But VR isn’t just a cool experience. They are also cool technologists who would have been called science fiction some 10 years ago, but now they are available to us at home.
As you can imagine, replacing our reality with a virtual one is not an easy task. Therefore, very clever technologies are used in the VR world. And the first interesting set of technologies used in VR helmets is tracking.
There are two radically different approaches to tracking in modern VR helmets. The first is called inside-out tracking or internal tracking. It works in a simple way.
The helmet houses several wide angle cameras that track your controllers and the position of the helmet in relation to the environment. And so that the controllers are clearly visible – they are highlighted. The advantage of this approach is that it is cheap and easy to set up and use.
The downside is that such tracking is not the most accurate, and the cameras cannot fix the position of the hands when they are out of view – for example, behind the back. And hands behind your back in VR games are not uncommon. For example, when you swing like-a-pro laser swords in Beat Saber. Also, inventory and heavy weapons are often hidden there.
This tracking system is used in the Oculus Rift S and Quest, as well as the younger HTC Vive Cosmos.
Another system is called Lighthouse, which translates into Russian as a lighthouse. But the easiest way to call the system is external tracking. In it, beacons or base stations are placed opposite each other, outlining your playing area and let’s go.
First base station flashes with infrared light. A wide incident laser beam is emitted immediately behind it. Each IR blink is a reference point. And so 60 times a second.
From the moment the first blink is received, the helmet and controllers start counting 1,2,3 and so on. Their sensors then pick up the laser beam. But due to the displacement of the sensors in space, one sensor will catch the beam at count 3, another at 5, the third, for example, at 11. And just based on this delay in the count from the sensors, the position of the helmet and controllers in space is calculated.
External trekking is much more accurate and reliable. But in the beginning, you will have to spend a little time installing the lighthouses – I put them on tripods, but you can put them on a shelf or attach to the wall.
Such a system is used in the Oculus Rift, Valve Index, HTC Vive first wave, and in the current HTC Vive Cosmos Elite. But with Vive Cosmos in particular, there are nuances.
At the very beginning, I told you that Vive Cosmos is a whole modular ecosystem. Which at the moment consists of two sentences:
- Plain Cosmos
- Premium Cosmos Elite
Both versions use the same helmet, but they use different modules. So in the basic configuration, the helmet has a front panel with internal tracking. It has as many as six cameras with a wide view of 310 degrees. Also, there are no beacons in the kit and the controllers, respectively, are there for internal tracking – glowing.
Elite comes with all external tracking modules. But the whole joke is that by changing modules, one model can be turned into another.
For example, you can upgrade from a junior model to an older one. Or you can go further and connect the most advanced controllers with tracking of all Knuckles fingers from Valve Index to the older model. Imagine, they will work great if you find them somewhere.
The next important technology is screens. Critical to the screen in VR is the display lag time. OLED screens are the fastest, which is why mastery began with them. But another problem arose with them.
The fact is that when you use a VR headset, your eyes are very close to the displays and it is extremely important to have very high resolution and pixel density. Therefore, OLED displays for VR are not the best choice today. In OLED, the diodes are at a respectable distance from each other and the PenTile layout is used. Therefore, these displays appear grainy and have a mosquito net effect. In the future, these problems are likely to be solved by microLED.
In the meantime, the best choice for VR is the Super-Fast LCD. In fact, this is the same IPS only fast. This is exactly what the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite stands for.
The second important parameter is the refresh rate, it should be at least 80 Hz, and preferably 90 or higher. Now the highest frequency for the Valve Index helmet is 144 Hz, but in practice you are unlikely to find a computer that can produce such an FPS, because in VR you need to render two different images at the same time, for the left and right eyes.
What do we have in the Vive Cosmos Elite? Those Super-Fast LCD displays, 90 Hz refresh rate and the highest resolution on the consumer market, 1440 x 1700 pixels for each display, resulting in 2880 x 1700 pixels.
In Valve Index and HTC Vive Pro, the resolution is slightly lower – 1440 × 1600, that is, the difference is only 100 pixels in height. And it seems that this is not much, but in a VR headset this difference is felt and also plays in favor of the viewing angle.
This is the third important parameter in VR. Here it is 110 degrees thanks to lenses that are superimposed on the screen to give the image a spherical picture familiar to our eye.
The larger the viewing angle, the less pronounced the effect of the “screen window” and we get closer to full coverage of human vision. Moreover, HTC Vive Pro had an OLED screen, so the transition to IPS (Super Fast LCD) and the increase in resolution are very noticeable here.
