methods of interaction as most users don’t have a controller
8.  Google Cardboard is by far the biggest audience to reach with VR experiences
Overall it was a great event and hopefully next years event will be bigger and better, considering the trajectory that VR is on, maybe we will even be able to go without leaving our homes?
By Naji El-Arifi - April 2016