Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual reality (VR) has been a hot new term in the science and tech industry, describing the use of computer simulation to generate a virtual 3D space that “transports” users to a whole new environment. VR brings more possibilities, entertainment, and convenience to our lives, especially as technology expands. Arplanet compiled a series of related articles on VR technology applications, bringing you to explore new trends.

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2020 AR/VR Industry Development Trends | Part 2: Virtual Reality

A clearer understand on VR trends and current applications

Compared with augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) sees less commercial applications, mainly because VR comes with a head-mounted display that obscures the full line of sight, so users can only experience it in a safe environment.

However, as technology matures, so does VR equipment. Not only does it reflect in a better image quality, but also in terms of the hardware. There are certain industries which VR have thrived in, this article talks about the development of VR in recent years.

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2020 VR Industry Trends | (I) Consumer-centric Entertainment

Integrating VR in physical locations – creating a different experience

More and more exhibition spaces, VR shops, restaurants, and other establishments, are providing VR experiences to attract the attention of visitors. You can even find VR experiences going at NTD100 (~SGD5) per pop, as the experience is becoming more commonplace. Long gone are the days of paying hundreds of dollars for less than half an hours’ worth of VR experience.

Looking at theme parks, it is very costly and time consuming to constantly change the rides offered, and it requires a certain amount of floor space. To combat this issue of fatigue among frequent visitors, theme parks have began introducing VR games, offering visitors a variety of new attractions without burning a hole in their pockets. Taking E-DA theme park as an example, they introduced their themed VR Station, where visitors, as long as they have a valid entry ticket, can play a large variety of VR games in the theme park. The game equipment can constantly be refreshed and upgraded, as technology advances. Thus, we can expect to see newer and more exciting VR experience, especially in the theme park industry.   

VR in the gaming industry

In 2019, Nintendo Labo launched their Nintendo Labo Toy Con 04 VR Kit, made out of DIY cardboard. The Labo series combines the three key playing points of: DIY, game design, and VR, successfully catching the attention of gamers of all ages. Sony has also been making headlines with their announcement of the PS5, which is set to be released towards the end of 2020. Sony has announced that they are working on the supporting PSVR series, but it has been rumoured that the PSVR2 may not be launched until 2021. Despite all this, it is clear that Sony is continuing to blaze a trail in commandeering the market for console VR games.

On PC, Valve released their long-awaited sequel to the Half-Life series, releasing Half-Life: Alyx in March. With the success of previous games in this series, many gamers had been eagerly awaiting the release of their latest addition.

Half-Life: Alyx is highly compatible, and can be adapted to play on all head-mounted displays that support SteamVR. There are however, certain hardware limitations, as it is a complex game. The minimum specifications for the processor Core is i5-7500 / Ryzen 5 1600, with at least 12GB memory, GTX 1060 / RX 580 graphics card, and 6GB VRAM.

Be it for console or for PC, VR games are expected to stay. It has become a game design choice, just like kinetic games such as Wii or Kinect that came before it.

2020 VR Industry Trends | (II) Enterprise Use – Collaboration, Conferencing, Education, and Training

VR in online conferencing and collaboration platforms

Under the influence of the recent COVID-19 situation, many businesses have been forced to rethink their method of operations. Business meetings and collaborations have been brought up on and on again for discussion, to find a replacement for face-to-face meeting. Be it AR or VR, these emerging technologies have offered many solutions in this area before, and will continue doing so, especially during these times.

BigScreen VR is a multiple-interaction platform that aims to improve how people work, entertain, chat, and collaborate. Its main focus is on socializing, movie-watching, and gaming, however it is great for business meetings too. One of its key features is that users can mirror their concent onto the big centre screen in the simulation, making it feel as if we are in a real conference room. BigScreen also supports most headsets, including: Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift S, Oculus Go, Valve Index, SteamVR, VIVE, Windows Mixed Reality, and so on, with PSVR to join its ranks.

