It is a fascinating time for VR developers and artists seeking new mediums, of which there is no shortage in Brighton. At the VR lab launch, which was part of the Brighton Digital Festival, I recognised musicians, mixed media artists, programmers, gamers, and representatives of companies exploring commercial and training applications. That is the beauty of VR, it is an open field, where corporates are turning to indies and cutting edge companies to provide them with the next great interactive experience who in turn are trying to discover just how far the boundries stretch.
Brighton, widely known as an artistic and technological hub has its fair share of companies doing exactly that. Unity, makers of one of the most widely used games devlopment platform are in Brighton, MakeMedia have a new 3D/VR/games team dubbed MakeReal, Lockwood – creators of 3D virtual world Avakin Life – have just opened a VR and AI development branch here, and FutureVisual – winners of the Innovate UK 2015 Immersive Retail competition – are using VR to create new digital training and e-learning experiences.
The Brighton innovation centre Digital Catapult is offering residencies including free space for people working on VR and have just started their own VR and AR meetups. You just have to look at the list of attendees for the first event to see the scene is gathering pace and that the usage of VR is mutating as fast as the artists who are embracing the opportunities. Early adopters have been exploring the possibilities of this technology for a while here and it feel like they’ve been sitting around, headsets donned, wondering where everybody else is – it feels that now the party has officially started and the tribe is gathering.
As experimental becomes experiential the technology to support it is developing at break neck speed too. Occipital, makers of 3D scanning software Skanect and the Structure sensor, have just released a new dev kit that gives real time RGBD data to put a virtual user in real world space by using computer vision, opening up another whole set of possibilites for location based game play and experience.
With big companies such as Facebook weighing in, we are seeing the beginning of consumer adoption. Currently VR experiences are largely based around fairly pricey PC hardwarware on Windows, though the web is littered with references to Apple’s secret development labs. Sony is dropping the barriers to entry with its new VR system for Playstation 4 – PlayStation VR by pricing it at almost half the cost of the HTC Vive and removing the need for purchasing a pricey PC system that is ‘VR ready’. Google is poised to launch its new VR offering ‘Daydream‘, which they tout as “A platform for high quality mobile virtual reality”, while rumours abound about how other tech giants will be joining the race, but harware aside, the old adage that ‘content is king’ holds truer than ever for VR.
NME, partnering with Google, were getting in on the act by giving away Google Cardboard headsets outside Brighton station to promote a virtual tour Inside Abbey Road.
360 degree video accounts for a lot of people’s first taste of the technology, as does Google Cardboard. Arguably though, 360 degree video is not true Virtual Reality at all, although it is something accessible to anyone with a mobile phone and an area where companies are seeking to experiment with commercial ventures, and it is a cheap and effective gateway.
But once you taste true VR, using cutting edge headsets and peripherals, the difference from a 360 degree video experience feels like entering another dimension with body and mind after having merely held a pannable viewmaster to your face.
The next Digital catapult VR meetup is November the 3rd at the Fusebox in Brighton, expect a wealth of ground breaking digital experiences and knowledge sharing from some of the top Brighton creatives. And for web developers, you should also check out the Brighton WebVR Meetup on the 3rd Thursday of each month.