With the release of the Samsung Gear VR headset, virtual reality has finally arrived in the hands of consumers. The next question is, what can we do with it? A technology most commonly associated with hardcore computer gaming, VR is now a viable option for any business looking to engage with audiences on a whole new level. So, if you’re wondering what VR is all about, here’s our summary of the key terms to get you started.
What is VR?
The term VR (virtual reality) is currently being used to describe the experience of donning a special headset and viewing a 360° spherical image, animation or video. Imagine standing where you are now and taking pictures all around you – the floor, the ceiling and in every direction. Then imagine pasting those images onto the inside of a giant inflatable ball and stepping inside. That’s something like the process of VR production – placing the user inside a spherical image, such that when you turn your head, you can look around the environment as if you were really there.
The resulting experience is highly immersive. And because you are wearing the headset over your eyes, you are effectively ‘removed’ from the real world and transported somewhere else. I’m not sure the subconscious brain really knows the difference between the real world and the VR world, so the effect is quite powerful in terms of experiencing the emotions evoked by the space you find yourself in.
What is 3D VR?
In this context, ‘3D’ refers to the process of creating stereo imagery – that is, two images coming from two different cameras, merged to create a single 3D view. This mimics the way our eyes work in the real world.
In real life, we perceive the world around us through two eyes that are approximately 6.5 cm apart. This distance between our two eyes (or ‘cameras’) results in two images taken from slightly different angles – if you experiment with closing one eye and then the other, you can flick between the two viewpoints. Our brain puts these two images together and the result is 3-dimensional perception – we can sense how near or far something is from us thanks to our excellent 3D vision.
In 3D VR, 3D vision is achieved by rendering images and animations from two 360° cameras simultaneously – ideally positioned approximately 6.5cm apart – and then feeding a different image to each of your eyes (using a VR headset such as Google Cardboard or the Samsung Gear VR). The brain puts the two viewpoints together to give us 3D perception within a VR world.
At the moment, 3D VR content is mainly computer generated, created by 3D animators who have modelled a virtual environment and can simply ‘film’ this virtual environment from two spherical cameras. In real life, spherical lenses don’t yet exist (although they soon will, watch this space…). Videographers are having to rig up multiple ‘normal’ cameras to capture the full spherical image they need for VR. For 3D VR, they would need two such rigs, and there would still be quite a few technical and logistical issues to overcome to shoot a successful stereoscopic film. So, for now at least, 3D VR is the domain of the 3D animation & CGI industry.