Creating content for virtual reality experiences

We previously  posed the question of what scenarios are best suited to utilise VR. Here we will provide some examples and outline two ways of creating content specifically for the Oculus Rift. For those unfamiliar watch the overview video of the Oculus Rift below.

Video capture

One way to capture 360 degree video is using a special rig that can hold six GoPro cameras. A number of these are currently available for purchase via the Kolor website, however these rigs plus six GoPro cameras will set you back a few thousand dollars.

This six GoPro array below, acquired by Stuart Barber and Evan Hallein from the University of Melbourne’s Vet Science department was put together to assist students with farm placements and animal surgery training. With their help, Learning Environments were able to capture two test scenes in Royal Park, one hanging from a tree in an semi-enclosed area and another in an open field.

GoPro camera hanging from a tree
GoPro camera hanging from a tree

Once captured, each video file was stitched together using special software and exported as a 2160 x 1080 mp4 file. The scene can be viewed and navigated on a 2D screen using the mouse or ideally with an Oculus Rift. Since no audio was captured on the day, ambient sounds were added in post-production suitable for each location. The aim of these captures was to allow the end user to experience a peaceful setting, similar to how virtual reality has been used successfully as a distraction in the treatment of burns patients. Note: The scenes captured consist of the entire start to finish recordings so you can see the crew pressing start and stop on the cameras.

Things we learned from the tests:

  • Don't hang a 360 degree camera from a lightweight tree branch that will be affected by the wind
  • Don't place the camera too close to any objects
  • Try to use a monopod rather than a tripod to mount the camera so you don't see the legs in the video
  • The mp4 output from the GoPro cameras is compressed so the viewing resolution does suffer, especially if the video is to be edited and recompressed
GoPro camera mounted on a tripod in a park
GoPro in a park

There are more 360 degree demonstrations available to view via the Kolor 360 video gallery.

Another option is the Kickstarter backed Giroptic.

Giroptic
Giroptic

3D rendered environment

The second way to create content is with a 3D generated environment. Although it can take considerable work to a design and animate a 3D world, there are number of free tools available to assist with this process such as Blender and Unity. Many examples of 3D experiences are available via the Oculus Share site for free. Architectural visualisations are an ideal application for virtual reality, allowing the user to experience the feeling of being in a location either pre-existing or yet to be built.

virtual Tuscany tour in the Oculus Rift at a recent demo
Travis Cox from Learning Environments takes a virtual Tuscany tour in the Oculus Rift at a recent demo
Screenshot of Oculus Rift Tuscany demo
Screenshot of Oculus Rift Tuscany demo
Screenshot of Oculus Rift Tuscany demo
Screenshot of Oculus Rift Tuscany demo

Virtual pitfalls

In our early trials of the Oculus Rift DK1 we were pretty underwhelmed by the quality of the resolution and also prone to get motion sickness with some of the demos that require you to navigate through a virtual world. Although we found that this experience differs from person to person, the demos that worked best were those that required the viewer to remain seated throughout. We've recently acquired a DK2 and have found that although visual quality much improved over the DK1, motion sickness is still a factor that needs to be considered. We recommend to new users to limit their time in VR to few minutes initially before increasing when comfortable.

Most of our early Oculus testing had been performed on a MacBook Air which due to hardware limitations didn't provide a great frame rate in most demos. Once we upgraded to a 2013 iMac we were able get 75fps on the DK2 which helped provide a more immersive experience. Another consideration is that many demos have been created specifically for Windows so it's almost worth having dedicated PC to experience those environments.

Practical applications

Over the next few years we will see many VR experiences created, both in a 3D environment and also using 360 degree video capture in the following fields:

  • Education
  • Training
  • Healthcare
  • Simulation
  • Virtual tours
  • Entertainment
  • Meetings.