Virtual reality (VR) has been trying to penetrate both consumer and business markets with less success than most of us had hoped. On the consumer side, much of the initial hardware was junk, and that killer game never really came out. On the business side, AR has proven more successful with products like the Microsoft Hololens carving out a small but sustainable market in areas such as aerospace training and other markets.
But the real promise of VR was a collaboration solution that didn't need travel, telepresence, training, and simulation. The military appeared ready to jump on the simulation part, but the real issue seemed to be the lack of industrial-grade hardware. Outside of purpose-built products like those used by Disney, there just wasn't an excellent industrial-grade solution at a price that would allow a solution to scale.
HP's initial run at this was with their first-generation Reverb, which was arguably the best headset under $1,000 targeting business. But it wasn't adequate for collaboration; something suddenly became far more critical with the outbreak of the pandemic. Well, that just changed. Not only did HP release their more advanced Reverb G2 headset but also an even better business variant, their Omnicept product that has been enhanced specifically for collaboration.
Let's explore that this week.
The Issue with Collaboration
The critical part about collaboration in a VR world is realism, so you feel you are talking to someone. While I still think we need to lose the controllers and go to haptic gloves for the final step, the earlier and more critical step is to instrument the mouth. Instrumenting the mouth is so that if you are using an avatar, the mouth of the avatar moves when you talk. And that is the big difference with the HP Reverb G2 Omnicept Edition VR headset. It has a camera pointed at the user's mouth.
HP has wrapped this hardware with a developer SDK and flexible programs to assist ISV Extended Reality application partners. This approach is how you think through a solution; it isn't just about the hardware, the software, or services. It is about the hardware, software, AND services. It isn't a multiple-choice question, you need all of the above, and with Omnicept, HP will be supplying a complete package.
The Omnicept G2 VR headset has also been updated with a multi-user headset that is more easily adjusted; it uses the same Valve-designed ear speakers for better audio. It also uses the same high-resolution 2160x2160 eye panels for each eye, and it has the built-in outward viewing cameras for tracking things like arm movements, jumping from 65% with the old headset to 90% with the new headset.
On top of the camera pointed at the mouth, the HP Reverb G2 Onicept Edition headset has eye-tracking and heart rate monitoring. The first allows the application to know what you are looking at and adjust the experience dynamically; the second assures that whatever the user is doing with the headset remains safe and doesn't put the user in too much stress. Plus, if stress is needed - for example if you are using a VR program to test for decision-making quality while under stress - this can optimize the related virtual test.
The headset also supports foveated rendering, which, when coupled with the eye tracker, can significantly reduce the rendering load on the system supplying the image. And it has a pupillometry sensor, which can also be used to not only measure stress but adopt the light in the image to reduce stress on the user.
Finally, HP has wrapped this solution with a set of relatively flexible offers. First, free access to the sensor data (all of it) for developers to help speed the development of related applications. Second, there is a revenue share option that allows small startups to get access to the software initially for free but asks for a share of the proceeds once the application(s) are complete. Finally, there is an Enterprise license option for in house development and deployment.
Wrapping Up: HP Kicks It Up
Now that it looks like most of us won't be traveling for at least another year, and yet we still need to collaborate closely, a VR collaboration tool is well-timed. HP's Omnicept solution and their G2 Omnicept VR Headset potentially open the door to a far deeper and more successful VR collaboration solution. One of the most exciting parts of this is that they are also working with NVIDIA and their Omniverse Machinima project. This partnership could not only make our current Zoom background efforts look pathetic, but it could also revolutionize movie making and training films.
And, given how 2020 is going, we all may need to spend more time in virtual worlds if only to take virtual vacations and drain off some of our stress. I think HP Omniverse is the first step to finally getting VR collaboration and content right. I'm looking forward to the day when we can replace those damned controllers with haptic gloves to complete the experience. We need to leave something for next year.