Tag Archive: Avatar

Imagine There is VR and You Don’t Even Realize it…

I got some comments and messages from people complaining: “Ok there is a 3D wave, but i don’t see VR.”  So… I thought I’d write expand on the topic a bit more. VR is definitely in the media and in the movies again. “But where?” – you might ask.

VR is back in Hollywood – but, as usual, it has advanced somewhat for the silver screen; its more high tech, looks cooler, and seems even more improbable. Hollywood needs that. If film makers wanna give the impression of something being futuristic they don’t tend to take a 10 year old laptop from the shelf, they mock it up in cardboard, spray paint, and green screen to make it look cool. They also attempt to predict future technology: “This is how it’s gonna evolve in XX years”. We call that Science Fiction. Let’s look at how hollywood has resurrected VR and pimped it for some recent movies – can you guess which ones?

Let’s start with the world’s new favorite – Avatar. The movie plays in the distant future, so they had to fluff the VR a lot to make it look truly evolved. In the movie Jake controls his “Avatar” through machinery that is not really explained much further, but it seems to be some sort of advanced VR cryo chamber. To sustain our suspension of disbelief in Cameron’s future (casual 90’s VR would have looked a bit old fashioned) the idea of Virtual Reality was extended so that our heros (and vicariously, the audience, through 3D) get full immersion complete with the impression of body feedback and movement. Maybe one day it will be feasible to “bypass” the nerves and instead of making one’s legs move, the nerve signals are rerouted to some computer which will accurately render your leg in 3D space. In Avatar it goes even one step further – taking VR from cyberspace back into reality – the controlled “Avatar” is – unlike in our current VR setups – taken back to reality, some kind of humanoid Robot moving through your neighborhood. In terms of overall credibility, the  FilthyCritic sums up Avatar nicely.

The next movie could be Avatar 2 – judging from the vision of future VR portrayed – but it surprisingly is completely independent and has nothing to do with Avatar. Surprisingly the idea is exactly the same – lay down on an unexplained cryo chair and be able to fully control your robot’s body. “Surrogates” stars Bruce Willis who is hunting down the criminals that hacked in VR systems, changing their programs so that, if your robot dies, you also die in the non-virtual world… with considerable gore, blood streaming from your eyes and ears, and certainly ruining the VR headset forever.

The third movie is called “Gamer“. In this movie some rotten prisoners are altered by nanotech techniques so that someone else can take over their movements and see from their eyes. The person controlling the con-avatar is not wearing a VR headset – but instead, humorously using a CAVE – a quite uncommon form of VR where all walls of a room are turned into screens (Usually with multiple projectors), producing an excellent immersive 3D experience. The film’s vision goes even further: non-cons also “work” as willing VR slaves by their own choice, which seems a bit far off from today’s ethics.
To sum up, I’d say that Hollywood has not totally forgotten about VR, they’ve just advanced it a (tiny) bit.

The return of Virtual Reality?

Well we all saw how the VR hype slowly faded out in the late 90s – so how can i put up such a title?

Some people might have noticed the recent boom of 3D related stuff. It somehow started last year, suddenly the buried technology was quickly excavated and sold as the most brilliant innovation of 2009. We are not really sure who started it. Maybe it was “Avatar”, the new most seen movie in the world, maybe it was Fuji with the first digital 3D consumer camera – or was it Panasonic with their new Professional 3D camcorder? And the new wave continued – this year we were excited to learn that Nintendo’s next DS handheld will have a 3D screen and that the soccer worldcup will be aired in 3D.

And as with the VR hype we get countless options to buy Snake Oil again. Yeah suddenly all new TV’s are quickly converted to “HD 3D TV Sets” by just throwing a pair of cheap shutterglasses into the box.

I think it is safe to claim that the average IQ went down a bit if these sell really well as they are still the same kind of Shutterglasses that they tried to sell you in the early 90s as the “ultimate 3D experience”. Okay this year they are wireless, but if you have a remote idea about what shutterglasses are you will have to admit that it makes very limited sense to run around while wearing them unless you own a TV set that is willing to run in front of you.

Anyways, i think it is clear we will see enough people that kiss their brand new 3000 Dollar “3D TV”, proudly wearing their shutter glasses, knowing they have reached the pinnacle of technology.

Anone who is having doubts about these predictions definitely missed the whole history of 3D which – since Sir Charles Wheatstone invented the tech in 1838.

What Mr. Wheatstone probably did not know was that his technology would spread as a wave that permanently goes up and down – between hype and forgotten. Will this curse be banned and everything will be 3D from now on? Very unlikely. As in 1838 most people will drool about the “new” tech for a while, but soon after the first shutter glasses will get lost under the couch again – just as usual. Some ideas presented last year were quite interesting, but most probably no breakthrough. That the Fuji “W1” camera comes with a revolutionary new display that allows viewing 3D without glasses is true, but the parallax barrier is neither new nor perfect. If you ever held a Fuji W1 in your hands you will get what i mean – unless you hold the display perfectly straight and aligned with your eyes it simply won’t work. The angle of view is probably like 3 Degree, the slightest tilt of your head and the 3D is gone. First Digital camera display that only one person a a time can view.

I think the only final answer to 3D would be a display without glasses that has an extremely far angle of view and a price tag that is extremely close to casual displays.

But Okay that’d 3D and what about the VR stuff you promised? OK got me – there isn’t really anything new at the classic VR market, no stunning new VR helmets or headtrackers. But the fate of VR has always been tied to the fate of 3D. If the current 3D hype will keep going as the industry wants us to believe then VR will get a second chance. The first wonder already happened – and remains undetected by most pros – the game to our world’s most popular movie – avatar. To my highest astonishment the game features a Field sequential stereoscopic mode – and suddenly i was playing a 2010 game on my old 1995 iglasses and VFX-3D VR headsets without any obscure combination of old stereoscopic Nvidia drivers and hardware. But as expected – the video game magazines didn’t really take notice of this small sensation. Can’t blame them as most writers there probably wore diapers when Cybermaxx, VFX-1 and co hit the market in mid 90s.

Does this save VR immediately? Not really, but it’s some light in this room that was dark for years. Insider joke: Q: How could you immediately make VR an industry standard and have everyone buy a VR headset? A: Have Apple rebrand a batch of old VFX-1 as “iVR”.