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The public’s interest in the topic of VR comes and goes, but technology continues to improve steadily. If you are considering whether to buy a virtual reality helmet, then this article is for you: we will analyze in detail the pluses of everything that is on the market now and give recommendations on how to choose it.
November 19, 2019 Valve announced on her twitter the release of the new part of the cult series of Half-Life games – Half-Life: Alyx. Of course, the news is good for fans of the game, and for gamers in general. And all would be fine, but the developers said that a new game will be available only virtual reality helmet owners!
Later, the official trailer for the game appeared, and it looks pretty good.
Of course, this event has stirred up not only the VR community, but also many gaming and near-game publications that used to bypass the VR theme. Opinions are divided: someone says that VR is dead, nobody needs a new “Halva” in VR and in general it’s Valve’s “dull VR ambitions”, and someone – that VR is "more alive than any living" and that a new era of computer gaming is about to begin.
Who is right? Is it worth it to run head over heels and buy a VR helmet right now? What is the state of the VR industry today? And is it only Halvah that you can indulge in there? Let's try to figure it out and find the answers.
Looking ahead, I’ll say that VR today is not only games, but also 3D modeling, as well as watching 3D movies, 3D panoramas, walking on Google Maps and other similar pleasures.
Do you remember how it all started?
I will not write about VR of the nineties of the last century – although this is an interesting topic, it has little to do with today. We only need to know that the industry’s first approach to this topic brought such terrible results that for many years no one even tried to do something like that.
Virtual reality in its modern form should be associated with the launch of the fundraising for the production of the Oculus Rift helmet in the summer of 2012 and the announcement Google cardboard in the spring of 2014.
Cardboard is a cardboard box with two lenses where a telephone is inserted, onto the screen of which a special application displays a stereo picture.
The quality of 3D images in glasses like Google Cardboard was determined by the resolution of the phone’s display (Google recommended models with a screen of 1080p), and tracking of head turns was assigned to a telephone gyroscope. That is, I launched the application on the phone, inserted it into the “cardboard” – and you are already in VR: you see 3D and you can turn your head around in this new wonderful world.
Cool? It’s cool, considering that many have phones with a gyroscope, and you could either buy a cardboard for a couple of bucks on Aliexpress, or even cut and fold it yourself by finding a pair of suitable lenses. Google also knew about it and even published it on their website. blueprints Do-it-yourself models.
Then the people laughed and forgot. But at Samsung, looking at the "Carboard", we decided to release their glasses Gear VR (today their production is stopped). They were intended for some models of Samsung smartphones, for the most part flagships. That is, there was no screen in the helmet.
At the same time, Gear VR already had a plastic case and some kind of built-in electronics like a three-axis gyroscope. With glasses came the remote control, which was proposed to be used for navigation in virtual reality. But these helmets cost a lot at the start of sales: I remember the amount of 20 thousand rubles. And this is a plastic box with a gyroscope and a remote control! The yard was then the end of 2014.
Meanwhile, back in mid-2013, those who managed to pre-order the Oculus Rift began to receive development kits marked as DK1, and by mid-2014, the DK2 version was released. It was an order of magnitude more serious product than google cartons or Samsung toys. But aimed mainly at enthusiasts (not sparing money) and developers of the first games.
The real market for modern VR began to take shape in 2016, when Valve, in collaboration with HTC, launched the Vive helmet, and Oculus (already under the auspices of Facebook) showed the first consumer model – CV1. From here it is close at hand to the current situation on the market – we will talk about it.
How a modern VR helmet works
All virtual reality helmets, no matter how much they cost, work on approximately the same principles. But the nuances can vary significantly. We will discuss them.
3D-picture – the basis of "immersion" in VR
If you don’t take the Chinese plastic crafts like Cardboard, which “AliExpress” is littered with, and talk about serious “big” VR helmets with their own filling (both connected to a PC and stand-alone), then the screen built into the helmet is responsible for image formation ( or two screens, one per eye), on which two images are fed: for the left and right eye. The screens themselves may have different resolutions. For example, in today's popular Oculus rift s one screen with a resolution of 2560 by 1440 pixels and a refresh rate of 80 Hz is installed.
We also look at the picture through the lenses, as it was in the first Karbord, only these lenses themselves are already much larger, more expensive and clearer. As a rule, modern helmets use Fresnel lenses. They are light, clear over a fairly large area and are great for VR glasses.