InsiteVR is compatible with Autodesk software such as BIM 360, Navisworks, Revit and Sketchup. It is a well-positioned VR multi-person collaboration platform, mainly used in  the AEC (Architecture, Engineering, Construction) industry. InsiteVR simplifies communication during meetings between different parties, allowing either party to directly indicate the content or questions discussed, in real-time, easily noting it down with either voice or text while wearing the VR headset. After the meeting, an automated PDF meeting with notes and screenshots is automatically generated, so users can review the content and issues discussed with ease. InsiteVR is currently supported on devices including the HTC Vive series, Oculus Rift series, Oculus Quest, Oculus Go, and Windows MR.

(InsiteVR automatically generates PDF reports from screenshots and annotations in VR meetings. Image Source: InsiteVR.)

In addition to the above two examples, there are many platforms that are great for VR collaborations. However, when VR collaboration is faced with issues such as the need for a fixed, spacious areas, as well as VR hardware equipment, it may be difficult to commercialise in the general consumer market. Unless VR taps onto existing services that are well positioned, VR collaboration companies may find it challenging to compete with popular online conference platforms such as Skype or Zoom. Adding on to the fact that VR devices cannot be used while on-the-go, the convenience and versatility of AR online collaboration platforms are much better than its VR counterparts. Therefore, VR online meetings may only be more applicable in certain industries.

VR for education and training

Over the past few years, we see an uptick in companies, big and small, from different industries, such as Verizon, Matsuya Foods, and the US Air Force, using VR to assist in their internal training. VR training is advantageous in the sense that it ensures a consistent output of training quality, without the heavy cost. It can simulate real-world training, where employees can familiarize themselves with the company standard operating procedures, as well as having the option to create different emergency situations, allowing employees to understand how to respond to these situations and practice handling these issues, so that they are more likely to be able to overcome these issues when faced in the real-world.

(VR for Matsuya Foods internal training. Image Source: Matsuya Foods)

The CEO of HTC, Yves Maitre, once said that 2020 is a good year for the VR industry. Especially so with the push of the COVID-19 situation. Maitre estimated that the overall VR market will grow by 50% in 2020, with the main source of revenue coming from B2B industry applications. To counter this growing demand, HTC also launched their Vive Pro Eye series, providing a variety of solutions to meet the needs of different corporate users. Current industry applications of the Vive Pro Eye for VR training include industries such as manufacturing, medicine, transport, design, real estate, and so on.  

Although AR and VR are similar in terms that they can both be beneficial in providing education and training services, both have their own advantage and disadvantages in each sector. For industries that require a fully immersive training environment, such as inflight pilot training, VR would be a better choice over AR; for training that requires a second-layer of information and training material, overlaid on top of the real-world objects, AR is the preferred training method.  

2020 VR Industry Trends | (III) VR hardware and software maturity

(Image Source: HTC) 

The development of modern VR head-mounted displays has made much progress over the years. In addition to a better display quality, more and more VR headsets are moving from wired towards wireless. The introduction of convenient all-in-one headsets such as the Oculus Quest, as well as a more attractive price point helps greatly with the acceptance and integration of VR technology in all sectors. The consumers today have a plethora of choices in terms of quality and affordability of VR headsets in the market. There definitely is still room for improvement in terms of comfortability, headset weight, and reducing fatigue when wearing. However, the majority of headsets in the market are already improved versions of their predecessors, and developers are putting in time and effort in a continuous bid to improve the quality of these hardware.

Despite the constant development in hardware, VR still has some ways to go in terms of innovative application methods, to create a more streamlined experience. Combining precision eye tracking with professional-grade sound and graphics, the HTC VIVE Pro Eye headset analyses the eye movement, attention, and focus, analysing the data to better understand the users’ interactive behaviours. This in turn, allows for a better understanding and analysis of the effectiveness of training. Presently, most VR devices are still equipped with controllers for movement and interaction within the virtual world. As more advanced hardware is being developed, we are expecting VR devices to become integrated with gloves, or to have more advanced gesture tracking functions, and other such functions, allowing for a diversified method of interaction to cater to different usage scenarios in the consumer market.

As we previously mentioned, there are many more offline venues such as theme parks and exhibition galleries, that are providing customers with additional VR experience. Not everyone may have experienced VR before, but the majority of people have a general understanding of it, and thus have their own expectations.

Through integrating the characteristics and advantages of VR technology, with the changing mentality of consumers, there are more avenues that VR can reach in the coming future, making big waves in the training simulation, as well as entertainment sector.  

