13 May 2016

Three Basic VR App Types

In trying to work out how best to explain Virtual Reality and the application options open to clients I think we've decided that there are fundamentally three different types of VR app:

- The Photosphere

- The Object Viewer

- The Environment Explorer

Of course there will by hybrids of these, and more advanced versions may look nothing like the simpler versions, but considering how one interacts with the environment, and how the experience is technically prepared we think that these three sum it up pretty well - especially for those trying to grapple with how they can use VR in their business. Over the next month we hope to release examples of all three to the Android Play store, with releases to the iOS app store in May. 



What is it?   Use a camera to take a set of photos to build a complete spherical photo, and then in VR put the user in the centre of that sphere so they can look all around. You can even take such spherical photos of 3D model builds  (e.g. architects models) so as to deliver them to VR at lower bandwidths/file sizes. It is also possible to put 3D objects on/in front of the sphere in order to create some animation and interactivity. Jury out as to whether they are "2D" or "3D" photospheres!
Pros/Strengths   Very quick to produce - about a couple of hours per sphere, including taking photos (about 150ish) and stitching them together.
Can use a standard DSLR or a dedicated 360 degree camera. Can also do as video.
Can link spheres together to provide a virtual tour. 
Lets you show users exactly what you want them to see.
Great for showing off new buildings/property developments or doing very simple "virtual tours" of heritage sites.
Cons/Weaknesses    Limited interactivity
Need access to site
Can't see "round the corner" if it hasn't been photographed.

Object Viewer


What is it?   Create a 3D digital model of an object and then let the user look "around" the object in 3D. So whilst the Photosphere is about looking out from a central point the 3D object explorer is about looking in at a central point/object. Could use a photosphere as a backdrop to provide some context.
Pros/Strengths   Can link multiple objects together to create a 3D catalogue.
Can include animation of the object and "exploded view" type models to show detail and workings
Great for showing off manufactured products, heritage objects, and for STEM education
Cons/Weaknesses    Need to create 3D model - either by handbuilding (if want animation etc) or by photogrammetry or LIDAR scanning
Don't fully see context
Can't really "use" the object

Environment Explorer


What is it?   Create a 3D landscape or other environment (including building interior, body interior etc) and then let the user explore the environment with as much structure as you wish to add - from pure exploration to a very focussed lesson. Can also include virtual characters - both bot driven and other users. This is about trying to give users the real "virtual world" experience. Most of the more "advanced" forms of VR (e.g. simulators/simulation) and games are versions of this.
Pros/Strengths   Can let the user explore and interact with the environment at will.
Can model real-life/real-world, or something fantastic or otherwise unreachable due to distance/size/cost/risk.
Can make multi-user, and/or use bots
Can overlay a full educational/training experience
Cons/Weaknesses   Need to create 3D environment - cost/time will be very proportional to extent and complexity
Graphic quality may not be as good as photosphere - but can be changed dynamically, unlike a photosphere

You can download a summary of all three in our new  Get Started in VR pdf.

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