Another cool technology that I would like to talk about is now in professional solutions from HTC. This is an eye tracking system – Vive Pro Eye and it allows you to implement foveal rendering technology.
The fact is that our eye sees clearly only the area where it is focused, everything that it perceives around it is a little blurry. Knowing where the gaze is directed at a given moment, you can display this area with the highest possible quality. And the rest of the area on the screen may not be rendered in full quality. As a result, such a life hack gives a serious serious improvement in the picture with the same hardware. This is a very cool technology. Now they even learned how to track saccades.
Okay, let’s go further. What do you think is the biggest obstacle to immersion in virtual reality? Thinking low resolution? No, it’s not like that. The biggest limitation today is wires!
And here HTC has a huge trump card up its sleeve. There is a wireless kit – VIVE Cosmos Wireless Adapter Attachment Kit. This thing works on a special Wi-Fi standard – 802.11ad. This is not Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 5. The standard is called WiGig and it operates at 60 GHz, so the speed is fantastic and there is no lag.
True, the battery lasts only for 2 -2.5 hours of play, and you need to insert a separate PCI express card into the computer. But in any case, today it is the most advanced solution to play wirelessly. And while the design feels a little cumbersome, it gives you a whole new experience – full-fledged VR without wires.
But the most important VR technology is games! Therefore, we cut everything up and play!
One of the Myths of VR is that there is nothing to play, which is generally not true. HTC has its own Viveport subscription service. There are currently 1,168 Cosmos Elite compatible titles. In this case, 2 months of subscription are immediately given to you as a gift. But if you immediately put your head into VR, then this is definitely Half Life Alyx!
Trust me, just for this one it’s worth trying VR. When I turned on Alyx for the first time, I stood for about forty minutes in the first location on the balcony, threw cans down, looked at everything around and was simply delighted.
Many people are concerned about the issue of motion sickness in virtual reality helmets. The problem may arise from several parameters – low tracking accuracy or, for example, high latency – there are no problems with this. In games where you stand still, for example, in the same Beat Saber, I immediately felt comfortable!
But at the same time, if you want to feel like a fish in water in any VR world, the vestibular will have to be learned. This is more about the moments when your character in the game moves, and you stand or sit still. It is from this that the conflict arises: the brain does not understand how this can be. Therefore, for a smooth immersion, it is better to choose the “teleport” movement mode, and then smoothly try the full movement, it took me a week, playing for an hour a day, for all the discomfort to go away. Then all that remains is to get high – and it’s worth it!
Half Life Alyx is great for this kind of learning – but this is just one project and by far the best. I am sure that even cooler projects will appear, they are already in development.
Another great example of Walking Dead: Sins and Sinners. But I do not recommend this project to people with weak nerves. Then there is the viral Beat Saber, which I spent many hours in. In general, there will be enough games for more than one month of play.
By the way, what is lacking in many helmets is the connection with the outside world. In HTC Vive Cosmos, you can “open the visor” – flip the screen and see what is happening around.
The future of VR
But let’s take a look at where VR is heading in the coming years. Naturally, we want a complete immersion in virtual worlds like in the movie Get Ready Player One or in the Russian translation “Ready Player One”. Therefore, VR suits with recoil have already begun to appear, or you can assemble them yourself.
The Vive Cosmos ecosystem implies the connection of additional modules that can be attached to the legs or other parts of the body. This will give your avatar even more liveliness. Already, some enthusiasts are using such modules for VR chat in other social VR platforms. The Covid story only pushes this development forward.
Personally, I have already attended several VR events, presentations, concerts, even went to the movies with friends. This is a whole world that appears and develops rapidly with us. A world of endless possibilities, not only in games.
In addition to communication, you can create in VR, creating 3D models, as sculptors, architects, animators.
Speaking of cinema, when filming Mowgli, Jon Favreau actively used VR to immerse the actors in the world of the future film. And every day more and more professional software appears for different areas. I am sure that soon there will be professions that will only exist in VR.
It is clear that nowadays VR is an expensive pleasure. The HTC Vive Cosmos Elite helmet in Russia costs 100 thousand rubles. In this case, you can purchase a wireless adapter. Keep in mind that you also need a powerful PC to play VR games.
The entrance threshold is high, but sometimes it is worth paying for a ticket to the future, especially when you want to get there before the rest.