The role of WebVR

I want to start this blog by asking a question:

Why does WebVR matter for users ?

Developers LOVE making new technologies, solving insurmountable technical limitations, writing standards and working on demos, but in the end all of it needs to have a reason other than inspiring developer shower thoughts.

Note: WebVR is a set of APIs that lets websites render content to VR headsets, but in the context of this post it means VR from a browser, be it Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Janus VR, or any other browser.

Heavyweight websites are a hard sell, this limits the reality part of VR, since high resolution assets are huge, but photorealism is not the only goal for VR.

Sometimes there’s no shortcut and sites load content as needed, like Google Maps, this limits the use cases for very heavy applications, games being the main example. Progressive Web Applications is a recent initiative, making WebVR PWAs enables us to ditch internet access requirements and more space for assets.

Many organizations have restrictions for software installs and updates, web apps have a big advantage here, you don’t need install permissions to run a WebVR experience. Getting users to install an executable is VERY hard, it needs trust and patience, or distributing through a store like Steam or Google Play.


Where to provide value right now ?

Low friction Social VR

Social VR is currently fragmented by application, be it VRChat, High Fidelity, Rec Room, etc. It requires setup, downloading and updating, making accounts, etc., it has friction.

Social WebVR can be as fast as clicking a link, it’s not an event or an activity, it can be as casual as needed.

Collaborative tools

WebVR applications are very early in development, but the same techniques used for collaborating on documents can be used for WebVR. Janus VR supports collaborative editing of rooms from the start.

A-Painter is a tiltbrush inspired tool that runs in the browser:

A multiplayer version of it was made and you can access it here :

Video

You can watch 360 video from youtube with a headset right now, be it Cardboard or Daydream, it’s a one tap process.

360 video suffers from compression artifacts and resolution more than flat video, but the experience can grow if we include the social aspect of watching in VR with friends and family. Youtube has plans for this, for 360, stereo 180 and flat videos.

Charity

VR can provide the viewer more context, be it with 360 video, stereo 180, photogrammetry, scanning, dioramas, you name it. Observing the impact we can have with our contributions is quite powerful.

Does the project involve building houses? Why not have a tour to see how it’d be like when finished?

The casual nature of giving, be it for disaster relief, food shortages, housing, etc., can be illustrated with WebVR.

This idea is powerful, so I made a working example for you :

*The cup is from https://sketchfab.com/models/adf1013df0d24037a506cd9708ddbc28 with edited textures.

If you have more ideas for this kind of experience hit me @alfredofrlp on twitter.

Game promotion

Promoting VR games and experiences through flat media is as hard as selling color TVs through the radio. You simply can’t convey the experience of VR without a headset.

Cardboard and GearVR headsets are much more abundant than any other form of VR so we need to upsell experiences to those users.

Some ideas :

  • OTOY style high resolution stereo cubemaps of scenes in the game
  • Static dioramas promoting the experience ( some interactivity or animation wouldn’t hurt ) with game assets and characters, and promotional videos screened in them.
  • Stereo 180 footage recorded in game from static points ( third person ).
  • Minigames with the themes and characters from the game.
  • Character creators/item customizers.
  • Environments with looping animations: Moody sets, allowing fans and newcomers to feel like a part of the world without rushing. Including a small activity can aid immersion greatly, the viewer could take some unimportant role and learn a bit more about the story.

The same points apply for promoting movies and music.

Art

Photogrammetry, 3D modeling, 360/stereo video and VR native art allow us to experience creations with sizes and effects dictated by the creators themselves.

Downloading an application to view a single piece is overkill for most users, the same way having a single piece per gallery would be. Artists can have control over single pieces, the whole experience, by making an exclusive WebVR site for it, or upload the assets to a service like Sketchfab.

The gallery is whatever the artist wants it to be, and stepping in is one click/QR/NFC scan away.

Low friction access to art pieces can spark discussions and creations that otherwise wouldn’t happen.

Examples:

Product previews

Most industrial products in this day and age go through CAD, they are already digital, turning them into WebVR previews is not a pipedream but a matter of workflows making sense for each type of CAD process. Making product previews for AR viewers and WebVR makes no difference, the same optimizations need to be done for both platforms ( Low polygon and material count )

Games

Assets don’t have to be huge, we can have fun with small games ( in size ), the problem is monetization, advertisements in WebVR are not a tackled issue, or a welcome one either, and selling web apps is not something that is common.

Training and Learning

VR can be a tool for training specific skills, and WebVR can deliver it cross platform and up to date. In essence training tools are games, all the advancements in user interface and experience done in games can be translated to VR training solutions. Brands can showcase new products and services as interactive training simulations, making sure that when you get the product you are ready to use it. A tight feedback loop with analytics and even live assistance isn’t a far fetched idea. There is nothing to install, click the link/scan the QR, watch the explanations in VR, follow along.

An environment in which pointing , doodling in the air and talking is effortless becomes a fertile ground for learning.

I’ll write more about training in VR in a future post, it’s a really interesting field.

This is a nice example to illustrate a passive learning experience:

Distributed Apps

Ethereum based Dapps and other Blockchain efforts can not only do away with centralized back-ends but get modern html5 front-end solutions too. IPFS offers a way to store heavy assets that would be prohivitive to store on-chain. The combination enables WebVR Dapps.

Blockchain applications in general are hard to grasp, visualizations are mostly used for market information, there is an opportunity to aid understanding and adoption with WebVR.

VR front-ends with “tangible” representations of tokens, services and products can answer questions and explain mechanisms in explorable ways.

Good visualizations in a human scale can speak for themselves. As a simple example consider hashing power showcased as rows of home computers. It can give the general public an idea of how much “effort” is needed to mine blocks and not simply an arbitrary number in the news.

Tokens can be represented as what they can enable, their backing or inside a diorama showing their part in a process. For example a voting process in a smart contract can go a long way explained visually.

This is also true for services that tokens can enable, not as 3D coins spinning in the air but the goods or services ( digital or not ) that they can be traded for.

The RNDR token is about distributed rendering power, something full of challenges but it takes advantage of the existing pool of gpus for a different kind of task ( this time rendering instead of hashing).

Rendering scenes for WebVR in the form of stereo cubemaps and 180° stereo video in a competitive crypto market has a real chance of happening. Many challenges are ahead of the project but I’ll keep an eye on it, and you should too.

WebVR and Blockchain distributed apps is the combination that keeps me up at night and hard at work, I’ll write more about that in the near future.

WebVR is only beginning, there is much to talk about, but more importantly, to see.

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