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Virtual Reality - Without the Hype

You've hopefully noticed that we've tried to be pretty diligent on this web site by talking about "immersive 3D/VR" rather than just "virtual reality" (VR). The reason for that is whilst we love VR and think that it has real merits in certain situations we also think that from a practical training and learning point of view you are best off having VR as an option, NOT as the ONLY way to do the training.

The panels below summarise the strengths and weaknesses of each approach.

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Pros

  • Almost every learner already has access to a suitable device

  • No issues with nausea

  • Many used to the interaction model from gaming

  • Can do long exercises, from 1 hour to 6 hours or more!

  • Can use anywhere (e.g. on bus, in cafe, on train, on sofa watching TV)

  • Can easily type test for text-chat

  • Can easily read text on in-world screens

Think first person shooter and other games - the user has an ordinary computer/tablet/smartphone but sees a 3D rendered environment which they can explore and interactive with either in third-person mode (so they see their avatar) or in first-person mode.

Immersive 3D

Cons

  • Physical surroundings can distract from what is on the screen

  • Can look away to physical surroundings for support if gets too intense

  • Don't get a good sense of sizes

  • Not as big a Wow factor to engage some users

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Pros

  • No risk of distraction

  • Can make experiences VERY visceral - so good if modelling high -stress situations

  • Great if you use a headset for the task in real life (e.g. breathing apparatus)

  • Get a real sense of size and proportion

  • Huge Wow factor to engage users

The users uses some form of headset and all they see is what is shown in that headset. See below for more information of headset options, and how VR differs from AR and MR.

Virtual Reality

Cons

  • Dedicated devices, expensive but getting cheaper (see Devices below)

  • Can cause nausea in some people (we reckon 10-20% of users may have issues)

  • Can cause problems for some glasses wearers

  • Most people become disorientated after 10-20 minutes or so, so keep exercises short

  • Since the user can't see the physical world they need to be in a safe and secure space, and probably have a "spotter" to watch them

  • Hard to type for text-chat or NPC avatar interactions - have to use pick-lists until voice good enough

  • Can be hard to read text on in-world screens and displays - particularly in small rooms

By default any training created by Trainingscapes will be available on both immersive 3D platforms (i.e. almost any PC, Mac, tablet or smartphone) and on Oculus VR devices (we're looking at HTC and other support in 2019). You might though want to design exercises slightly differently though if you expect the majority of users will be on VR given some of the limitations of VR. But the big advantage of Trainingscapes is that it lets you take an iterative approach, you don't have to decide now, you can author for both, try in both, and then iterate until you have a great piece of learning!

VR Devices
 

Quite apart from the range of different manufacturers (Oculus, HTC, Samsung, Google etc) there are also a range of different virtual reality headset types. Here is a quick summary of the main types out there - in order of rising cost! Trainingscapes can be used with any of the types, although we no longer recommend the Cardboard type for all but the simplest exercises.

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Google's design of one bit of cardboard (plus two lenses) that folded into a VR headset that you then slid your mobile phone into was put into the public domain so loads of companies make them, and brands get them printed up and then give them away for free. Your mobile phone needs a simple VR utility app, and will then run any VR app compatible with cardboard. Note that V1 had no button and so was only useful to watch 360 VR (see below), but V2 had a button. Even so interaction is limited, and so a separate handheld controller (about £5) is useful. Headband optional to save arm ache!  really only useful for consumer engagement, not recommended for commercial use. Since it is made of cardboard it only lasts a short time.

Free - c. £10

Google Cardboard

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As above, but made with plastic and has a box that you put your phone into to. Again V1 had no button, V2 has a button - but often doesn't work well. Not really a big step up, and again avoid for commercial use. You still need to provide your own phone.

c. £10-20

"Plastic" Cardboards

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A big step up from the above, the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream still both need you to provide your own (high-end) phone, but the headset is more comfortable, may have active cooling, and there are both headset switches and dedicated hand controllers. Only 3DOF though and realistically been overtake by Oculus Go and similar.

