WebVR : Dive into Virtual Reality from your browser
Written by @thomasbalou the 1st of March 2016
[UPDATE]: Since last March, lots of things have evolved in VR, and so did in WebVR. I made a new article to keep you up to date with this here.
Virtual reality is a new medium for consuming multimedia, using Head Mounted Displays (HMDs). Some of them are already available to the market (like the Samsung Gear or Google Cardboard), while the rest of the big VR hardware players should be delivering their HMDs in the course of 2016.
Many VR experiences are in the form of applications. Which means you must search and download them before experiencing VR, which can be very fastidious.
Another way of experiencing VR is WebVR. If you’ve never heard of it, and if you’re not so much into techy things, let’s just say that it is a way of displaying 3D models directly into your browser. It allows you to watch them in virtual reality, all that without any download! Pretty neat huh?!!
So OK, I said no download, but as VR and so WebVR are still in a kind of “in development” state, you must go through the kind of “first installation process” in order to make it work. But once it’s done, you’ll be able to experience ANY WebVR content you’ll find! A list of some of the main websites providing such experience will be featured at the end of this article.
So here’s a complete “how to” to enable you to experience WebVR, depending on your device:
Recent smartphone and Google Cardboard:
That’s the easiest and quickest way to experience VR. All you need is:
- A recent smartphone (Android or iPhone, sadly Windows phones and Blackberry don’t support WebVR yet)
- An up-to-date browser supporting WebVR (Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox both support it natively on smartphones)
- A Google Cardboard-type viewer (not very hard to find)
Once you have everything listed above, all you have to do is:
- Open the browser, enter the URL of the experience you’re willing to see
- Press the button to switch to VR mode
- Check that the auto rotate setting is enabled on your phone and slide it into the cardboard
Now you’re all set and you can start your experience!!!
Samsung Gear VR
Samsung worked on its own HMD with Oculus. The Samsung Gear offers a more comfortable and more accurate experience than the Cardboard. It requires you to have the adequate smartphone though (Galaxy S6/S7 or Note 4).
Even though there’s a browser in the Gear store, it’s not supporting WebVR yet. That’s why you need to do some manipulations in order to experiment WebVR inside the Gear VR.
You can find the precise instructions on the WebVR Wiki. Hopefully WebVR will be enabled on the Gear VR browser to facilitate access to VR experiments on the Web.
[EDIT 04/25/2016] As of April 2016, the Samsung Gear VRbrowser now has WebVR support. As it’s still experimental, you have to enable it by visiting the “internet://webvr-enable” adress on the browser, then you’ll be able to switch from the flat WebGL to the immersive WebVR version of sites. Support of WebVR API 1.0 is not effective as of today, but should come up soon, that’s why some experiences might not work yet
The Oculus Rift is one of the market’s leaders for VR. Using your PC’s graphic card it offers a better and smoother experience than mobile HMDs.
If you already have a Rift connected to your PC, all you need to do is download the adapted browser:
- Chromium, the experimental version of Google Chrome. Then type the “chrome://flags” address in the navigation bar, look up for the “Enable WebVR” field, click to Enable and restart your browser
- Firefox Nightly. For the advanced users, you can set up the following flags in about:config * dom.vr.enabled: true * gfx.vr.mirror-texture: true * layout.frame_rate: 75 (to match DK2 refresh).
Once your browser’s installed, navigate to the experience’s URL and press the “Enter VR” button to launch the experiment.
The HTC Vive is the other big player of the VR market for PCs. As of now, there are fewer developers working on it in WebVR, but you can still enjoy experiences which weren’t designed for it. That’s the beauty of WebVR!
To experiment WebVR on the Vive, as with the Rift, you’ll need to download the Google Chrome experimental build (no Firefox support at the moment). Then type “chrome://flags” in the navigation bar, look up for the “Enable WebVR” field, click to Enable and restart your browser.
Once done, all you have to do is type the address of the experiment you want to go to and click on the “Enter VR” button.
Some WebVR experiments
Now that you’ve set up your WebVR environment, all you have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy some virtual experiences:
Beloola is a social Web VR platform that allows people with shared passions to congregate in the same virtual place. It allows anyone, or any company, to create a unique 3D space, aggregate all the web content from “best of breed” platforms, and interact with others in real-time.
You don’t need to be a game developer to create VR content on the web. With Vizor’s visual editor, anyone can create and share their own VR experiences in a web browser, and it’s free.
Building blocks for the virtual reality web. Use markup to create high-performance and responsive virtual reality experiences that run right out of your browser.
MozVR is the VR platform promoted by the Mozilla team. There goal is to bring VR to the masses by participating at the elaboration of WebVR on their browser, and helping to define the WebVR specifications.