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VR Games - What's the deal?

See popular VR games that have captured the hearts of millions worldwide

VR games - Ready Player 1
(Image Source: Screengrab from Ready Player One)

Since the release of Ready Player One in 2018, people were encapsulated by the immense capacity of the Oasis to develop a simulated new world for players, catapulting VR games into the public limelight.

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In reality, the VR gaming market has been a longstanding development for many gaming platforms, as everyone wants to be the first in the market to create a new ecosystem – a new reality, using immersive VR technology.

Here are some popular VR gaming providers:

  • The SteamVR platform allows programmers and developers to design and upload their own content on Steam, where players can then search and access a growing library of VR games. It is compatible with several VR headsets such as Valve Index, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and others, making the VR experience more accessible.
  • Gaming powerhouse Sony introduced their PlayStation VR (PSVR) headset, which was designed to be fully functional with the PlayStations 4 and 5, which means that players are more willing to splurge on this “extension” to their existing console.
  • HTC’s Viveport Infinity plan offers players limitless access to over 1000 VR games, apps, and videos, with a monthly subscription.
  • Oculus, in addition to manufacturing various VR headsets, also launched their own VR platform which houses several VR games, many of which are exclusive to the Oculus headsets.

How many people are playing VR games?

In the beginning of 2020, Sony announced they had sold over 5 million units of PSVR globally, since they launched the headset. Valve reported that Steam has reached 90 million monthly active users in April 2019. At the rate of growth, we expect this number to reach 100 million users today. According to the hardware survey results released in June 2020, almost 1.3% of Steam users have a VR headset, with Oculus Rift S being the most popular choice for players on this platform.

(Image Source: PSVR) 

According to a report by NewZoo, there are around 2.6 billion mobile gamers in 2020. Although the number of VR gamers are considerably less than mobile gamers, we need to keep in mind that the barriers of mobile gaming are relatively low, whilst VR gamers need to invest a certain amount in hardware to be able to play the games. Most VR games are pay-to-play (P2P), developed, and of a higher quality, very different from the vast majority of free-to-play (F2P) mobile phone games in the market, where players need to pay for in-app items to progress.

On the other hand, VR equipment is constantly evolving. Game manufacturers and developers are continuing their efforts in developing VR games and content. If you are keen in learning more about VR, games are a good way to start! It’s great timing to pick up VR gaming, and Steam has even compiled  a yearly list of best-selling VR games for players, so you know where to start.

How many VR games are there?

Sony announced that as of last year, there are around 500 PSVR games in the market.

Tera Nguyen, producer of Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center, also highlighted in a report that as of March 2019, there were a total of 2,788 VR games available on Steam.

(Source: Data collected from Stream, Steamspy)

In addition to the VR games on the HIVEPORT and Oculus platforms, you can play a different game every day, and still be able to discover new games after 10 years! Needless to say, there are more and more exciting games being launched every day.

The most prominent VR games of 2019

Marvel has been active in the VR gaming sector, where Marvel Powers United VR was launched on the Oculus platform in July 2018, where players can embody various superheroes from the Marvel universe such as Hulk, Thor, Spiderman, Captain America, and many others!

After garnering many fans’ attention with the announcement of Marvel’s Iron Man VR, Sony finally launched the VR game on the PSVR in July 2020, where players have total control of Tony Stark’s famous Iron Man gear.

Did watching Avengers: Endgame make you want to enter the Marvel world and fight crime alongside fellow superheroes? You can do it easily with the power of VR!

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Nintendo Labo VR Kit – Reaching New Heights with VR

Through VR, Nintendo Labo opens up a whole new world of creativity for players of all ages alike

(Design your own VR game with the Labo Toy-Con Garage VR. Image source: Nintendo)

Despite their initial apprehension towards VR, Nintendo announced their foyer into the VR realm in April 2019, introducing the Toy-Con 04 VR Kit.

Cardboard VR kits are nothing new, as Google Cardboard has been doing it with a relative amount of success since their introduction in 2014. However, what sets Labo apart is the play aspect of it – the DIY assembly that builds up to the VR experience.

Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 04: VR Kit​

The Toy-Con 04: VR Kit is the most immersive and comprehensive Nintendo Labo kit to date – containing not only the Toy-Con VR Goggles, but also the Toy-Con Blaster, Camera, Elephant, Bird, and Wind Pedal, as well as a programming tool which allows players to create their own VR games and experiences.

(Image Source: Nintendo Labo)

Similar to the rest of Nintendo Labo’s offerings, the Toy-Con 04: VR Kit is enjoyed through first, building the thick cardboard consoles, then inserting the Switch console to experience. The only difference now is that this is to play VR games. After assembling the VR goggles and other accessories, enter the virtual world of VR through the window view, and watch the toys come to life.

Nintendo Labo Breakdown

The Nintendo Labo VR Kit is the fourth release in the Labo series, encapsulating a full storytelling experience from its name, to its penchant for creative expression.

Origins of the Name

When Nintendo first announced Labo, many wondered how they decided on the name, and whether it was derived from “labroratory”. Turns out, they were right! Nintendo intended for Labo to be thought of as a “labroratory”, driving the brand towards positive impressions such as creation, learning, and experimentation.

Sharp-eyed players also noted that they are branded as Nintendo Labo, and not Nintendo Switch Labo, remaining hopeful that in the future, Nintendo Labo may branch out to become an independent brand, instead of being part of the Switch family.

Nurturing Creativity

The concern for many parents is that most video games may be too violent or too addictive for their children.

Labo aims to disassociate from that viewpoint, stimulating children’s brains during the assembly process then allows them to integrate their own creativity to play the assembled “toys”. For example, the Nintendo Labo Variety Kit is the best kit for beginners, because it includes several different Toy-Con options for DIY building: two RC cars, a fishing rod, motorbike, a house, and a piano, keeping children occupied as they take a hands-on role in building the toys that they will play.

AR Campaign Execution

To encourage gameplay, a virtual Dak Prescott appeared in the app to introduce the new games, activities, and awesome selfie features available throughout the season. Along with Dak’s celebrity, mini-games that allowed photos or videos to be shared on social media also helped to drive additional interest in the app, resulting in more users over time. It also incentivised players to keep returning to the app to discover new mini-games as they were released.

The app benefitted from the AR implementation, immersing customers in the 7Rewards app as they engaged with the games and collected 7Reward points. Innovation-wise, AR kept users interested and playing consistently. By making the content fun and engaging, users were incentivised to return to the app and collect further points that could be spent in 7-Eleven stores.

Nintendo – Creating the Perfect User Experience ​

From the early days of their red and white Famicom, we have watched Nintendo expand to the Game Boy family, and the first motion detection console Wii, to the handheld 3DS capable of displaying stereoscopic 3D effects, to their current, but definitely not their last release – the Switch. Nintendo continues to redefine the gaming industry with their modern creative vision.  

In this era of technology, where manufacturers are repackaging similar content, thinking of ways to get you to open your wallet, Nintendo comes out with innovative, new product lines like Labo, triggering the nostalgia of discovering new games for the first time.

As kids, we were natural adventurers, doing what we did best at that age: play and explore. Despite not having technologically advanced toys, as kids do now, we used our imagination, creating a whole new world of epic battles and adventures with just two figurines and our limitless imagination. Each of us were the designers of our own games, with the sky being the limit to our creativity. This is where the spirit of Nintendo shines through, allowing us to make our own toys, and create our own games through their Labo series, which awakens our forgotten nature to play, create, and explore. Their way of providing entertainment not only comes from the glory of levelling up and exploring new levels in game, but also from the ability to create a new world through our imagination.

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Immersive Reality – AR, VR, and MR defined

Learn to differentiate between these 3 technologies with our simple guide!

With the constant advancement of hardware and software, immersive reality technologies such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) that we constantly hear about, are also evolving by the day. During an interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook, he said that AR is “a big idea like the smartphone.” It is definitely plausible that these technologies may one day become as integrated into our lives, as the smartphones in our hands.

So, what exactly is AR, VR, and MR? How does one differentiate between these technologies? And how are they affecting our lives?

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Immersive Reality | What is Augmented Reality (AR)?

Augmented reality uses a camera to take in the real-world environment, combining it with image recognition and positioning technology, layering virtual enhancement objects such as graphics, audio, and digital information into the real-world that we live in. This way, users can simultaneously see the real-world, as well as the projected virtual objects.

