Understanding VR is difficult right now because there’s a disconnect between the media, corporate, government, and public access to the technology. Here’s a video of your standard Android-based VR set-up.
And this is only halfway to the maximum capabilities of VR. You’ll see I’m holding a standard Xbox controller and what you don’t see is I was wearing my glasses all week at CES, and took them off to use certain VR headsets (the Auravisor above being one of them). Any VR above Cardboard is capable of being adjusted via a dial at the top so you can see clearly without glasses. Think of it like that machine the optometrist uses during your eye exam so you can see the writing on the wall.
The Limitations of Cardboard VR
As discussed in previous VR coverage, Cardboard is mostly a marketing tool to introduce people to VR cheaply. By inserting any Android phone into the viewer, you can play any YouTube or Facebook 360-degree video and move your head around to experience 1-dimensional VR. Check out Facebook’s exclusive Star Wars 360 footage or YouTube’s Warcaft flight around Azeroth to experience Cardboard VR.
Because of the limited controls, Cardboard’s VR interaction stops at simply viewing – and you only have one toe in the virtual water. Many consumers already have Samsung/Oculus Gear VR or other similar headsets. These headsets sync to the phone either via Bluetooth or plug-in connection, allowing the user more control over what they’re doing.
For starters, you can adjust the focus using the wheel at the top. The metal pad on the right side of the headset becomes a touchpad capable of receiving user input. This allows you to both look around and have limited action buttons applied to the headset. You’ll be aware you’re wearing a VR headset and can tap it similar to Cyclops from the X-Men in order to shoot. However, even with the interfaces built into high-end VR headsets, other controllers are necessary for decent gaming experiences.
Enter the mobile phone/tablet controller – aside from standouts like Sony’s Xperia Play phone and the original Nvidia Shield, there haven’t been many standouts in mobile Android gaming accessories. A hurdle faced by the industry is that it’s only been in the last 2 years that decent, console-worthy Android games were hitting the market. Before that, the only good console or arcade style Android gaming was found by running Android emulators to load Roms of games from other consoles.
As VR and AR hit the consumer market, the content is beginning to evolve. Here’s footage of the VR Fest Awards at CES to show some of the Hollywood content already created for the VR marketplaces. Winners include musicians Sia and David Rosen, along with Team Coco and more.
Accessing this content (the content of the winners, not my shitty GoPro footage of the awards) on Google Cardboard is the equivalent of watching a 3D broadcast on an old, small CRT television and more than a phone is necessary to truly get immersed in VR without being interrupted with all those notifications you shamefully hide in your pocket.
The Limitations of Mobile Devices
Even when paired with a great phone and a great controller, a phone is only capable of processing so much in its tiny case. While Windows phonesmay feature the best cooling in the mobile industry, even those phones would crumble under the graphics capacity of 4k UHD virtual reality, and that’s only the 2D VR.
The reason I highlighted the Auravisor above is because of the headset’s built-in Android OS instead of your phone – this opens up a whole new lane for Android gaming to flourish in a way that’s not simply 360 degrees of Candy Crush.
For one, the space in the headset allows for more cooling and upgrade possibilities for the homebrew and modding community. Android has always been about modding, unlocking, and homebrewing apps – this is what separates the Play and Apple’s App stores to the delight and/or chagrin of many.
Nintendo proved with the Wii and every mobile devices from the Game Boy to whatever iteration of 3DS that it doesn’t matter how “hardcore” the technology in a device is, however. What really matters is content, and that’s the race we’re seeing happen right now which I’ll discuss in more detail in a moment.
For Android developers looking to create VR content, working under the assumption that VR goes from Cardboard to Oculus like an on/off button is a fallacy. It’s more akin to a dimmer switch, with really the level of immersion you want to provide determining the type of devices that can access it.
And, while many smaller Android devices aren’t capable of hardcore 3D graphics, they are capable of Augmented Reality like the Telepathy Walker.
The Telepathy Walker is a gaming-focused, Android-powered, augmented reality device. Whereas Google’s Glass Explorer program failed to catch steam with the public due to a high price point and lack of market interest, the adoption rate of AR will likely rise to coincide with the interest in VR, which we’re seeing take shape in the Oculus Rift pre-orders which started after the company’s price announcement at CES. If you think everyone having VR is exciting, I can’t wait for you to experience AR, 3D printing, and holographic computing.
As explained in the video demo about 9 minutes into this Pepcom Digital Experience footage from the Mirage during CES last week, Telepathy is a start-up, working on partnering with a Japanese developer to bring AR content to Android.
Now this doesn’t mean Angry Birds in AR or VR. Portal was a quick game I played in virtual reality on the HTC Vive, but these were just demos no different than playing one quarter of Madden or UFC with only 2 fighters unlocked.
Here’s a drone-based toy-to-life Android game to show you how the screen can be utilized (fast forward past the AI robot designed to teach STEM to children).