As a rule, the higher the screen resolution, the higher the price of the helmet, but the less noticeable is the so-called screenor (or “mosquito net effect”) when the eye sees the distance between the individual pixels.
To understand what it is, take a smartphone and look at it through a magnifying glass. If the screen resolution is not particularly large, then the pixel grid will be visible quite clearly. This is one of the problems of modern VR helmets, and developers are struggling with it, increasing the resolution or coming up with all sorts of tricky technologies to mask this effect (for example, in a helmet Samsung Odyssey Plus there is a technology for hiding the visibility of pixels, and, according to users, it really works, though the picture becomes a little “soapy”). Obviously, defeating the screen is a matter of time.
Another problem is the limited viewing angle. Imagine that you look at the world through a ski or diving mask (on the forums this is called the “diving mask effect”). Unfortunately, in the current VR, a horizontal viewing angle of 90–110 degrees is considered normal. However, in active and exciting games, you quickly stop paying attention to this effect.
New helmets like Pimax 5K / 8K already have a viewing angle of 170-200 degrees. Another thing is that there turned out to be not quite the resolution that the manufacturer promised, and not quite those panels. Yes, and Pimaks are not too humane. In addition, the most popular mode for users is still 140 degrees of view, because with two hundred modern video cards, if they cope, then with great difficulty.
Tracking (tracking) of the head in virtual reality
But immersion in another world is not achieved by a single picture. After all, if we have only a 3D picture, then this is not much different from an ordinary movie theater. In modern VR helmets, we can turn our heads in all directions, and the world at this moment will remain in its place – just like in reality!
Head turns Now tracked using a gyroscope and angle accelerometers. The equipment built into the helmet usually works more accurately than in phones. The helmet software reads the sensor readings at a very high frequency, and for the user, the result looks like he is turning his head in reality. Head tilts are also tracked.
If you try to do a similar trick with Cardboard or other glasses for the phone, you will surely notice jerks when turning your head and the effect of "immersion" will begin to be lost. Excellent tracking is one of the main points in the debate between supporters of mobile VR and owners of more expensive PC helmets.
All cheap simple helmets have similar tracking of head rotation in space, it is also called 3DoF (three degrees of freedom). In fact, this is the basis of the work of any VR device.
If everything is approximately clear with a gyroscope, then much more interesting spatial tracking head position in VR, which is already implemented in expensive models of VR helmets (aka “positioning”, or 6DoF). To understand what I'm talking about, imagine that in the VR world you can not only twist your head, but also move it forward, backward, up, down, left and right.
For example, standing still, you can bring your head to a poster on a virtual wall or, as in the Matrix, dodge a bullet simply by crouching or leaning back. “Positioning” is a new level of immersion. But how does it work?
There are two approaches. First kind of tracking used in early PC helmets like Oculus Rift DK2 / CV1 or Vive / Vive Pro. In the case of the Oculi, special camera sensors are placed around the room (included with the helmet), which capture the infrared radiation of emitters located on the helmet. Thus it turns out to take into account the coordinates of the helmet in space.
Vive and now popular Valve index a similar tracking system, only there, instead of cameras, base stations are used, and the system itself is tied to lasers.
The main disadvantage of this type of tracking is that you need to place cameras or bases somewhere for the helmet to work correctly. In addition, there must be a certain distance between them. This is a problem if you have a small VR gaming area or the sensors simply have nowhere to fix.
And here comes to our aid second type of spatial tracking, the so-called "inside tracking", "inside-out tracking" or "inside-tracking". Its essence is that cameras for determining the position in space are already built into the helmet itself. Then they scan the environment and, based on its change, “on the fly” they conclude that the user has shifted his head.
The explanation may sound complicated, but this scheme works very efficiently. And the first to use it were the guys from Microsoft who came up with their technology Windows Mixed Reality. On its basis, several manufacturers have created their own versions of VR helmets.
This approach saves us from having to place sensors or bases, and a kit with a helmet is significantly cheaper and smaller. Obviously, the more cameras on the helmet, the better they will track the change in position. The developers from Oculus developed this idea, and in the current Oculus Rift S we already have as many as five internal cameras, and in Oculus quest – four. At the same time, HTC engineers pushed into their new helmet Vive cosmos Already six cameras for positional tracking!