Taking the example of Pokémon GO, where random Pokémon suddenly appears right in front of players’ eyes. The Pokémon in this case, is the virtual object, generated by the program. Thus, AR is the surrounding environment we see right in front of our eyes, and the virtual Pokémon shown on the mobile screen at the same time, in real-time.

Immersive Reality | What is Virtual Reality (VR)?

The virtual reality experience involves hardware in the form of a head-mounted display (HMD) to completely cover the visual range of the eyes. The user cannot see the surrounding environment, and is completely immersed in the virtual world shown by the head-mounted display. They use the operating controllers to interact with objects within the virtual world.

Immersive Reality | What is Mixed Reality (MR)?

Mixed reality generally involves hardware in the form of a head-mounted display (HMD). But in this case, users can still see the real-world surrounding areas, with virtual objects appearing in the environment. MR emphasizes on the integration of real-world elements that is the core of AR, with the immersion and virtual interaction elements that make up VR, presenting the best of both worlds, perfectly integrated in one compact solution.

Looking at the above example of the Dragon Battling MR game, players wearing a head-mounted display sees a flying dragon in their surrounding environment. Using gestures or a controller, players launch magic attacks on the dragon, and run around to avoid the flames shooting from the dragon’s mouth. In a truly integrated environment, the real and virtual world are tightly wound together, making it difficult to distinguish one from the other.

How to distinguish between AR, VR, and MR

To summarize the above definitions of augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality, the simplest difference is that with AR and MR, the real-world environment is still visible during the experience, whereas you cannot see your surrounding environment during a VR experience; whereas MR is a combination of AR and VR, with emphasis on a more immersive AR experience, paired with the immersion and interactivity of a VR experience.

Recent developments and challenges of AR, VR, and MR

Since the introduction of AR technology, this stubborn issue revolving around “how to affix the virtual object in the real-world” has always been around, because only through a stable positioning, do we truly have that feeling of a fully integrated virtual and real world. Presently, one of the more stable positioning technologies is mainly image recognition, and other positioning algorithms such as facial recognition, SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping), indoor positioning are still in the continuous process of being developed and updated.

As head-mounted displays play an integral role in VR, the biggest issue is the weight and comfort of the head-mounted display. Think about it, no one wants to continuously wear a bulky, heavy helmet just to escape into the virtual world for a short while. Only through reducing the weight and optimizing the comfort levels of the gear, can the use time be extended, allowing users to experience a more comfortable and enjoyable journey into the virtual world.

As MR combines the characteristics of both AR and VR technology, it isn’t hard to imagine the challenges faced in the application of MR technology in real-world solutions. However, we are confident that over time, as AR and VR overcome these prevailing issues, MR can be integrated with many current technologies, providing a new type of immersive reality experience for the general public.

Current applications of AR, VR, and MR technologies

In terms of use cases, AR is the more popular choice among the three, mainly used for commercial purposes, but also in branding, gaming, navigation, and so on. Using AR to enhance the real-world surroundings, step into a time machine and watch as the history of these surrounding areas unfurl right in front of your eyes.

Presently, VR is mostly used in games and training simulations. In the case of training simulations, reduce time taken for practicing, avoid the dangers of hands-on training, and save on expensive equipment and training costs – all you need is a head-mounted display. After practicing in the virtual environment, seamlessly carry out duties by performing a test in real life. It is as simple as that.

MR is still in the adoption phase, as it requires a higher cost of hardware, development, and application, as well as a more complicated systemic process, which results in fewer applications of MR technologies in the general market. However, international companies like Microsoft and Magic Leap have introduced a lot of plans for the future. We are hopeful that MR will be widely accepted by the general public in the near future.  

The future of immersive reality technology

Whether it be AR, VR, MR, or other emerging technology, the singular most important challenge is how the technologies are applied. Remember, back in the days when smartphones were just introduced. How could we have imagined that all major and minor parts of our daily life such as messaging, shopping, learning, transportation, news, and many others, can be easily done with just a few taps on our smartphones. The same applies for these emerging technologies. We are looking forward to see how they can be integrated into our lives.

As technology constantly evolves, what kind of vision do you have for the future?

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