How VR Gaming Can Be Better for The Near Future
When Michael Abrash, Chief Scientist at Oculus came out for his annual speech, he made some pretty specific and bold predictions on the status of virtual reality, according to one source. Specifically, he said that in five years VR devices will double their pixels per degree to 30, while simultaneously widening the field of vision to 140 degrees.
To do this, VR devices will have to use a resolution of about 4000×4000 per eye and fixed-depth focus will need to become variable. This will, of course, require breakthroughs in the ways that optics and displays are made, but Abrash thinks it will be accomplished within five years.
Further, he believes that advancements in audio will bring about personalized HRTFs (head-related transfer functions) that will add realism and positional audio to VR devices. Although HRTF is already available from Rift, it is a one-size-fits-all solution, and that is not exactly what Abrash is talking about.
He is talking about individualized HRTFs based on a person’s size, their head shape, and the shape of the ears. Personalized HRTFs, along with more realistic graphics should significantly enhance the overall VR gaming experience in the next five years, Abrash thinks.
To Infinity… and Beyond
But, in order to understand where VR gaming is headed, we must first look at virtual reality devices today. Current high-end headsets such as the Vive and the Rift offer approximately a 100-degree field of view on HD 1080×1200 displays. That math comes out to be about 15-pixels-per-degree, and that is not a lot as most human beings with perfect vision can see in a 220-degree field of vision.
Sure, the technology to display 2K and 4K graphics already exists, but the kind of graphics that Abrash is talking about would result in around 24K per eye. And he is not just talking sci-fi either. In fact, he is referring to foveated rendering, a visual technique that targets a tiny bit of the retina called the fovea.
The idea is to target extremely pixel-rich data to the fovea and blend in low fidelity graphic to the rest of the eye. However, fovea-tracking has not yet been developed yet because of the vast nature of individual eye makeup, eyelids, or even a machine that is even capable of accomplishing the task.
Abrash is confident, but even he concedes that this part of his prediction is the least likely to happen, though the current studies on the human eye and how it works, as well as recent 3D-modeling efforts, only help to reinforce his confidence in the probability of fovea-tracking becoming a reality.
Further, hand tracking, too, may become standard within the next five years and may even help solve some of the HRTF individualizing issues. However, Abrash also admits that the tactile sensation of a remote is likely not to go away any time soon, either.
The Birth of Virtual Reality and More
In 1938, playwright Antonin Artaud penned a collection of short essays that referred to objects and characters in the theater as being “la realite virtuelle.” In English, the term translates roughly to “virtual reality.” Moreover, one source posits that the first interactive theater experience came about in 1957 and was known widely as the Sensorama.
Essentially consisting of a viewing screen and an enclosed booth, participates would experience images, sounds, and smells all at once while inside. And, in 1968, a visor was provided, though it was cumbersome, heavy, and attached by a cord to a computer. From there, NASA adopted VR for its training and was one of the first organizations to look into AI in the 1980’s.
In the 90’s and through the 2000’s, though, VR experiences were, by and far, expensive and often involved ridiculously outsized headgear, so the industry was put on the back burner until 2010 when Oculus and others began offering consumer-grade VR products. New technologies like low-persistence OLED, low latency, and high-res optics helped to contribute to the resurgence of VR gaming devices.
Further, companies like DAQRI have even managed to fit the mechanics of VR into a helmet. With help from other industry leaders like Siemens, Hyperloop, and Emerson, this Smart Helmet could see action on the work site or in some extreme sports sometime soon. And DAQRI is also developing VR for car windshields to display holographic depictions of gauge levels, weather reports, traffic updates, and more right before a driver’s eyes.
Moreover, Wired reported that last year that Intel had introduced its bid into VR gaming by unveiling what it called “Project Alloy,” a totally reinvented “all-in-one” VR experience. Essentially, the computer chip manufacturer had developed what they called “real-sense technology,” a means by which the user could change their physical environment into a digital one. Powered by a Core M processing chip in the center of the headset, other technologies included fish-eye cameras, vision processors, and depth sensors.
Is Virtual Reality an Augmented Reality?
The upshot of Project Alloy will be that it comes with a display featuring a 1080p resolution and a frame rate of 90fps, as well as the result of what one company calls “real-time machine vision technologies,” or augmented reality.
And augmented reality is just the start. One source even claims that some analysts predict that VR 2.0 is poised to become a $38 billion industry by 2026. But to get there, the VR gaming industry must get that pesky PC-tethered monkey off from its back and learn to stand on its own.
But that idea may not be too far away, and, in fact, the PlayStation VR, the Vive, and the Rift may soon be tied to an idea of VR that is locked away in the past. And one site even predicts that 2018 will be the harbinger of the VR stand-alone, and the future of VR gaming devices to come.
Indeed, the Oculus Go was released earlier in the year and retails for around $199. The product is currently owned by FaceBook, but it is also well-known for its partnership with Samsung, and, in fact, the goggles have access to the smartphone manufacturer’s VR gaming network, although it does not support positional tracking.
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Oculus is also reportedly already working on another standalone VR device, code-named Santa Cruz, and this headset is supposed to offer positional tracking, a more realistic representation of the user inside of the virtual world, geographically speaking. With that system, users can move around in 3D in a virtual environment and device sensors will recognize hand gestures and body language.
Mark Zuckerberg was hopeful that a prototype would be ready in 2018, but that really has not yet materialized. And, meanwhile, Google is in the middle of its own daydream that has actually become a reality. The Daydream VR platform was developed in conjunction with HTC and Lenovo, and it offered positional tracking and 6DOF using what Google called its WorldSense system.
However, the Google and HTC soon parted ways, which left the Google and Lenovo to continue on themselves. The upshot was a second generation of the standalone VR gaming headsets called the Daydream, and Lenovo announces their own stand-alone VR just this year called the Lenovo Mirage Solo, which will run exclusively on Google’s gaming network.
As far as HTC goes, the Taiwanese company said it was going to put all of its resources into developing a standalone VR gaming headset called the Vive Focus, which is expected to market solely in China. However, the VR solution did so well that HTC plans to bring it to the US this fall.
VR Gaming Wrap-up
So as you can see VR gaming is here. And although it is still entrenched in a sea of tethered devices, it is important to recognize the few standouts that have broken their ties with PCs and consoles to provide affordable VR and augmented wireless reality options to consumers.
To be sure, there are still many hurdles to jump over to get to a place where Abrash’s predictions are even possible, let alone integrated into mainstream consumer technology. But, NASA didn’t put the man on the moon in a day, and we are not likely to see the changes Abrash talks about anytime soon. Still, clearly, it never hurts to dream.