Virtual Reality: Rifts, Omnis, and Alien Encounters

Kyle Orland had a great article over at Ars Technica yesterday entitled, “Virtual Perfection: Why 8K resolution per eye isn’t enough for perfect VR.” The piece is based on conversations with executives and senior staff from Oculus VR, the makers of the Oculus Rift. The Oculus Rift is one of the technologies that I am truly excited about when it comes to the future of entertainment. Why? Because of the guy’s reaction in this video: “I don’t want to be in here anymore.” That he says “in here” speaks volumes about how immersive the experience seems to be to the user.

By way of background, Oculus Rift ran a wildly successful campaign on Kickstarter last year…and given the promise of their technology, there is little question as to why the campaign was so successful. Existing technologies such as noise-cancelling headphones further extend the illusion of immersion. The exciting part comes with some of the other complementary technologies still under development such as the Virtuix Omni (which ran its own successful Kickstarter campaign). The potential of a suite of technologies that contribute to a sense of immersion is demonstrated in this video from Virtuix.

As I watch the video, the main thought that comes to mind is that we are going to need “better” (i.e., more natural, more fluid) interactions with the content / environment. Paul Miller, writing in a piece over on The Verge, provided some great insight into this area when he wrote about his experiences with the Omni. The line that really jumped out at me was, “[Virtual Reality] has a weird learning curve: the more it’s like real life, the more difficult it is to operate the aspects that aren’t.” The Omni, as a prototype, is “dumb” (as prototypes often are and should be) using a Kinect camera to track user movements with the consequence that not all the movements or interactions are natural. The Omni, as a product, is likely to have more and better technologies such as accelerometers when it is delivered next year.

Beyond gross movement is the matter of fine motor movement. The Leap Motion seems to speak directly to this space in terms of allowing gestures to replace devices, although Rachel Metz, writing in the MIT Technology Review late last month, highlighted some of the challenges that Leap Motion is having despite the initial excitement that surrounded the technology. There also are haptic technologies, though I am not sure I can see a clear glide path looking at platforms such as the Keyglove

Part of me wonders what Walt Disney Imagineering would bring to the table: the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter is a spectacular use of special effects that play on our senses of hearing, touch, and temperature and the Soarin’ attraction adds the dimension of smell to an immersive. I also wonder how many joint efforts there are (or will be) between computer science departments and psychology departments aimed at understanding (and implicitly creating) a more immersive virtual experience.

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