NAB 2015: The Future of VR

It’s no secret that Virtual Reality (VR) has seen an explosion in recent years as technology has finally allowed us to create compelling virtual reality experiences that truly makes us feel like we are in the game. Oculus Rift and Valve are at nearly every trade show with lines wrapping around their booth with people patiently waiting to experience VR even just for a few minutes. VR goes much deeper than just video games, and that is apparent when Facebook purchased Oculus. The possibilities of VR are really endless and Arthur van Hoff and Scott Broock of Jaunt VR took the stage at NAB 2015 to talk about the new opportunities that VR presents to the entertainment industry. “How come we experience VR in such a vivid way? Well, you have to ask yourself, what is real? How do you define real, if you’re talking about what you can feel, smell, taste and see then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by our brain.” Arthur joked, “Obviously this was said by Morpheus in The Matrix, but there is a lot of truth to that statement.” Not too long ago VR wasn’t cheap, and was not something that any consumer could keep in their home. When Oculus Rift was introduced for just $300 it was obvious that VR was now something that people could have access to and there was a chance to create more immersive experiences. “So what made it possible for Oculus to create a device that was only $300 and created such a great experience? Well this is because of mobile technology. Mobile technology has pushed the limits in various areas, and pushed the technology forward very rapidly, into a place where it was possible to build a VR headset.” Arthur went on to talk about some of the key components that make up the VR headset and the importance of them. “One is the screen, you need a high resolution screen because you’re going to strap it onto your face, and you’re putting magnifying lenses in front of it so you can see little pixel. So you need a screen resolution that is going to be high enough.” Arthur continued, “On top of that we need a screen that has a very high refresh rate. Even LCD displays are really not good enough for VR, because when you move your head you’re going to see stripes and lines as you move around. This causes a blurry experience.

In the newer devices they use OLED displays which eliminates this issue, because it can turn the pixels on and off very rapidly so they don’t smear, they are on when they are in the right position. One of the other things Arthur mentioned that came out of the advancements in mobile technology is gyroscopes and accelerometers. These allow for very accurate head tracking, and enables it so you can create an image that appears to stand still in space, but it’s actually being redrawn in different places as you move your head.

Arthur went into further detail on the importance of resolution, “Today it’s practical to deliver 4K resolution. So if you want to do stereo you’ll end up at 2K per eye. But it needs to be at a high framerate, if the framerate is too low you lose that realism. At Jaunt we use 4K at 60 frames per second as the delivery format.”

When working with VR you also need to decide what the field of view is going to be. Is it going to be 360 degrees, or just 180 degrees? Of course, if you do 180 degrees there is going to be a loss of realism.

The Future of VR

“I think the only constant in VR is change. It’s crazy to see how quickly things are changing. Every week there are new devices and new ideas immerging. Clearly we are going for increased quality, realism, and comfort. The headsets today are really not ready for watching a three hour movie, so that is something that needs to be resolved. And I think it is starting to get resolved, the headsets are getting better and the quality is improving.”

Arthur also talked about how the content needs to be right for the headset. For example, with something like Google Cardboard these are shared experiences.

“You try it on, look around for a few minutes and pass it on to your friend. It’s really a shared social experience. I think that’s going to broad adoption of VR in many different fields, and everyone is sort of trying to jump on the bandwagon.”

“I think there is going to be an explosion of cinematic VR. Today there is a lot of emphasis on hardware, devices, pixels framerate, but in the end it’s really going to be about the content. That’s where we can play a big role by creating a library of really compelling content.

Augmented Reality is also an area that Arthur believes VR will begin to move toward, because that is clearly the next step and where VR wants to go in the long run.

Scott Broock of Jaunt VR said this, “The most important thing that people can take away from this sessions is that mobile will be the way that most people get VR in the next 12 months to 18 months as these other things develop.” He continued, “The other key point of that is there are systems out there right now, like Gear VR which are fantastic, but it requires one of two phones from a particular vendor to get that experience.” Of course, this means that many people are excluded from cinematic VR because they haven’t upgraded, which is why Jaunt VR’s goal is to focus on frames of video and not pushing polygons.