Interest in VR seems to be reaching explosive proportions. While most people have still to try out commercial virtual reality headsets, Gateshead Council wants to harness the hype in its brand new VRTGO Laboratories.
Virtual reality is one of the buzz technologies that everyone wants to be involved with. While Google Glass and its augmented reality experience piqued the interest of dedicated tech explorers, it may have inadvertently paved the way for the normalisation of VR headsets. Gamers were probably already sold on the idea. Immersive experiences have been the dream of games developers and players alike for decades.
Now Gateshead Council is on the threshold of an exciting new development of its own. Having backed the digital industries to the hilt with its International Business Centre, Digital Union and the Northern Design Centre, the imminent launch of VRTGO Laboratories on the back of the successful VRTGO conference, looks to be a firm step into the near future.
Chris Pape from Gateshead Council says the Lab could help set Gateshead apart from other national digital hubs. “Every region in the country says it has great creative and digital sectors, but we are looking to separate ourselves from the crowd,” he says. “When the VRTGO conference happened here in autumn 2014, at the end of it we realised that a lot of the key speakers – Atomhawk, CCP Games, Zerolight, Vector 76 – are based here in Gateshead.”
Having supported the gaming industry and other developers through the Digital Union network, the VRTGO Lab seems like the perfect opportunity to gather a pool of local talent in one space. It was happy coincidence, says Chris, as the VRTGO event was timed just as the building next to the Northern Design Centre was being fitted out. “Yes, the sector is still in its infancy, but it is ready to go,” he says. “The conference was brilliant, now we want a centre of excellence here.”
First concepts included hosting an accelerator programme for VR start-ups offering light-touch services, in a similar vein to Ignite100, but the plan now looks to be to plough energy and resource into creating a hothouse centre of VR expertise with established companies and start-ups working together. Oculus has an office in the building and there are four more companies primed to move in.
Tech website The Verge published a longform feature on the re-emergence of VR that interviews pioneers from the 1990s when headsets were a little bulkier and the dreams for the technology were just a little wilder. It includes Scott Fisher who was head of interactive media at the University of Southern California and founder of the NASA Ames Research Center’s Virtual Environment Workstation Project, and Nicole Stenger (pictured above), a digital media artist and creator of the influential virtual reality film Angels.
Oculus VR Jam
Right now it’s jam time. League leader Oculus has put a $1m prize on the table in the ‘Mobile VR Jam 2015’ for its Gear VR Innovator Edition. Prize money is split between two tracks – VR games on one hand, VR experiences and apps on the other – and eligible entrants receive $50 for the unity asset store to get started on their creations.
Participants can sign up at the Mobile VR Jam 2015 page on ChallengePost and then find a team to collaborate with, discuss ideas and get started. The competition starts on 13 April and Oculus’ aim is to fast track development for the Gear VR – an ultra-low latency mobile VR development kit, made in partnership with Samsung using the Galaxy Note 4.
Gear VR’s mobile SDK can be downloaded from the Oculus Developer Centre. Entrants must be older than 18 and be from an eligible country. Contestants will take part in the Jam between 13 April and 11 May and winners will be announced on 4 June. Join the VR Jam discussion in the Oculus Developer Forums.
Meanwhile, mobile manufacturer HTC announced the launch of its Vive VR headset in collaboration with games developer Valve at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Vive will be able to display video at 90 frames per second on two 1,200 by 1,080 pixel screens, and has more than 70 sensors, including a gyroscope, an accelerometer and a laser position sensor. PC Gamer has a quick-look video of a Portal demo for Vive.
Other headsets to look out for include (picture gallery below):
- Durovis Dive – comes as the Dive 5 and Dive 7 for smartphones and tablets.
- vrAse – which uses ‘perfect fit’ cases for the six most popular smartphones and a universal adaptor that stretches from 3.5 to 6.3 inches.
- Avegant Glyph – a self contained unit consisting of an elegant pair of headphones that doubles down as a VR viewer.
- Zeiss Cinemizer – Zeiss’ famed lens technology contained in glasses that link to mobile devices, PCs and gaming systems.
- Altergaze – intriguing 3D printed goggles that can be customised to suit the owner.