Thursday, August 20, 2015

Like 1992 Without the Supercomputers

Oculus Rift headset image by Rebke Klokke
Oculus Rift headset image by Rebke Klokke
Last week I attended the SIGGRAPH conference at the LA Convention Center. The name is an acronym for the Special Interest Group for Graphics, one of the largest special interest groups in the Association of Computer Machinery. 

For me, the SIGGRAPH conference is one of the most educational and inspirational experiences of the year. It is the best place to learn what is technically possible in the field of imaging as well as how the technology works.

Every SIGGRAPH seems to have one overwhelming theme and this year the focus was on Virtual Reality. It  was like 1992 all over again, but without the supercomputers. I remember being awed 23 years ago by the demonstrations with ten pound headsets tethered to computers that were larger than my office. Despite the hype at the time, there were few applications that could justify the expense of the hardware and the content development.

This time, the headsets are smaller, lighter and driven by the GPU board in a desktop computer or by a smartphone. In a session titled The Renaissance of VR, Ron Azuma of Intel Labs gave three reasons why virtual reality will be successful this time:

  • Performance - The graphic performance of the new generation of devices is high enough to provide compelling immersive experiences.
  • Price - The new hardware is cheap enough that many people will be able to afford and experience virtual reality first hand.
  • Investment - The huge investments being made by several large companies will lead to high quality hardware and content.

Interestingly, Azuma concluded that augmented reality might have an even bigger future than virtual reality.

In what reality would you like to be immersed?

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