Had a meeting this morning with an academic in our Faculty of Arts, Design and Media to discuss the viability of taking a 3D model gallery he has developed of various artworks, and converting it to display on the Oculus Rift. Not sure what will come of that, but I have his Unreal files now and am doing some R&D to assess how difficult it will be. After the meeting, however, I was able to meet up with one of his brightest students who is creating various artworks using 3D scanners, modelling, printers, Kinect and in various virtual reality systems, and they were kind enough to let me have some hands-on time with their Samsung Galaxy Gear VR.
I was impressed, very impressed. Impressed to the point of seriously considering the jump to Android just so I could get one for myself. It’s light, comfortable, standalone and works perfectly. The Oculus Rift by comparison, and it is only a DK2 I have, is heavier and the amount of cables it requires to hook up to a computer and its external head tracking sensor is something which always annoys me whenever I have to take it away from my desk. I’ve also found the software to be problematic, with many apps just not running, not running as they should or running for a little while before crashing for no apparent reason. With the Gear VR in contrast, everything runs off your phone which slots into the front. I had a go of quite a few apps and games and everything worked exactly as it should. There is a touch sensitive D-Pad and action buttons on one side of the headset for control which I liked, and I found the experience and resolution of the two systems to be broadly comparable. Even though a comparison of technical specs will tell you that the Gear VR is higher resolution than the DK2, it’s still a little disappointing as you can see every pixel due to how close the screen is to your eyes; in a 4K world it’s like going back to VGA. Adjusting the focus on the Gear VR is a lot simpler thanks to a control wheel on the front of the device, rather than screws on each side.
Photo cheekily stolen from Samsung’s website, where you can get more information.
Attended a live demonstration of a fully interactive system from Immersive Interactive which our Faculty of Applied Sciences could be interested in purchasing. The system is designed to simulate as closely as possible any given scenario in a safe place. One of the examples they demonstrated was for paramedic training and included scenes set at accidents, inside an ambulance and then in a hospital. Our Faculty is interested in using it to simulate a pharmacy and other health related scenarios.
It works by using a combination of projectors, touch screens, Kinect sensor bars for motion control and voice recognition, surround sound speakers and a smoke / smell machine. It all runs off a fairly standard PC and a tablet for control. Anything can be projected onto the screens but 3600 video footage generates the best results and the system includes a 3600 camera made up of 6 GoPros for recording and creating your own scenarios. The pop-up demonstration here was limited to three three metre screens but when permanently installed in a room it can project onto all four walls and the floor, and can even be set up as rear-projection for a better effect, though this of course requires a lot of additional space.
I was fairly impressed by it, I can see a lot of potential in systems like this and, of course, the ultimate goal is a proper holodeck! It has the advantage over virtual reality systems like the Oculus Rift in that multiple people can be present in the room and it isn’t blocking out external reality completely (though that could be seen as a plus). In the short to medium term I think both approaches have their strengths and are worthy of development. Of course, none of the hardware used here is special and one of my colleagues thinks we could put something like this together ourselves, but getting it all to work together smoothly is the difficult bit and that is what Immersive Interactive provides – service and software. But it’s not cheap, and they are only just expanding into FE and HE now. Only six FE/HE institutions have purchased the system to date, with the oldest being installed around four months ago. So, no research yet into the impact and effectiveness which is what is really needed before making such a big commitment.