But happiness is not in the cameras, or rather, not only in them.
Virtual Reality Hand Tracking
The first games for helmets connected to a PC were controlled either from the “key” or from the gamepad, such as that which comes with game consoles (for example, the Xbox 360 gamepad was attached to the Oculus CV1). The situation changed with the release of HTC Vive, simultaneously with which motion controllers began to be sold. These devices allow you to transmit information about the position of the hands to the game or program. Next came the Oculus Touch controller for Oculus Rift CV1 and so on.
Today, the most progressive are the “brass knuckles” of the Valve Index Controllers. Their main feature is the ability to track not only the position of the hands, but also the position of each finger and the strength of its pressing. True, there are no games where this is supported. Half-Life: Alyx should unleash the full potential of the “brass knuckles”.
Below is an overview of these controllers on one of the most popular Russian-language channels on YouTube dedicated to VR.
The principle of tracking here is similar to the scheme we have already examined for tracking the position of the helmet. You take these things in your hands, and the "magic" begins (well, almost). For example, Oculus Touch has sensors inside the rings whose position is read by the helmet's cameras.
What type of tracking is better?
It would seem that “tracking from the inside” is the most reasonable method and the future lies with it. But so far, everything is not entirely clear.
Firstly, helmets with such tracking need good lighting so that cameras can distinguish between surrounding reality, while the Oculus Rift CV1 can easily work in complete darkness.
Secondly, in the same shooters you need to aim as in reality, holding your hands on the case of a virtual rifle and bringing them to your face (and this is very cool!). But it turns out that one hand closes the other, and the helmet cameras can incorrectly read the position of the controllers, which may cause the coordinates to go astray. However, this effect can also be achieved if the external sensors are not correctly positioned.
The same problem catches the player who is trying to get the arrow out of the quiver in "Skyrim"Or other similar game. Helmet cameras are not visible to controllers when they are behind. Although if the movement is fast, then cunning predictive algorithms can come into play, which suggest where the controller has moved.
In general, there are not so many games where there are moments that are poorly compatible with "tracking from the inside out", and therefore you can safely give preference to this technology when choosing a helmet.
"How to walk here", or moving in VR
Another important point that remains for us to discuss is how to move in the virtual world. In general, nothing prevents you from simply walking around the room, and the cameras themselves will transfer our movement to VR. However, wait a minute! In fact, a lot of things interfere: furniture, walls and the length of the wires of helmets, which require a connection to a PC.
That is why most of the time in VR, we still move using the buttons on the controllers. This can be compared to playing some RPG on the gamepad: tilted the stick forward – the character went forward, tilted back – the character went back. The same thing happens in VR, but there are some peculiarities.
Feature One: different controllers have different buttons for moving. We already looked at Touch, but in the photo below – Vive controllers, where instead of sticks we have touch pads that need to be pressed in the right direction or touched in the right place (depends on the game and how the developers implemented it).
These controllers are also called "sticks" (and "choppers"), and you can argue a lot about their convenience, but it's stupid to deny that they were the first on the market. Personally, I prefer to play on Touch sticks than on such a platform. Valve engineers, working on the latest generation of controllers, also chose sticks, and for a reason.
The second feature: In games, there are different patterns of movement of the player. The two most popular are teleporters and “locomotion” (smooth movement).
Why such difficulties? The fact is that often, especially for beginners, it starts to stir up in VR with no habit. In reality, you yourself stand still, and in VR your body seems to move, and this causes discomfort. To defeat this, they invented a move using teleporters.
It works like this. You choose the direction you want to move, point to the controller, press the button and instantly you are in the right place.
Sick from this method is really less, but it is not very convenient and great prevents completely immerse yourself in the game. Therefore, the preferred method is just “smooth sliding” when I clicked on a stick or touchpad – and the movement began in the selected direction. Ideally, when game developers offer different ways of moving to choose from.
And the right stick in some games makes it possible to rotate the camera, as when playing on a regular console. Of course, it’s much more interesting to move your head yourself, but it happens, for example, that you want to play sitting and 360-degree movement is not available.
Which VR helmet to choose?
We have finished the theory, we turn to the specifics! Let's see what today you can choose from and what to choose depending on the situation.
To begin with – a large scheme with the classification of VR helmets, which will help to navigate.
