The VR Revolution

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img_4316Back in the 80s, I worked with a bunch of talented kids on the WINAMP project. Little did they know that they would be the catalyst to an explosion of computer and internet technology escallation that continues to this day.   At one time, 2/3rd of all the internet bandwith in the world was trading illegal music There was a time when all one had to do is think of a song and it was at your fingertips in high quality. Hence, our lust for music selection and quality demanded the most out of our hardware and bandwith. When the public imagined the same for Video, YouTube became popular and video cards, processors and bandwith ramped up to feed the masses. I want my MTV. Eventually, we wanted our Music and Video Streamed and available on demand. We lived on our TIVOs and built our collection of bootleg DVDs. We wanted easy ways to move the media to where and when we wanted it. Netflix and Slingbox answered the demand. In the last decade, we moved from low quality analog video to high quality digital video. In our quest for even higher video quality,  High Definition has become the standard. The world of analog became antiquated and digital quality was the drug that killed it. ATSC killed NTSC and now there is generation of kids born who don’t even know that over the air SD video ever existed. So whats next?

img_4405Whats the next wave you might think? I believe its making video and music so real that it compares to real life specifically 3D video and Virtual Reality (VR).  To perfect these technologies, the power of computing is exponentially increasing and becoming affordable to the masses.   As I watched Nvidia Stock almost double in the last 6 months, I started to realize that this is the beginning of a new era. Last month I started building a VR system to see what all the hype was about. I took an older I7 (960 3.03 ghz) gaming computer with 12 gigs of ram and upgraded the video card to an EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti. With a Samsung 850 EVO 1TB 2.5-Inch SATA drive I used Steam VR benchmark to make sure the hardware was capable. Video cards powerfull enough to make VR look good are 4 times more powerfull than HD video cards of a decade ago.  The hardest part of this project was picking the right VR goggles.    As I write this article, Sony and Microsoft have teams developing their first VR headsets. Leading the way is Oculus Rift and my first choice the HTC Vive.  Last year,  I started using video goggles  to race drones in first person view (FPV).  I thought the ability to see what birds see in 1080p  was the best digital experience on earth but I was wrong after spending a weekend buying half of the Steam VR Game library and testing my new VR setup.

img_4856The HTC Vive is unique at this point in that it creates a space that you can move about while experiencing the 360 degree environment.   You need a maximum area of about a queen size bed for the best effect.   The oculus rift was designed to be stationary whereas the Vive is designed not only to track you head movements while sitting,  but your body movements as well in 3d space.   This mean you can kneel or take a side step and see your environment respond.  Also,  the controller for each hand can be transformed into  guns or scalples in VR space and their movements and effects are so real and accurate that when you look at your hands through the goggles,  you can almost feel the weight and texture of what you are seeing.  Of course you are  always holding a controller but your brain gets fooled!

Another cool effect unique to the HTC Vive is the boundaries that pop up when you reach the limits of your defined space.  It reminds me of the Holideck  in Star Treck.   There are also ways to make the surrounding reality peak through the VR when you get too close to the edge of reality.  It looks like the Matrix when its starts to break down.   I banged into the wall trying to kill a Zombie that was outside the Chaperoned area that was about to kill me in VR.  The combination of fright and wall impact was amplifying!  It might be really something to have someone watching you and the monitor and picking the just the right time to slap you across the face.    I really enjoy the Games in VR.  Its been years since I was competitive with gamers that are ten years younger than me  mainly because I started getting motion sickness around 40.  The VR experience for me is much less nauseating.  I found myself playing some for hours,  literally sweating and wanting more.   Its been a long time since I felt like that.   This old gamer still has some stamina left.

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Homebrew VR taken with Nikon Keymission 360

A wierd thing about watching 360 video  is that scale is a bit off.   You are actually a giant person in the middle of the action.   I think this phenomena is because of the fisheye perspective of the camera and there is no way to push the surrounding objects out enough to keep them in perspective.  I suppose a filter could be created to put things in more accurate perspective in 360 mode.

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