Is it time for your website to go VR?

Posted on May 11, 2016

 

Virtual reality (VR) is predicted to be the next big technology trend, just like it was predicted to be in the early 90s. This time though it looks it might actually happen, so should your website be changed to adapt to the virtual reality world?

Major companies have invested heavily in VR technology. Facebook owns Oculus Rift, Sony is launching a VR headset, gaming company Valve has Steam VR and Microsoft has developed their augmented reality system HoloLens. Other major players in VR are HTC, Samsung and, lest we forget, a little company named Google.

Browsing the web in VR

Technicians at Mozilla, the creator of the Firefox browser, have created WebVR, a JavaScript standard that transforms websites into 3d VR landscapes.

Mozilla admits that the technology is not perfect, and is a long way off utilising the full potential of VR. Like a lot of VR content, WebVR is a great demo of the possibilities of VR, but the technology is not at the stage where people will prefer to wear VR headsets to surf the internet.

Most web pages use hyperlinks, images and videos. VR technology floats windows as if suspended in mid-air. Turn your head to look at and highlight a link, or speak a voice command to search for content. This is a long way from a website that shows a product that you can walk around, touch and interact with as if it were real – think Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

minority_report

New skills

Existing web pages can be converted to a VR experience without needing to be changed by the web developer. As the technology develops, web developers will need to learn new skills to create VR web pages. Good web designers are skilled in working in a 2d environment, but may find it difficult to adapt to a 3D one. The skills needed are more similar to those of game designers.

Mozilla has the answer, however. They have created A-Frame, a development tool aimed at web developers who are experts in HTML and CSS. A-Frame is targeted at these developers who want to learn how to create 3D environments.

Facebook

With Facebook owning Oculus Rift, it is not surprising that they are adding 3D content to Facebook. Facebook 360 is a system for content creators to add virtual reality video content to their social media pages. Facebook 360 content can be viewed on the Oculus Rift, but it also works with Samsung Gear VR, a lower cost device which holds a Samsung phone that displays the images.

Facebook has speculated that a virtual reality Facebook would have streets filled with your Facebook followers to create a full interactive experience. VR technology is not at this stage yet. Of course, you could just go outside… into the street.

Many systems

Mozilla and Oculus Rift are exploring different VR systems to display web content and, as yet, there is not one common system such as the HTML that powers many websites.

Whereas many people are happy to spend hours on the internet on a 2D screen, not everyone will want to spend hours wearing a heavy VR headset. A 20-minute VR experience can be thrilling, but people who spend extended periods of time viewing VR report feeling sick.

Perhaps one day, when the technology has advanced and headsets become lighter, we will all view the web in a virtual word. In the meantime, websites will be essentially 2D experiences created by web developers and web designers.

Darren Jamieson

Technical Director at Engage Web
Darren is Technical Director at Engage Web, as well as being a co-founder of the company. He takes a hands-on approach to SEO and web design, helped by more than 15 years’ experience in these fields.

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