Google’s Experiment With Light Fields Show Potential of VR

The stunning seven-minute guided tour is now available on Steam VR.

Google is working on ways to create the most realistic sense of presence while in VR. To help with that, Google has been experimenting with light fields to show how VR can come as close as possible to what you’d actually see if you were there.

“When you’re actually in a place, the world reacts to you as you move your head around: light bounces off surfaces in different ways and you see things from different perspectives,” said Paul Debevec, Senior Researcher at Google VR. Light fields can help elevate this presence in VR by “creating still captures that give you an extremely high-quality sense of presence by producing motion parallax and extremely realistic textures and lighting.”

While wrapping your head around the advanced capture, stitching, and rendering algorithms involved in light fields can be complicated, Google has shared a free app on Steam VR that demonstrates the potential of this technology in a simple way. “Welcome to Light Fields” is available for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets.

The seven-minute guided tour is an impressive display of a few places where Google tested out their light field-recording camera rig. You can check out the varnished teak and mahogany interiors at the Gamble House in Pasadena, the fragments of glossy ceramic and shiny mirrors adorning the Mosaic Tile House in Venice, and the sun-filled stained glass window at St. Stephen’s Church in Granada Hills. Best of all, the Smithsonian Institute’s Air and Space Museum and 3D Digitization Office gave Google access to NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery, providing an astronaut’s view inside the orbiter’s flight deck which has never been open to the public.

Be sure to move your head around and view subject matter from all different angles. Different rays of light coming into the volume of space are recorded from all angles thanks to a modified GoPro Odyssey Jump camera, bent into a vertical arc of 16 cameras mounted on a rotating platform. There are even some recordings of people showing how eye contact can be made to work in a 6-degrees-of-freedom experience.

“VR video is a promising technology for exploring the world, and while they are still an experiment, light fields show a new level of how convincing virtual reality experiences can be,” said Debevec.

Download the demo for free and check it out for yourself. Take your time exploring the spaces in the Gallery, it’s worth it. While just a sample of what’s possible when capturing more realistic VR, this is a huge step forward that we can all be excited about.

Image Credit: Google VR

About the Scout

Jonathan Nafarrete

Jonathan Nafarrete is the co-founder of VRScout.

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