The latest tech in Virtual Reality (2018)

Author - James Birch
Published - 28/08/2018
News

Over the summer, the VRNET team have attended various expos around the world. They are a great place to see how the industry is maturing and hear from the people who are shaping the industry… They are also a great chance to play with some of the latest VR tech that has launched or is on the horizon. In this blog, we will look at some of the most interesting tech and ideas we’ve seen at these expos.

Ultra HD VR Headsets

5k virtual reality headset

We were lucky enough to get an extensive demo of the VR Hero 5K Plus, a 5120 x 1440 (2560 x 1440 per eye) Two Quad HD high-density OLED VR headset with an incredible 170° field of view.

There were two demos to experience, one that put you behind the driver’s seat of a high end sports car and one that let you look around a luxury property. The boost in resolution was immediately noticeable compared to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, individual pixels were much harder to see and materials and textures looked beautiful, especially when looking at an object close up. I would say that the difference was less noticeable compared to newer headsets like the HTC Vive Pro and Samsung Odyssey though and not quite as like life as i’d hoped for. This may be explained by the fact that a lot of that extra resolution is for the extended field of view, not to significantly boost the PPI (pixels per inch) resolution.

The field of view (FOV) is impressive, especially the horizontal FOV. It was almost impossible to even see the edges of the screen, which is a real plus point when it comes to immersion, this is VR as it should be (after I demo’d this headset, I went to a stall with a Vive pro and the smaller FOV was so noticeable that I had to take the headset off and make sure it was set up correctly. 170° FOV had really spoilt me!).

One slight issue is that, because the horizontal FOV is so good, you notice that the vertical FOV is not “edge to edge”. This feels a bit like watching a movie in widescreen, you sometimes start to notice the black areas above and below the image. Other cons were that the headset was very heavy and quite hot (though the expo center was warm itself, which didn’t help). The headset is also extremely expensive compared to others, with a price tag of £7500. This does include special sensors that allow you to use your hands in VR without any additional gloves or trackers. (More about this below). Overall, the VR Hero 5K Plus is a glimpse into the future of VR and a very interesting, if expensive and heavy, headset.

As a company specialising in VR property demos, immersion and resolution are two of the key specs for VRNET’s clients and customers. Being able to look around a property and see materials and textures in vivid detail really adds to the property viewing experience and makes the property feel even closer to reality. Ultra HD headsets take this to a new level and we can’t wait to see more appear on the market.

Using your hands in VR

Using hands in VR

As mentioned above, the VR Hero 5K plus enabled the user to use their hands to interact in VR. It is extremely liberating and really furthers the immersion levels of VR. Their headset uses a built in leap motion sensor, so no additional gloves or trackers are required, but that comes at a high price.

At VR World, there were several other companies that had created similar solutions, including the exceptional Manus VR that we demo’d. It is hard to put into words the levels of immersion felt from using this product, it was actually better than the gloveless experience of the leap motion system mentioned above. The Manus VR uses two Vive trackers to track the movements of your gloves to a very high level of accuracy. In the demo we tried, you could interact with various levers, pulleys and buttons to complete tasks. Being able to use your hands, right down to individual fingers, felt so natural and completely humanises the VR experience. I’ve always felt that both the Vive and Rift’s hand controllers give a natural experience, but they now feel somewhat clunky after experiencing the Manus VR.

The downside is again the price point, the development kit comes in at around £1700, with the professional kit closer to £4500. Again, this feels more like a glimpse into the future of what VR is capable of rather than a product that will be available for the mass market any time soon.

There are limited uses for this technology in the property industry, though anything that helps immersion will help make the experience more memorable and realistic. Imagine being able to open cupboards, turn on taps etc with your own hands. Using your hands could also have great benefits for architects, interior designers etc, who could quickly adjust settings using VR based keywords and other tools.

Haptic feedback / VR touch

Touch in VR

Enabling touch in VR is often seen as something of a holy grail. The haptic suit in “Ready Player One” would be great, but seems to be one for the distant future. On a smaller, more delicate scale though, the guys at Generic Robots have a real world solution. Using what is known as “force feedback”, where a mechanical system, connected to a computer can calculate what you are interacting with in VR and provide the correct amount of pressure feedback, a very believable and accurate sense of touch is now possible in VR.

We got to demo the two systems they had on display, one that teaches trainee dentists how to make an injection into the mouth, and another demo that allowed the user to interact with a DJ deck. When testing out the dentist system, it was amazing how realistic the feel of the needle was and how the touch felt when going into the skin (quite creepy!). Touching the patient’s teeth with the needle gave a completely different feel to going into the skin, this was the true genius of the system.

With the DJ deck, the sense of touch was just as strong and realistic, turning dials and sliders felt 100% real and really increased the immersion levels (and the fun levels!).

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to ask about the price, but I imagine it will be high, as these are custom systems designed specifically for certain software. It was by far the most intriguing system that we saw at this year’s VR World, the sensation of touch was nothing short of amazing. This will revolutionise education in critical industries like healthcare.

If VR’s future will bring touch to a level shown by Generic Robots, then VR property demos will be the go to way to buy a house that you cannot visit. Being able to touch surfaces, move objects, feel textures and fabrics will truly be the holy grail of VR.

Conclusion

latest tech in VR

The variety of headsets on display are getting better and more accessible, wireless technology improves each year, resolution and FOV are improving and sensor tech is hitting new levels, allowing for deeper immersion than ever. VR Software is finding it’s way further into real world applications and impacting on things like education, health, culture and, of course, entertainment. Though some of the systems on display were more a glimpse into the future than products available to the masses, the fact that these technologies will become mainstream over the coming years is truly exciting… We are not too far away from a VR world with crystal clear resolution, FOV that encompasses the entire visual field, the ability to use our hands and even our sense of touch.

3D to virtual reality conversion

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