It seems that 2016 is shaping up to be the year VR breaks big. Sure, Oculus has made a sizeable splash over the last two years with its Rift headset, but VR is dominating this year’s Mobile World Congress.
A quick look around at the exhibitor stands reveals the presence – at least in part – of VR, and one can’t help notice that Samsung’s VR gear is looming large over the expo. In fact, the South Korean company seems to have completely cornered the segment of the market involving VR headsets that makes use of a smartphone as a screen.
Oculus, for its part, is pitting itself against HTC and its Vive – and this is going to be the battle to watch.
While the Rift hasn’t been made available at MWC, the Vive has, and we managed to get some alone time with it, to try out two of the applications on offer.
MWC 2016: Tilt Brush
Strapping on the goggles and putting the earphones on your head, you are given two handles that look like spatulas with holes in them – the first thought was that it resembles donuts on sticks.
That aside, Tilt Brush is a paint application – like Microsoft’s Paint – but only so much better. The right hand controls the brush strokes, while the left hand is in control of the technical details such as the colour, the type of stroke, and deletion.
But here is the thing – the paint space is completely 3D enabling users to walk around inside their creation. The best way that it can be described is a giant virtual 3D printing – when you are in control of the filament by hand.
The work area in which you can move around is determined by two sensors located on the walls. The further apart they are from each other, the bigger the area you can walk around in. But don’t worry about going off-grid, as the goggles display a blue grid when you get close to the edge.
It is actually very difficult to faithfully retell what it looks like, but the best that we can do is that it is a giant virtual 3D printer, which you conjure up creations in mid-air, and you are able to walk around them and view them from all angles.
Apart from the regular brushes and colours, one of the brushes is fire, and when you use in to your creation, it adds extra light, there is a slight crackle over the headphones and the flames move in the area that you drew.
Virtual painting has never been so much fun.
MWC 2016: Elite Dangerous
The Vive can be used in gaming and it’s here that it might boast the biggest appeal, although demoing the technology in a space simulator at MWC is either the dumbest thing HTC could do – or the smartest.
For those that don’t know, Elite Dangerous is a space flight and combat simulator in which the HUD is the cockpit of your ship and you’re tasked with shooting down enemies alongside conducting some space trading at different ports (there’s surely more to it than that! Adam).
For the Vive demo, HTC put us in the cockpit of a Sidewinder with a group of enemies buzzing around us – the tutorial level of the game, which makes sense as it is easy to reset for the next demo.
Having played the console version, I was fairly confident in my flying ability, but I did not account for the fact that a VR environment is very different to staring at a static screen.
During the VR demo menus could be activated by turning one’s head to the left and right. It was also possible to crane you neck beyond the menu popups and stare at the back of the ship and the seats behind you.
You are free to look wherever you want, and with Elite and a lot of it looks gorgeous. The problem, however, is the affect the game has on your sense of balance and the nausea when you push down on the throttle.
Pushing down on the throttle and pulling up on the joystick, I could feel my stomach sink a bit. I thought it was a bit strange as I have never suffered from motion or sea sickness, so I brushed it off.
In any case, I soon fixed my gaze on a enemy ship, which made the feeling go away. Then it happened again.
With nobody around me (in space) I thought it was a good idea to do a corkscrew loop. It wasn’t.
The effect was almost instantaneous as the nausea started to set in. It is similar to sea sickness, where you feel like you are going to throw up because of the motion. The only way that I could make it stop was to either slow down the ship to a grinding halt, or to fix my gaze on something in the distance so that my brain could orientate itself.
MWC 2016: First Impressions
Look, any new technology that can immerse me even more into gaming, I’m hooked. Is it worth the R12 000 that HTC has priced it at? I’m not so sure.
But with that said, the experience was amazing and the highlight was definitely the Tilt Brush experience. The applications for education – and fun – look very promising. Can you imagine a classroom filled with Vives in which students are taught using VR? Pricey, yes, but arguably worth it.