Virtual Reality is one of the most promising technologies altering the very manner in which we experience and interact with things. It is a futuristic technology and an invention that man can be really proud of.
VR is already making a remarkable difference in the way customer experiences are being delivered in various industries. For example, automotive, architecture & real estate, and the video game industry to name a prominent few. What’s more, it is getting established into a highly effective tool for surgical training and patient therapy in the healthcare industry as well. In fact, the global Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality market, according to a study, is expected to grow to $209.2 billion by the year 2022!
Several well-known companies have come up with their own VR headsets, like Samsung (Gear VR), Oculus, Microsoft Hololens, Google Daydream View, HTC Vive, etc. And yet, its implementation at the mass level is awaited.
Arena for Developers
Understand that behind these immersive visuals lie lines of codes that together bring such experiences to life. Virtual reality is a field which is as unique as it can be, offering a big arena to programmers for application development. It is a new and growing professional area with seemingly endless possibilities.
There are a number of software tools for developing various virtual reality applications, ranging from VR video games to VR training applications and mixed reality. And while as consumers, we usually talk about VR hardware, let’s take a look at some prominent software that help create VR experiences:
- Unreal Engine 4
- Google SketchUp
There are also dedicated WebVR API (Application Programming Interface) that enable the use of VR devices with multiple web browsers:
- WebVR tools
Unity (3D, VR and AR)
One of the most widely used tools for VR development, Unity has helped create more than 91% of MS Hololens experiences so far.
Unity has been used extensively in the video game industry by some of the biggest game development houses, like Ubisoft, for creating top-rated AAA games. It is also a preferred choice by many movie makers in Hollywood. Google has used Unity for building its VR painting and modeling apps called Tilt Brush and Blocks. Many developers in this domain consider it the best VR development platform.
- High frame rates due to the well-optimized stereoscopic rendering pipeline
- Platform-specific builds without complications
- Versatile VR & AR API, built-in multi-platform features support
- Native support for Oculus Rift, Steam VR/Vive, PlayStation VR, Gear VR, Microsoft Hololens, Google Daydream View
Unreal Engine is possibly the closest competitor to Unity. A highly capable platform for VR, AR and MR (Mixed Reality), UE is used for making AAA video games, film making as well as photo-real visuals.
Unreal Engine provides:
- Rendering pipeline capable of delivering framerate at 90 Hz or higher
- Out of the box advanced cinematic and post-processing capabilities
- Regular updates for platforms like Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, Steam VR, HTC Vive, Google ARCore, Gear VR
Google Sketch Up
Sketch Up is a relatively simple tool compared to the two mentioned above. It is designed to create objects in 3D, especially buildings, along with their various features. It is particularly meant to model sustainable structures in 3D. The user interface is easy to use for a quick learning curve. Sketch Up provides tools that allow analyzing energy use, daylight, occupant thermal comfort, as well as HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) before you start building your project. These 3D models can be eventually added as part of a virtual environment for a specific experience.
Blender is free software with the entire 3D pipeline:
- Motion tracking
- Video editing
- Game creation
Besides its long list of features, Blender has become a preferred 3D software especially by VR developers because of its open source nature. It is a cross-platform software written in Python and allows scripting for custom tools and add-ons. Released under GNU General Public License (GPL), its community members are free to make small and big changes to its code for added functionality, quick bug fixing and overall better usability. What’s more, it has add-ons specifically for VR, like BlenderVR with support for Head Mounted Display (HMD).
Let’s take a look at the popular WebVR tools:
A-Frame is used for developing virtual reality experiences that can be experienced on web browsers. Based on HTML, it has an easy learning curve. A-Frame supports VR headsets like HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Daydream View, Samsung GearVR, Cardboard and Oculus Go. It is even used for building Augmented Reality experiences.
Released by Facebook and Oculus in early 2017, React VR (or React 360) is a framework for creating immersive 3D and VR user interfaces. It is highly impactful in developing 3D scenes, for example, that can be viewed in virtual reality.
Virtual Reality offers limitless potential in terms of visual and interactive experiences, as well as for coders who want to develop such immersive worlds. Some of the biggest companies in the world are investing in VR as they realize its potential in visual interaction and communication.
Virtual reality promises to alter the very lifestyle of mankind in the coming years and decades as its applications become more polished, refined, and more realistic with time. Already, efforts are being put into bringing haptic feedback into virtual experiences that will create exceptional sensory interaction.