With all the hype around virtual reality, in particular the Oculus Rift, there was a new development over the summer that caught my interest: WebVR, an experimental tool for creating virtual reality experiences in a web browser. WebVR is barely more than a proof of concept, but it has some potential benefits over native applications. It has the web as a networked delivery platform, and will hopefully have the ability to link between virtual reality experiences. WebVR isn’t even in beta versions of any browsers and probably won’t be for a while, but it is available in experimental builds of Firefox and Chrome now.
For my first WebVR experiment, I decided to try recording the motion of the headset to see if we could play it back. The demo will load in any modern browser, and you can play back the head motion I recorded to see the virtual space from my point of view. If you have an Oculus Rift and one of the WebVR browser builds, you can view the space in the headset yourself and record your own motion for playback. WebVR provides direct access to the position and orientation of the headset, and the demo page takes a data sample about 60 times per second and stores it along with the time.
There are a few potential uses I can imagine for data like this. The first is to simply play the experience back for an audience. There are many screen-captured videos around the web of virtual reality experiences, but they are mostly low-resolution copies. This code points to a way for media creators to share high-resolution experiences, and potentially with the head-tracked motion smoothed after the fact. One could also record users’ experiences and data-mine them to determine which parts of an experience are grabbing their attention. Visual elements that are ineffective or distracting could be replaced to improve the experience over time. The original Oculus developer kit only captures orientation, but the DK2 and later models capture position as well and could be useful in capturing full performances, where the recording drive the motion of a character or a camera for a film rendered offline.
There is a tremendous amount of work to be done to get web browsers ready for virtual reality, both in fine-tuning performance and designing the API to support a full WebVR experience. But even now it’s an easy way to start building VR prototypes and the kind of experiments that are necessary to drive those design decisions.
Let us know if you can think of any other uses for recording VR headset motion. Share a link. You can comment below, use the hashtag #povtech or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.