Wednesday, June 27, 2007

How Much Immersion is Enough?

Doug Bowman and Ryan McMahan of Virgina Tech wrote an interesting article titled "How Much Immersion Is Enough" which appears as a cover feature of July's IEEE Computer magazine.

They discuss several aspects of Immersion (defined as "the objective level of sensory fidelity a VR system provides") and presence ("a user’s subjective psychological response to a VR system") and talk about the main factors that drive immersion, including field of view, field of regard, resolution, stereoscopy, head-tracking, frame rate and more.

The article describes several studies that investigate how the degree of immersion impacts the performance of a person trying to complete complex tasks (such as planning the path of an oil well or visualizing a tunnel through rock structures) and describes the significant and measurable benefits attributed to higher degree of immersion.

It is nice to see measurable benefits tied to the "wow" feeling that people experience when they try on immersive head-mounted displays that offer both panoramic field of view and high resolution. My company has built several high-immersion models by optically stitching together small micro-displays. One unique side-effect of this approach is that during demonstrations, we are able to turn off individual displays and thus take a user through a full range of immersion options (e.g. from 150 degree field of view to 120 to 100 to 80) within seconds. This has been an excellent way to experience the benefits of true immersion.

Once you've had a chance to try a "business class" seat in an airplane, it's not easy to go back to economy. Similarly, once you try on an HMD or a CAVE with wide FOV, it will be difficult to go back to narrow displays.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

HMDs and "the last mile"

Remember the time that most home users could only use dial-up access to the Internet, even though the Internet backbone was very fast? These users could not enjoy the full Internet experience because of the bandwidth limitations in the "last mile" before their home.

Recent improvements in CPU and GPU power as well as rendering software, leads me to believe that the display quality of head-mounted displays could solve the "last mile" problem of bringing immersive virtual reality to the masses.

When I speak to audiences about head-mounted displays, I usually ask for a show of hands: "how many in the audience have Blockbuster or Netflx subscriptions or regularly rent movies?". A healthy majority usually raises their hands. "Now how many would still continue these subscriptions if all you had at home was a 3 inch black and white television?". Most hands come down. Without quality displays (with high resolution, wide field of view such as those offered by my company), the full potential of virtual reality will not be realized.