Taking the Vive for a Spin
At the VRLA expo yesterday, I finally had the opportunity to see SteamVR in action. While the show room floor was full of amazing new companies and creations, the Vive demo was the golden ticket. In order to test the Vive, we had to be escorted up to a room in the Marriott away from the rest of the show. No video cameras allowed. Tensions were a bit high as VRLA and WEVR dealt with some backlash from an RSVP system failure.
As we waited outside the demo room, we had a chance to speak with WEVR co-founder and CEO, Neville Spiteri. We talked briefly about the platform and the OnWEVR program. He was telling me that the WEVR platform sits somewhere between YouTube’s more linear 360 content and fully immersive gaming engines like Unreal when the door opened. It was my turn.
When I stepped into the room, I noticed the lighthouse units right away, perched atop 10-foot light stands. The WEVR team helped me strap in. It was a process. The Vive prototype is fully wired, so you have to wear a harness belt for all the cords. With the belt and the headset on, the back of my head was connected to the back of my pants. I imagine that’s what it would feel like to tuck your pony tail into your pants, but I don’t know why that would ever happen. Maybe for a job interview. Not to worry. The consumer version will be wireless.
One of the workers acted as my virtual spirit guide, offering a few tips in my headphones as I acclimated to my surroundings. I practiced blowing up balloons of all colors and flinging them. I fell in love with the controllers instantly. The positional tracking is ridiculous.
After my warm up, we jumped into WEVR’s demo – The Encounter. I had read about the experience but didn’t really know what to expect. As the white intro screen faded, a new world took shape around me. I was standing on the deck of a ship. The air bubbles and small fish swimming around told me it was at the bottom of the sea. A peek up to the surface high above confirmed it. The Vive’s display was incredibly crisp. As I began to walk around, the fish would dart out of the way when my hands got too close. I was blown away by the accuracy and got lost in the demo.
I approached the bow of the ship. Or maybe the stern. Either way, that was where I my brain got in the way. Approaching the railing, I looked down at the ocean floor far below. I knew I was still standing in a Marriott conference room, but even so, I couldn’t bring myself to step past the ledge at first. I spent a few seconds standing there with my feet planted before my manual override kicked it. When I finally was able to take that step, it made me feel kinda funny.
After my proprioceptive struggle, the big guy arrived. Or gal. A huge blue whale. It swam in from the left side of the ship and stopped. I paused, then stepped forward, looking directly into its tire-sized eye. After playing with the little fish, I had to see how it would react. When I brought my hand near the eye, it gave me a big whale blink. Then turned its head and whipped its massive tail inches from my face as it took off into the blue.
Color Me Bad
The second and final demo was a 3D painting experience. Rather than being transported to another world, I was given a blank canvas. I painted a crude 3D house. More like a box with a bush in it. Then I let drew a blue sun because I’d never seen a blue sun before. Its light reflected off the side of the box. A little snow falling on top and my masterpiece was complete. When my time was up, I shed my exoskeleton and wished fellow VRScout Jarrett Quon had been able to demo the paint simulator. Sketches are his thing.
If the Vive doesn’t get everyone excited about VR, I don’t know what will. I can’t wait to see what people do with it over the next six months. Fortunately Neville and fellow co-founder Anthony Batt invited us in to the studio for a follow-up. Stay tuned.