Inside Silicon Valley's VR Expo (SVVR 2016)
Silicon Valley Virtual Reality (SVVR) started as a simple meetup where enthusiasts gathered to talk about ideas. Now, it's taken over half of the San Jose Convention Center, where over 100 VR companies -- including Oculus, pictured -- demonstrated their latest products this past week. Want to take a rough video tour of the floor? Click here.
Disclosure: My wife works for Facebook, in a totally unrelated part of the company.
One of the most impressive demos at SVVR was from a company called High Fidelity: a pair of people played a game of Tic-Tac-Toe on a whiteboard in a shared VR experience. I got to try the whiteboard myself, and it was pretty uncanny.
High Fidelity is the brainchild of the same Philip Rosedale who founded Second Life, a virtual world that was ahead of its time.
One of my favorite VR demos three years running, Tactical Haptics has a special controller that can make virtual objects feel like they actually have a sense of weight. You can pull on a bow string or bungee cord and actually feel the tension. How? The grip of the controller has distinct pieces that move up and down, resisting your motions as you move around.
Nokia brought its $60,000 Ozo camera to SVVR as well. It uses eight different lenses to capture the world all around it, creating a 360-degree video. When you watch that video in a VR headset, you can turn around and feel like you've been transported somewhere else. Disney recently signed a deal with Nokia to use the camera, perhaps to film behind-the-scenes for new Star Wars and Marvel films.
The Infinadeck is what's known as an "omnidirectional treadmill," and it's designed to let you walk around in virtual reality without ever leaving your room. Instead of a single motorized belt like a conventional treadmill, it's a giant belt made out of other belts pointed the other direction. It's a real trip.
Ever wanted to learn how to de-ice an airplane and get it ready to fly? ForgeFX creates job training simulations that can make you feel a bit like you're operating the actual machines you'd use. This is a 1:1 replica of all the parts of the de-icing machine's cockpit that you'd actually touch if you were there.
A closer look at the de-icing machine's controls.
Pinch and release in front of your face, and you fire a slingshot in the video game. That's the latest demo for Leap Motion's specialized hand-tracking camera, which can be mounted onto the front of an Oculus Rift developer kit.
The Praevidi Turris is another way to get around in virtual reality without leaving your room. Instead of walking, you sit down in this swivel chair and shift your hips forward, backward, left and right to move.
Impressive as always, the Sixense Stem motion controllers let me fire off arrows at an invading horde at SVVR 2016. It's a shame they've been delayed yet again -- this time, to October 2016. It's now been three years since the company wrapped up its Kickstarter campaign.
Sixense Stem (2)
A closer look at the current Sixense Stem. The base station contains a hefty electromagnetic orb, and the controllers rely on those magnetic fields to figure out where they are in virtual reality.
The Dlodlo Glasses are remarkably small for a VR headset, but they're unfortunately named.
They're also not much fun to wear. They gave me a headache.
Bulky and unfinished as it is, I much preferred the Meta 2 augmented reality headset. Like Microsoft's HoloLens, it projects virtual objects into the real world...only it lets you see them across a wider, less claustrophobic field of view. They don't disappear as quickly when you turn your head, in other words.
The Subpac is designed to make you feel the impact of VR across your body by using the power of sound. In other words, it's a subwoofer that you wear like a vest.
Last and definitely not least: Vreal. It's like Twitch for virtual reality -- you share VR experiences with other people by inviting them inside your game. Instead of watching someone play virtual minigolf through a flat 2D window, I donned a VR headset and walked around the virtual golf course while they took their shot.
Like conventional game streaming on Twitch or YouTube, you won't need a copy of the game: you'll just stream it from a remote game server.