You’ll see the woman is using the phone’s camera to scan a large QR code which was designed to provide a gaming experience similar to 1941, Jungle Strike, and aerial units in standard Android games. All she’s actually doing is flying the drone in a circle, but the experience shows how Android devices can interact with the real world. Because you’re tethered to one spot, this may seem like a casual game, but the add-ons possible are endless, and, as you’ll hear in the video, this is a video game industry veteran who knows games.
Now imagine this is 2D Android gaming, similar to what you now think of as 3D gaming, like a Nintendo 3DS. To add another dimension, you need AR to untether yourself. The QR code scanning you’ve seen in your 3DS and in this drone-to-toy-to-life game can be integrated into the Android UI available on any AR device, and when combined with geocaching, fitness-tracking wearables, 3D scanners, and other modern tech, the upgrade possibilities are endless.
Virtual Reality Makes 8K 3D Obsolete
Here’s ViewSonic’s new lineup of gaming-quality monitors from Pepcom’s Digital Experience at International CES 2016.
If you enjoy gaming on these monitors, you’ll enjoy gaming on this:
But if you only think inside that box of gaming, you’re misunderstanding the capabilities and applications of holographic images in the real world mixed into 2D and 3D artificial worlds being created around your head. It’s not just upgrading from a Kodak PixPro to this (though that helps too):
Remember the Simpsons episode where Homer stepped from the 2D animated world into the 3D world with the extra axis?
There are plenty of interactive virtual reality experiences that give you this feeling, and many can be experienced simply by standing in one spot. Using the game controllers (on the Rift and Vive, they look similar to Wii-motes, but plenty of other controllers exist), you can guide yourself through that next dimension where you feel like you’re not simply viewing the action anymore – you’re interacting with it.
Here’s a pic of the STEM System, which is designed to give a full body presence in VR by sensing the 5 points and basing your virtual presences movements and perspectives on them.
Using this full-body replacement, you move a step up from the standard Rift/Vive immersion where you can see your hands, but only feel immersed when those hands are holding something similar to the controller (like a gun handle). Instead, when you look down, you’ll see the rest of your body and truly feel like a character within a virtual world.
Entering and exiting these worlds, even on Vive was similar to being like Neo and Morpheus navigating through the training simulations of the Matrix. That’s the true virtual reality being built – having those experiences live from anywhere in the world.
This virtual and augmented reality being developed is transforming our world in ways you can’t yet truly imagine – but I can.
Take an application like Virtually Live, which has a rendered model already completed and is capable of recreating any major stadium in the entire world. The Super Bowl, Olympic Games, UFC and boxing matches, World Cup, World Series, NBA Finals, and more can all be experienced and explored within 6 seconds of the live event happening. This turns watching these high-octane events into less of a viewing experience and more and an interactive one.
Have you ever seen the movie Clockstoppers?
In Clockstoppers, the kid in the red shirt above happens upon a watch a student of his dad’s designed that freezes time. Soon he learns to invite a girl he likes into the frozen time with him, and they explore the world frozen. The same concept is used in the season one finale of Rick and Morty, and the concept continues into the first episode of the second season.
Instead of causing a “Rickle” and dividing time like Rick and Morty (which will soon also be available in VR), you’ll simply be using DVR functionality while watching live major events happening anywhere around the world. Think of how that will change online dating.
Lowes already features a Holoroom and MasterCard is among many companies providing VR views around the world, but these are mostly just pre-filmed experiences. On-rails VR is cool for spherical action cam footage (can you imagine if this guy’s girlfriend was wearing a Pixpro 4k?), but once you step off those rails, every experience becomes an interactive video game.
Virtual reality is changing the game in ways I didn’t understand until I had a chance to experience it all at CES. Last year I was in jail instead of at the event, but this year I made up for it and got hands-on experience to truly understand the capabilities of virtual and augmented reality.
What we think of as action games will still exist – Portal and the many FPS games I’ve seen now are proof of this, but Hollywood is quickly going to turn television, movies, and everything else into 3-8 minute clips of immersion.
It won’t be long until that 3D blu-ray sitting on your shelf is made obsolete by an AutoCad-driven home experience of the latest Wrestlemania, where you can climb the ladder with your favorite WWE superstar. Your next yoga class will take you to an exotic wooden shala filled with perfect bodies performing sun salutations in unison all around you, and no one will notice when you sit in child’s pose to take a moment.
You can see what it’s like attending Coachella or Burning Man, try your luck at a jump ball at an NBA game, or score as many free shots as you want on Luis Robles, or get in Tyson Fury’s face in his corner at the end of each round and yell advice at him without fear of retribution.
All those ghost-hunting apps are about to find use as we enter a new world where we can explore everything from the comfort of our homes and at any time after its made available.
I hope you’re ready to step into your screens, because the definition of “Hardcore Gamer” is changing faster than you think.
Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has appeared in High Times, Huffington Post, Fast Company, The Street, Lifehack, Hardcore Droid, and Small Business Daily.