Monday, December 12, 2016

Virtual Reality (VR) Observations

Google and Facebook have popup stores splattered around technology influencer cities this holiday season; both include their Virtual Reality goggle setups. After trying out the Google Daydream version with my son in NYC, I opted to buy one to play around with it a little more. A few weeks later, a Facebook popup demo studio showed up in my hometown of Boulder, CO, so, my daughter and I tried that one out too.

A few months ago my son and I tried out a full-blown Oculus rift at a buddy's office, so we have that experience under our belt too.

Here are some early VR observations.

Audio

No surprise coming from me, but the better the audio, the better the experience. The Google popups just use the tinny Pixel phone speaker during their demo. You get a sense of the visual/motion experience, but audio is severely lacking. I didn't realize just how lacking until trying out the Facebook goggles; they use Sennhieser over-the-ear headphones for their demos.

The experience is severely hampered unless you're using good in-ears/over-the-ears for sound. To drive this point home, my daughter tried my Google Daydream setup at home and was impressed. However, after walking out of the Facebook experience, she was completely blown away and indicated she wanted that setup for Christmas. When we got home I put some good headphones on the Google Daydream setup and she was just as happy. It's all in the audio!

Video/Picture Quality

The full-blown Oculus rift trounces the more accessible Facebook goggles and Google Daydream/Pixel setup. But, before you go out and acquire that scenario, it requires heavy tethering to a GPU/CPU intensive PC. I'm not into VR enough to warrant that kind of setup; besides, it would guarantee rotting away on your couch as you'd literally be stuck within a few feet of the immobile PC. I'd say second place in video is the Facebook goggle setup, but, again you appear to still be tethered to something. The demo's my daughter and I did had a cable that routed behind the wooden divider. That struck me as odd, but given the device's Oculus roots, I guess it made sense.

Re-Centering

The Oculus device seemed to have near-zero issues with staying level and centered, whereas both the Facebook goggles and Google's Daydream do need to be re-centered (push of a button) every so often; not a big deal.

In-Hand Pointing Device

The Oculus I used didn't have one, nor did Facebook's goggles. The Google Daydream setup includes one and it makes a huge difference. I can't imagine driving VR without one.

Apps

The Facebook demo representatives controlled the canned experience, so there's no way to know what the app ecosystem looks like yet. I haven't played with Oculus enough to judge that either. With regard to Google's setup, they have a foyer app, Daydream, which acts as the stage to all the other apps (and there are many). Google's ecosystem is definitely up and running and seems to be doing well.

My favorite apps so far are Google Street View and YouTube VR 360. I'm using VR to experience things apparently, rather than to play games.

There is plenty of content out there advertising itself as VR, when in fact it's just a flat image/video (you can call anything "VR"). If you dive into this stuff, it's really all about the 360 degree content, so search for "360 VR whatever".

The Future?

Humanity is doomed, and these demos of v1 technology solidify that for me. Go watch http://www.syfy.com/caprica and you'll see why. Our only way out of this is to get smart about how we interact with each other and our environment fast. If the latest U.S. Presidential election is any indication, we're not in a good place culturally to be ingesting technology as powerful as this.

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