UX and Sporting Events in VR

I’m not huge fan of sporting events. And I’m even less of a fan of the Olympics. But this year, the Olympics represents an important step forward in the mainstreaming of virtual reality.

A mainstream introduction to sporting events in virtual reality - The 2016 Rio Olympics in VR, brought to you by the CBCAs a Canadian, my national broadcaster is the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). Right now, the CBC is proudly broadcasting select Olympic events in VR. And not just any VR – mobile VR. The flagship platform is Gear VR – but the broadcasts also work with Google Cardboard. And on mobile devices, and desktops.

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Snow and the WebVR Boilerplate

Back in the days of Flash, I’d get to “model” snow a couple of times around Christmas every year. For some animated corporate Christmas cards, usually. So, when the time came to try out the WebVR Boilerplate – that’s what I chose for my first experiment. Gently falling snow.

(The above example is an iFrame – to pop it out for your VR goggles, click here)

The WebVR Boilerplate is a collection of files that does everything you need to do to get something in WebVR up and running, really easy. So that seems perfect for me! The base-state of the boilerplate shows just a rotating cube, in a room defined by a bright green grid. So all I did, to make this demo, was to remove the cube and start coding up the snow!

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360 Photos on the Open Web

One of my hobbies is photography. So as I begin dabbling in VR, I find myself quite curious about 360 photos. A 360 photo is the “bare minimum” of a VR experience.

A flattened Equirectangular Image (an unwrapped 360 image) of a little girl sitting on a jetty at the beach
How can we make this 360 photo fully immersive and available to everyone on the Open Web?

What is a 360 photo?

A 360 photo goes by many names, but each describes a photograph that completely surrounds the camera. It shows what is in front – in back – off to the sides – and above and below. ALL of it. You can look all around, and everywhere you look has been captured in the photo.

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Storysharing – Beyond Storytelling in VR

Storysharing in VR - photo by Pete GrayA lot has been made of the role of VR in the art of storytelling. Even more has been made of the role of storytelling in the fledgling art of VR. At first, I was fascinated by the idea. But the more I thought about it – the more I read about it – the more I started to wonder how many “interactive” concepts could be added to an idea that is 7/12 “telling”, without the very idea of “storytelling” bursting at the seams. The dead-end implications of “telling” anything to users with the capacity for full interaction weighed on me. So I came up with the term storysharing.

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Super Stylized Solar System with A-Frame VR

For my first attempt at creating VR content for the web, I tried something called A-Frame. And it was as easy as the day is long.

(This is in an iFrame – to pop it out for your VR goggles, click here)

Obviously, this demo is just a doodle. A boisterous doodle.

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WebVR is Easy with A-Frame

About a week ago, I got my first set of VR goggles. Nothing fancy – it’s the Samsung Gear VR. I explored some of the demos. (great fun!) Some of what I explored was WebVR, which just became available on Gear VR (without the use of “experimental browsers”) a couple of weeks ago – albeit with a “deprecated API”. (which means, an old obsolete version.) Then I took a crack at a tool called A-Frame.

WebVR is easy with A-FrameA-Frame makes WebVR easy. Easy peasy. It reminds me of X3DOM – it’s a “declarative language”, so it drives a lot like HTML5. All of the things you declare when you’re using A-Frame get added to the “DOM” (Document Object Model), so everything in your “world” can be accessed and manipulated just like you would the elements on a plain, old-fashioned web page. Which, really, makes a lot of things easy. Easy peasy.

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The Dawn of WebVR and Gear VR

I don’t always try to get to the bottom of a new technology before there’s commercial demand for it. But when I do, it’s because the potential of a technology really stands out. And that’s the case with the dawn of WebVR.

The dawn of WebVR and my Gear VR gear
Note the “ENTER VR” button. Yes please!

I’d tried a bunch of the WebVR demos on my flat monitor. Yup, that provides a 3D experience like anything from VRML on. But the kick with WebVR is that your 3D stuff can get rendered either on a monitor, or in a VR headset.

Two weeks ago, this happened:

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VR Goggles and Corrective Eyewear (Glasses)

I was a little concerned about the optics in my first VR goggles, given that I wear glasses.

I’d heard that you can’t fit your glasses into the headset – and it’s true – you gotta take your glasses off, to put the headset on.

Samsung Gear VR goggles don't fit over glasses - but that's okay.
My first VR rig is the Samsung Gear VR Headset – and I wear glasses…

Now, my glasses are pretty pedestrian – not too powerful, and only correct for near-sightedness. I certainly have to wear them to drive. But I do take them off for photography – so I can press the viewfinder right against myself.

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Mobile VR and the Web (which is already mobile)

If 87% of VR headsets in consumers’ hands (or on their heads) are mobile VR – then the experiences we create will have to give good UX on mobile VR.

I’m a web guy, and I’m fascinated by the onset of VR. And as a web guy, I’m convinced that mobile VR will be essential to the 3D web.

I was considering picking up some of the high-end VR goggles and experimenting with technologies like WebVR. Trouble is, the high-end ones need a heavy-duty computer to even function.

Mobile VR - Google Cardboard
Mobile VR – Google Cardboard

The “easy way” to get into VR these days is with mobile VR. Mobile VR is really just a piece of plastic (or cardboard) with some lenses that you attach to your smartphone, to experience “low end” VR.

Based on a number of factors, I’ve decided to take the plunge into mobile VR, and leave that high-end stuff alone for now.

First up – the web is already mobile. Much of the last decade has been spent coming to grips with the fact that people use the web everywhere on all manner of hardware. The way websites are built has evolved considerably to take this into account.

But here’s the kicker:

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