VR glasses for a smartphone – does it make sense to try them?
In addition to the Carboard clones, our Chinese friends stamped a bunch of plastic helmets (or, if you like, “glasses”) of varying degrees of convenience. Their essence is simple: you get a plastic box, lenses and a button to tap the screen, which is needed for control in some applications. Maybe the headphones will still be screwed or even the fans to cool the smartphone. Yes, of course, a smartphone is inserted inside this design, the screen and gyroscope of which will carry out the main work.
The main advantage of such a “box” is its low price. Если есть подходящий телефон (чтобы потянул игры и имел разрешение экрана от 1080р и выше), то это самый доступный вариант. На «Али» такие устройства можно найти по цене от 500 рублей до двух тысяч. Чтобы не ждать доставки, можно даже глянуть в наших DNS, «Ситилинке» и подобных сетях, там часто попадаются брендированные варианты.
Главное, что нужно знать о таких устройствах, — очки могут быть длиннофокусными (экран телефона далеко от глаз) и короткофокусными (экран ближе).
Удел модели на картинке выше — это просмотр 3D-фильмов. Если ты хочешь ощутить что-то, похожее на «большую VR», бери короткофокусные очки, например Bobo VR Z4 или что-то в таком духе (вариантов масса).
Суть в том, что тут экран гораздо ближе к глазам и угол обзора в таких очках будет больше, чем в VR-боксе. Значит, и эффект «погружения» в виртуальный мир значительно возрастает.
Если VR-бокс — это взгляд из коридора в VR-окно, то Bobo VR и подобные шлемы — взгляд в VR-мир через водолазную маску, что уже похоже на большие шлемы для ПК.
Если не экономить, то можно заглянуть в «М.Видео» и найти там очки Homido v2 или похожую модель. Это неплохие удобные очки, сделанные французами, но стоят они 4–5 тысяч рублей. И тут нужно понимать, что чудес не бывает и за эти деньги ты все равно получаешь хоть и удобную, но пластиковую коробку с линзами, без какой-либо электроники внутри.
Стоит ли покупать такие очки?
Тут есть два мнения. С одной стороны, это самая хреновая VR, какая только бывает, — хуже только складные картонные коробки. Тебя ждет плохой трекинг, отсутствие позиционного отслеживания, пиксельная сетка, эффект водолазной маски… Короче, есть шанс только испортить себе впечатление от VR.
С другой стороны, даже это уже что-то! Да, экстремально дешево, да, без всех удобств и в ужасном качестве. Но зато ты сможешь хоть чуть-чуть, но прикоснуться к этому новому дивному миру. И если «не зайдет» в таком виде, то не исключено, что и большие «окулусы», «вайвы» и «индексы» тоже не понравятся. Ведь общие проблемы вроде «эффекта водолазной маски» или видимости пиксельной сетки есть и на «взрослых» шлемах. Многих это отпугивает: людям ведь подавай «Матрицу», но до нее пока далеко.
В общем, мобильная VR — это очень простая демоверсия полноценной VR. Просто держи это в голове и решай сам, стоит ли его пробовать. Я, кстати, склоняюсь к тому, что если в твоем городе нет клуба VR, то все же стоит. А вот если клуб есть, то лучше заглянуть в первую очередь туда.
Все чаще стала встречаться разновидность компьютерных клубов, где можно поиграть в VR. Стоит это недешево: например, в Брянске за десять минут игры просят 150 рублей, то есть за час выйдет 900. На картинке ниже — цены в Москве.
Но не обязательно зависать в таких клубах постоянно. Во-первых, можно сходить туда, просто чтобы познакомиться с современной VR. Там обычно актуальное оборудование, а значит, на выбор будут самые современные шлемы и контроллеры, что поможет увидеть VR так, как это было задумано: с трекингом рук и позиционкой.
Во-вторых (и это реально важно!), если ты выбираешь себе шлем, обязательно постарайся сходить в клуб и попробовать его. Оценишь и общий комфорт, и четкость картинки.
Есть реальные случаи, когда люди покупают, например, Oculus Rift S, в котором не регулируется межзрачковое расстояние (там есть программная регулировка, но это не то же самое), и им просто некомфортно играть в этом шлеме: картинка либо мутная, либо двоится. А если учесть, что устройство это недешевое, то лучше уж переплатить несколько сотен за тест.
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