14/06/2016No Comments

Virtual Reality is here!

Virtual reality is here, and there's no hiding from it!

As we all know, the tech world doesn't stand still, new devices and innovations are constantly being brought to the market place, and it's very easy to become overwhelmed by the constant stream of new tech. However one area of technology we're very keen to get our hands dirty with is Virtual Reality!

Virtual Reality Headset VR 3D

For those who are less acquainted with the concept, virtual reality is essentially a way to immerse yourself in digital environments and content, via a wearable headset. In the past, the term "virtual reality" has been used for numerous 3D based ideas, such as interactive walk-thoughs, but it is now being commonly used in context with the headsets.

Anyway, why are we excited by it? Well firstly we love new tech! And secondly I believe this is a step towards fully 3D content for everyone. 3D TVs came and have almost gone (fantastic!), and virtual reality should be the next big thing.

There are many headsets on the market now, such as the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, but the one we have gone for is the Gear VR. Out of those 3 we have perhaps chosen the least powerful, weaker graphics, and not quite the cheapest even, but what it does have is the ability to go anywhere, it's fully mobile, literally.

The Gear VR is essentially a Samsung smart phone (ours is the Galaxy S7), coupled together with the gear VR headset. The viewer inserts their phone into the headset, and straps on the Gear VR, and they are immersed into Virtual Reality! The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift both need to be connected to a powerful PC, for which gaming is a must, but we feel this limitation will be a huge sticking point for a lot of casual users.

Virtual Reality Headset VR 3D Samsung Gear

The Gear VR Headset.

Most people now have smart phones, and just about any modern Android phone can be turned into a virtual reality headset with either the Gear VR or Google Cardboard, and I'm sure the likes of Apple and Microsoft won't be too long in releasing their own versions.

So what can you do with a virtual reality headset? The easiest, and perhaps one of the most interesting things to do is go and watch some amazing 360 videos. Youtube, Facebook and others now host 360. There are also 100s of apps and games to play and use, from simply watching Netflix in virtual reality, to engaging, playing and meeting people in virtual social worlds; even Facebook has plans to turn their social network into a VR experience!

But what about what we plan to do with VR and the Samsung Gear? Firstly we're going to have some fun! We're going to fire up some VR apps, watch some 360 videos, and research (yes researching can be fun!), and we'll see what grabs us, and what doesn't. There's no point in diving straight in and producing content that either doesn't work, doesn't engage, or isn't useful.

After that we'll know more about the direction we want to go in. At the moment we see two paths, 360 video, and interactive environments. 360 video is become quite well established, with YouTube and Facebook both supporting 360 videos natively inside a web browser (essentially all you do is load the page, and the video will play, so no need for any software downloads). 360 videos are relatively straight forward to create, similar in a way a CGI image or animation is created, however ensuring the user is engaged, entertained and even guided by the content will be just as important as the content itself.

Interactive environments and worlds are more complex to create, and are quite comparable to computer gaming and interactive walk-thoughts. An entire environment is created, and the user can play, explore or even learn through interacting with the virtual content. How the user interacts depends purely on how the game or app is created. With some apps you can look at an object, and press the button on the side of the headset to "click" the object, and other you may need a gaming controller to move easily though the world.

Both 360 videos and interactive environments have their pros and cons, and as I've already mentioned, once we've done our research and had chance to digest what we think works and what doesn't, we'll then start to take steps to produce demos and really get our hands dirty!

For now, all I can say is we're excited and really can't wait to get stuck in and start creating brilliant VR experiences!

Dean

01/04/2016No Comments

360° Video Gives us a View into Pre-historic Life!

360° video gives us a view into pre-historic life!

360° video is on the rise, and it's becoming a fascinating way to engage with viewers. The technology is very new, and as such people don't quite know the best way to use it, or even produce it, but this 360° video is one of the best examples I have seen so far. David Attenborough stars in the video where a giant dinosaur appears to walk past him, but the beauty of using a 360° video is that it allows the viewer to look around and really feel like you're there.

The video is hosted on Youtube, which is brilliant as it's accessible on PCs, laptops, tablets and smart phones, so go ahead and watch the video.

If you're on a PC use the mouse to click and drag on the video to look around, and if you're on a phone or tablet, hold the device up and turn around (and ignore the odd look from others!).

If you're using a smart phone and the YouTube app you may have noticed this symbol in the bottom right corner...

google cardboard vr headset 360 interactive

When watching the video on your phone, clicking this button will make the video will split in 2, which allows the user to strap on their VR headset, such as the Google Cardboard or Gear VR and fully immerse themselves in the 360° video, brilliant right? OK it might take some time to get use to viewing content this way, but it is fun, trust me!

Anyway, back to the video. In my opinion what this video does, which other 360° videos perhaps haven't quite mastered yet, is the ability to direct the views whilst telling a story. Other  360° videos they can be visually great, but not really engaging or have any purpose. Take for example the Star Wars 360° video; it looks great, and ties in well with the movie release, but it really doesn't tell a story, and as such it doesn't engage with the viewer. You don't know where you should be looking, and as CGI nerd I find myself picking apart the 3D and finding errors, which if I was engaged I may not initially notice. Others might simply just stop the video after 10 seconds, either way it hasn't fully reached its potential.

When we create 360° videos we will have to be very mindful to engage the viewers. With 360° videos the user can look anywhere, so directing the viewers without being forceful will be the key to a successful video. Creating beautiful videos and CGI won't be enough, and although the technical challenge to create visually great videos is the first hurdle, it wont be long before 360° videos are mainstream, and we'll see where content and story telling really set the good and bad videos apart.

360° videos, I hope, are here to stay, and only time will tell just how successful and useful they can be. We're working on plans and ideas to bring 360° videos to our services, we're already experts in creating virtual environments, so the next step is to take our expertise from 2D images and animations to 360° videos and other virtual reality content. We've already tested the Google Cardboard and YouTube 360° video with this little interior apartment test, and we have plans to create something quite exciting, so watch this space!

Dean

 

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