VR Village and Emerging Technologies
One of my favorite places at any Siggraph is the Emerging Technologies section and, more recently, the VR Village. I had planned to spend Thursday morning going through ALL of the VR demos and as many of the ET exhibits/demos as I could. Unfortunately (for reasons indicated below) I was only able to go through about six of them in total.
As you know, VR is being "pushed" everywhere. With good reason; I believe it is a truly a paradigm shift in the way we play and experience the world. And after going through 90 minutes of demos (it's sure awkward putting on those headsets), I think we still have a ways to go in order for the promise of VR to be realize. For one thing, the hardware is still primitive. Clunky headsets with attached cables have to be wrangled by a helper so you don't trip, mostly sub-standard video imagery and, surprisingly for me, some issues with balance and depth while viewing.
I realize most of the projects are in beta or are continuing research and that the big companies like NVIDIA are able to make pretty awesome video imagery in VR hardware, but it's still surprising to see such clunky rendering. That being said, I have to admit that the experience does take you away even at such a primitive level. Imagine the impact (like in the NVIDIA Everest VR) when the headgear is light weight and the rendering is of very high quality. Despite the barriers, I still got a sense of wonder going through the VR Village.
One standout was OoEs: Playing in the Immersive Game With Augmented Haptics which put an metal sphere in your hand (it became an orb in the VR experience) and took you through a series of fantasy-game experience as you learn to master the elements. I was really involved in the whole experience and found myself losing track of what reality I was in (really). Only the continuing guide kept me aware that I was in a "game". I spoke with one of the inventors/co-founders, Robert Han, after the experience and he was very keen to know how I reacted. When I told him it was a great experience, but I wanted it to be longer, he was very happy. Robert comes from National Taiwan University and runs a company called Raise Digital Studio.
The other interesting experience for me was with a group of Berkeley students who were working on basic problems of eye-focus in VR. The full title of their study is Computational Focus-Tunable Near-Eye Displays. As Robert Konrad schooled me on the problems seeing/focusing in VR and how it differs depending upon age, I began to realize that some of the issues I was having with previous demo's was exactly what they were studying: focus and depth.
The group's work can be seen at computationimaging.com where you can find more information. I went through a whole series of focus tests using equipment designed to measure my specific focal patterns. It was all quite fascinating and I'm glad to have contributed my personal eye info to their study.
What quickly became apparent to me was the fact that my eyes were starting to hurt as was my head after about 90 minutes. Where I had planned to do a dozen demos, I could only physically deal with half of that amount. And, believe me, I had no desire to do any more, my eyes were so strained. This is a problem (as Robert Konrad told me) that VR content creators know about, but so far there hasn't been a breakthrough in solving eyestrain and fatigue. I personally think once they make the optics better and the hardware lighter, it will go at least some distance to keeping a VR experience more involving and last longer.
You can get the full list of VR village demos here and the Emerging Technologies list is here. Sadly, the line was humongously long for the VR Storylab where they were showing Pearl and a Ghost in the Shell VR experience, so I was unable to experience these demos and films. I wish I had jumped on this on Sunday when it first opened. The list of VR Storylab installations is here (scroll down to the bottom).
The dramatic Smith Micro gang
Smith Micro Booth
I stopped by the Smith-Micro booth and chatted with the folks there who said that there was a lot of traffic at the booth. The group at the booth were quite charming and energetic considering it was Thursday (the last day of Siggraph). I also got the news (why hadn't I heard of this until now?) that Anime Studio Pro was going to go back to it's original name of Moho this August. Wow! Isn't that cool? What a smart move by SM. Look for full info on this when I get back from Siggraph.
An Accidental Conversation
I closed out the last day at Siggraph with an enjoyable conversation with, lets call her Jane, a good friend and person I work with professionally. It came across her at one of the booths as I was leaving and we talked about the history of Siggraph and compared experiences. We also talked about the changing computer graphics market especially where it concerns 3D applications, subscriptions for software and the open source movement. I can't go into detail here because much of it is in confidence, but I can say that this is exactly the reason I come to Siggraph: for frank, honest (and funny) conversations with people who know what they are talking about but are willing to listen.
Thank you, "Jane", for finishing up my Siggraph experience with exactly what I need: a good conversation that left me thinking and wondering.