Several companies have launched, or are soon to launch, virtual reality (VR) systems this year, making 2016 the year of virtual reality. Does this have any relevance to website development?
What is Virtual reality?
The term virtual reality was first used in the 1980s, the decade that the Holodeck debuted on Star Trek. In 1991 the first virtual reality arcade machines appeared. Players put on large helmets where they viewed blocky 3D graphics which appeared to form a virtual world around them. As viewers turned their heads, the graphics displayed moved to reflect the new head position. Because of the low speeds of the processors on these devices, moving your head quickly resulted in a noticeable delay, or latency as the graphic engine caught up with the new view.
Believe me, they were a marvel at the time but, in hindsight, weren’t very good at all.
Today the latency problem has been overcome due to high speed processors. Sony, PlayStation, Samsung Gear, Oculus Rift and Microsoft have launched, or will soon release, virtual reality headsets in 2016.
VR headsets are fairly expensive, which may hold back the mass use of the devices. Google, however, has invented the ultra-cheap VR system, Google Cardboard. As its name suggests, Google Cardboard is constructed from cardboard, with two lenses added. Insert a smartphone in a Google cardboard device and a 3D image can be seen using 3D apps or 3d You Tube Videos. There are some games available that use the Android or iPhone’s built in gyroscope to interact with the game. You can buy Google cardboard devices for around £5, with sturdier plastic versions costing about £20.
Virtual reality is a niche product with a small user base. If the marketing efforts of the major technology companies are successful this could change.
Facebook has begun displaying what they term 360 Videos which, in conjunction with a VR system, enables the viewer to turn their head to view scenes from all angles. Viewers without VR systems can change the angle of the videos using a mouse or by moving their smartphones around in the air. Liverpool FC has uploaded a 360 video of the Kop singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ before a match. The video places you at the front of the Kop, and you’re able to look around at the whole stadium, and turn around to face the crowd as they sing.
(You can play the video but, to see the 360-degree functionality, you need to go to YouTube)
How long will it be before we can watch live sporting events this way I wonder?
Anyone can upload a 360 video to Facebook. There are several video cameras available to create the videos, or you can purchase a special rig that houses 12 GoPro cameras.
VTime is a social media start-up that is under development. Users create avatars that appear in various scenes including wilderness, by a campfire and on a space station. Avatars can talk to each other and upload photos to share. The site is optimised for the Samsung Gear VR system. User can look around the scene, but presently they cannot get up and walk. The VTime developers are due to release a Google Cardboard version.
Until recently 360 videos could not be embedded into a website, but a system has been developed by Kolor, part of GoPro. You can upload a 360 video to Kolor Eyes Hosting and embed it, and the HTML5 code to play it, on your own website. There is also Kolor Eyes, a 360-degree video player for Windows, Mac, Android and IOS devices which is compatible with most VR headsets.
Should your site have VR content?
Until VR takes off, few websites will probably invest in the expensive equipment needed to make and edit VR videos. VR is a new way to interact with a website and has great potential for business websites. Imagine a car maker’s site where you can walk up to a car, open the door, get in, then take a virtual test drive without having to leave your home.
For businesses who want to be VR pioneers, a 360 video can make your website or Facebook page stand out from the crowd or, in the case of Liverpool FC, put you right in with the crowd.
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