c. £30-100

Phone Plug-Ins

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Oculus Go is probably the most usable VR headset around at a consumer price point. It has all the hardware built into the headset (effectively a mobile phone without the phone), and so doesn't need a PC. Quality is almost as good as a tethered Oculus CV1, but the whole system is far more usable. You use your own phone to control what is on the headset - but apps are downloaded to the headset not your phone. The big drawback is that the headset only has 3 degrees of freedom - in other words it tracks your head as you look around and up and down, but not if you move laterally from side to side, or crouch down. Having been used to that on the Rift and HTC Vive its incredible how much we miss it. It also doesn't track the hand controller.

c. £150-£350

Untethered Integrated 3DOF Headsets

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This could be the holy grail of VR headsets. Typified by the forthcoming Oculus Quest this is similar to the Oculus Go but adds 6DOF tracking, so it knows if you are peering in or kneeling down, and it tracks the hand controllers, and all of this without any external sensors. Some set-up may be required, but otherwise it's a go anywhere bit of VR kit.

c. £400 when available (1Q19)

Untethered Integrated 6DOF Headsets

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The VR rush started with the Oculus Rift and was soon joined by the HTC Vive. Both use a beefy PC (gaming specs, so £1000 plus) to actually run the applications, the headset is purely for display. 1 or 2 sensors provide "desk-scale" 6DOF movement tracking for the Rift, and 4 sensors provide room-scale tracking for the Vive (but think of the safety issues!).  The cord from the headset to the PC is a real trip hazard, but wireless solutions are available. Until the Quest arrives the only reasonable choice for commercial VR, assuming that Daydream and Gear VR are fading.

c. £400 + £1000 PC

Tethered Headsets

VR vs 360 vs MR vs AR
 

One of the big issues with VR is that it can mean different things to different people, and is also often confused with things like 360 video, Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR). Here's our quick guide to the differences. Note that Trainingscapes is currently only designed to work with "true" VR.

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Virtual Reality is where you don a headset and all you can see is what is being generated by that headset. You have no sense of the physical world around you and are mentally and emotionally transported to a new location and experience. 

You only see what is Digital

Virtual Reality

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USes a VR headset (any type), but effectively puts you into the middle of a giant sphere, the inside walls of which are a "360" (actually 720) degree photo (used to be called a bubble-photo) or video. In the earliest versions you could just look around, but nowadays you can embed hotpots so as to pull up descriptions, audio or 2D video or jump to a  new sphere. Ideal for things like estate agents tours and some historical tours, but lack of agency limits the applications somewhat. There is some potential to run 360 photosphere alongside proper VR 3D content - should be do'able in Trainingscapes. One issue with a lot of 360 stuff is that you only want to look in one direction anyway - so why bother with 360/720, and with 360 video it can be very nauseous when you are looking one way but the cameraman goes off in another!

You only see what is Digital, but you can't move!

360 Image and Photo Virtual Reality

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In conventional AR you look at your phone or tablet screen as though taking a photo or vide, but what you see has some form of digital asset laid on top of it. Pokemon Go is the most well-known example. You can get marker (and marker-less) AR where the digital asset is pasted over the top of (or anchored to) a marker image (as in our photo, good for putting furniture in rooms or bringing up explainer graphics), and geo-spatial AR where the digital asset location is linked to some real-world GPS or postcode location (we are working on a project like that for battlefield interpretation).

Pasting Digital onto the Physical

Augmented Reality

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With Mixed Reality headsets such as Microsoft's Hololens and the Magic Leap you view reality directly through a visored headset, but 3D digital assets are displayed on the visor in such a way that they seem to be anchored in and aware of the 3D space you are looking at.  So for instance if you push a virtual glass of water off the table it will fall onto the floor. The future scope is incredible and a good complement to VR but current systems have very narrow fields of view - don't be taken in by the Microsoft marketing shot!

Embedding Digital into the Physical

Mixed Reality

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We suppose they have their uses but they tend to be big ticket prestige installations that can be shown off to visitors, rather than getting everyday use by everyone as is possible with immersive 3D and even VR.  In a simple cave the user stands in a room where all 3, 4 , 5 or 6 sides are digital projection. In more advanced versions the user wears a set of 3D glasses (old-skool colour or polarisation style) so they get a sense of depth - and can even have objects in the middle of the room. Large single screen versions also available. Often though only one person sees the "true" picture, and others get a distorted view. Simple CAVEs can be great creative spaces though for art or for working with young kids or with some learning disabilities.

White elephants?

CAVEs and 3D Displays