Virtual reality technology is no longer the subject of science fiction and has been a reality for quite some time. The technology has a wide range of applications such as training, entertainment, and digital asset creation but it has the most prominence in video gaming, for which the modern VR system was originally designed with the Oculus Rift.
While VR is currently expensive, it isn’t so expensive that it isn’t affordable and the technology is being improved all the time, therefore extending its range of practical application. Immersive VR, for example, has been used for treating a range of psychological conditions including delusions and phobias.
Despite its impressive and broad spectrum of uses, VR will probably remain true to its roots in entertainment and leisure such as with video games, immersive communication, and more recently, drone racing. Some of the best VR experiences currently available include:
- FPV Immersion
- Microsoft Mesh
- VR Gaming
First-person View drone flying is one of the most exciting developments for VR and has revolutionized the drone industry while Microsoft Mesh has the potential to turn science fiction theories into reality and movies are one of the best uses during the pandemic while virtual reality’s true home will remain with gaming.
Take to the Skies
Improvements in technology mean that drones are no longer the sole domain of the military or private security companies and the price of drones has become so low that hobbyists can now afford to purchase even the best commercially available drones without breaking the bank. As cool as drones already were, they have been made even better with the advent of First Person Viewing which combines the best of drone technology with virtual reality.
The applications of FPV are varied but the main improvement that it has over traditional screen-based drone viewing from a monitor or mobile device is that it fully immerses a pilot by relaying visual information from a pilot’s perspective as if they were inside the drone similar to a traditional aircraft. This kind of viewing isn’t only way more fun but it allows for greater piloting accuracy and improved skill, better depth perception, and a more realistic view of a scene.
Because of these improvements over 2-D viewing, professionals from all manner of sectors can use drones more effectively such as surveyors, photographers, and extreme sports enthusiasts. While some drones do allow for the use of standard VR goggles, they have their limitations and aren’t well-adapted for drone piloting.
Drone racing is also one of the greatest beneficiaries of the excellent features of FPV headsets. One of the best FPV sets available is the DJI FPV developed for use with the DJI FPV drone. Because of its low latency and high definition imaging, the DJI FPV is able to allow flight at very high speeds of almost 90mph with excellent maneuverability that is only made possible because of the specifications of top-quality FPV goggles.
However, one drawback of FPV is that it is more expensive than traditional VR, but that is because it has been developed with features specific to drones. The build quality alone is of a superior quality to VR systems and FPV comes with specially designed controllers for use with the system and the drone and they usually offer a wider field of view than VR goggles as well.
There are many FPV systems available and like any hardware they may not be compatible with your drone so you should always check first before buying one of these expensive systems. Most drones that come with FPV capabilities offer an accompanying headset from the same manufacturer which is recommended for an optimal experience.
Two Places at Once
Like something from the future, Microsoft’s new Mesh system delivers a combination of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality which they are calling “Mixed Reality”. MR essentially combines the best of both worlds and has been originally developed for collaborative communication but is being developed for wider applications.
Mesh currently allows users in different physical locations to “holoteleport” to the same virtual location in order to engage with each other in a shared experience. One of the key features of Mesh is that it can be used across multiple platforms and devices using Microsoft’s intuitive Azure technology.
This technology can be used for such things as virtual concerts, educational seminars and tech announcements or conferences but one of the best applications is for a combined experience and collaboration on a project such as 3D modeling. For example, everyone involved in an architecture project can holoteleport to a 3D model of the building they are constructing and walk around it, inspect it, edit it and discuss it.
This evolution in video conferencing is an impressive application of both VR and AR technology and while it currently has its limits, will improve with time. Currently, users can only appear as avatars, but Microsoft has promised that soon, users will be able to appear as photorealistic versions of themselves in a given VR or AR location.
Gaming is also being discussed with the use of Mesh. Niantic, the developer of the hugely successful and popular Pokemon Go, has already demonstrated a concept for a shared reality Pokemon battle simulator in which multiple trainers can engage in combat or explore real-life areas together as one person goes into the real world to find creatures, others can come along using the Mesh interface.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has been ravaging industries and sectors all over the world that rely on public usage, the movie industry is one of the hardest hit. In particular, cinemas are on shaky ground at the moment since they have been closed for almost a year and it isn’t yet clear when they can reopen.
While some films such as Wonder Woman 1984, Borat 2, and Mulan were released on streaming platforms instead of in theaters, many movies such as the James Bond: No Time to Die debacle are taking their toll on cinemas by refusing to allow even a limited release to select theater companies which could potentially save them from bankruptcy.
It seems that while this is all going on, platforms such as Bigscreen could capitalize on the use of VR movies through their platform. Watching a movie on VR is amazing. Using special VR apps, you can feel like you are actually in a cinema watching a movie with other people and one of the best features of VR cinema is that they can also be watched in 3D if compatible.
Given that cinemas cannot open for movie releases at the moment, it seems like VR cinema would be a plausible solution to their problems. Theater franchises could perhaps offer virtual screenings of films using their own developed apps that customers can access via their website after buying a ticket as they normally would. Why this hasn’t happened yet, remains a mystery.
Dreams Come True
The most common use of VR is of course VR gaming. Since Palmer Luckey invented the Oculus Rift in 2012, VR gaming has slowly but surely become a home reality as other companies such as Samsung and PlayStation developed their own versions of VR headsets. While most are designed for PC applications, Sony was able to develop a PSVR that plugs into the PlayStation 4.
Because a VR headset requires that two images be rendered from a single graphics chip (one for each eye) a powerful PC is needed to take advantage of a VR headset’s full capability, especially if you want a good image. Because of the limitations of PS4, being an almost 7-year-old machine, the visual quality of a PSVR game isn’t near as good as a 2D game on a TV screen.
Despite this, Sony has managed to make PSVR an amazing platform for playing VR games with some of the best VR games available on the system such as Resident Evil 7, No Man’s Sky, and Star Wars: Squadrons, all of which are extremely impressive, even with half the resolution output.
Other headsets can output at very high resolutions but they require expensive PC setups that only the most dedicated hobbyists will bother to build. That being said, Oculus has had some good success with their Oculus Quest system which has built-in technology and doesn’t require a PC but rather, uses apps for the system. Because of this, Oculus has reportedly decided to discontinue the original Oculus Rift line of systems.
Although VR gaming hasn’t been as widely supported by video game developers as much as it should be, maybe because of the pricing of the systems combined with the cost and difficulty of development, the genre is still popular and there are some truly stunning games available that show the amazing capability of the technology.
No Man’s Sky, for example, was re-released with VR tech which has improved significantly over the past year or so, especially with the PlayStation 5 version. However, this still suffers from the limitations of the PSVR system such as a maximum resolution of 1920×1080 and poor refresh rates that can induce VR sickness.However, Sony has recently officially announced a PSVR 2 system, albeit with no details or release date, but the machine is expected to come with 4k capability and high refresh rates. The new system has been confirmed as being able to plug into PlayStation 5 with only a single wire, will utilize PS5’s new immersion features and will offer substantial performance improvements over PSVR.