Progress Report: October

Things have been a little quiet over the summer in terms of news from the Podrift camp and in light of today's wonderful article on the BBC ( Podrift: Is podcasting ripe for virtual reality? ) I thought it was a good time to drop by and share a little of how things are coming along.

Where we're at.

Earlier in the year we worked hard to complete and show case a proof of concept for Podrift. It was a really enjoyable experience and something you can read up on more in our article "Out in the wild for our first showcase".

As with any proof of concept, the way it was put together was focused around speed rather than quality of code. It served its purpose extremely well and taught us a lot though we found working to further improve the experience on top of that code base was proving tricky. 

So what did we do? What any good developers do. Start from scratch... well, almost. We've stripped back to basics and are rebuilding using a mix of fresh code alongside improving the existing code. This will allow us to move forward much quicker, vastly improve our workflow and have a new angle with which to solve some existing problems.

Working toward a public release.

The end goal is of course to get people in to the experience to create, share and enjoy content; naturally this is something we want to do as soon as possible. Our initial plan is to release a set of pilot content as part of our alpha phase; this will be with a select few content creators initially that will help us show case a range of possibilities. This covers everything from a casual conversation; to something a little more adventurous; to a full blown performance art piece.

We have a few dates in mind for when this will be and will be making more of announcement on that in the coming weeks. We're extremely excited about this project and though it's been a challenge to get underway, we're as keen as ever and looking forward to getting it out there.

Moving Forward

We kicked things off over a year ago now and have overcome many problems to get where we are currently. Though we want to release the project as soon as possible, making sure the experience is a strong and positive one is our top priority.

There are a couple of great VR development teams out there working on projects in a similar space to us and they are setting the bar high. We're confident we can meet that level of quality and that what we have planned will co-exist nicely along side them. It's an exciting time in the VR world and we're glad to be a part of it!

If you have any questions on Podrift, please don't hesitate to let us get in touch via our contact page or on twitter @podrift.


Prototyping with current generation tech.

It's easy to forget sometimes when you're wrapped up in the emerging world of consumer VR that it's very much in it's infancy, it's still extremely early days. There are no commercial devices on the market really suitable for input devices; it's a problem that the likes of STEM, PrioVR and ControlVR hope to fix but apart from a select few developers, we're all still keenly waiting for our devices as shipping delays inevitably take hold.

So when we're looking to capture full avatars and build an experience that is natural we've been looking to current tech to prototype.

Our prototype setup.

When setting out with these tools, we know they're not going to be with us long term and perhaps not even see out the year. That doesn't stop us however from being able to approach and work with a lot of the challenges that we'll need to engage with along the way.

We've got a four piece setup, which is a little niche and goes against our accessible experience ethos though it's never been intended for the end user. The first two parts are obvious and in it for the long haul, the Oculus Rift HMD (to experience it in VR and track head direction) and a classic headset with mic setup for being able to deliver verbal communication. 

The Kinect

This has been a controversial choice for skeletal tracking and with good reason, hence why it's a short term prototyping solution; for this reason though it has been a powerful asset.

It's not a perfect tool by a long shot; the latency isn't as bad as you'd expect though when you start to smooth out errors this rapidly rises so a balance must be struck. You also have line-of-sight and space requirements which make it awkward for a lot of users. That said, it allows us to engage with locomotive motion in the real world mapped to the virtual which we've found which those who often experience motion sickness on the DK1 haven't suffered at all on our tests due to natural motion relevantly negating any vestibular disconnect issues.

The Razer Hydra

This piece of hardware found life in the VR community that it lacked elsewhere. It's a great bit of kit, providing you can get hold of one. In our setup we're not using these for position hand tracking though but merely to fill in the orientation of the hands that the Kinect can not detect. It's also great to have traditional controls in your hands for other input though we've minimised reliance on this where possible. 

Migrating beyond.

While developing with these tools we've learnt a lot and been able to work in such a way that means we can rapidly work to integrate new devices when they land and smooth out the experience with those quickly.

So does the prototype have tech that's bad for a solid VR experience? To simplify... yes. Does it stop us from learning and moving ahead? Not at all.