After years of beta software releases and hardware development, 2016 is going to be the year of VR. Both Oculus Rift, a company acquired by Facebook back in 2014, and competitors HTC with its Valve Vive device, are set to launch their virtual reality hardware for the masses.
What’s So Big About Virtual Reality?
Many readers no doubt are aware of VR and of the Oculus Rift device in particular. Chances are folks have seen a glimpse of college-age men and teen boys with headsets concealing their whole face while they fling about sightless in the physical world on some game they can see in the VR device covering their eyes.
But VR itself isn’t some gaming technology to take lightly.
Chris Dixon of venture capital firm Andreesen Horowitz, one of the most prestigious and important investors of our time, said this about VR to Forbes:
“I’ve only seen a handful of technology demos in my life that made me feel like the world was about to change…Apple II, the Macintosh, Netscape, Google, the iPhone, and—now—theRift.”
The technology itself is transformative. And VR is much more than about gaming. In fact, VR is set to transform the AEC industry among others. With that in mind, we reached out to one of the most illuminating young VR startups that has garnered both accolades and praise for its technology as well as the funding to keep developing it.
irisVR is intent on delivering important new solutions to the AEC industry. In the interview below we talk to Co-Founder and CEO, Shane Scranton, of the New York City based irisVR, to find out what’s up and interesting about VR in enterprise.
(Architosh:) Shane, your company has gained a lot of attention in the press and awards for irisVR. What is happening right now with irisVR and what are you looking forward to?
(Shane Scranton:) Quarter 1 in 2016 is going to be an exciting few months for us. We have the Oculus Rift coming out and then in April we have the HTC Vive device coming right after that. So that’s what’s coming up for everyone like us very soon. We have been working on our software for a long time, things look really good and we are now just waiting on the manufacturers getting the hardware out there.
I have heard the bad news that the Oculus Rift, once it comes out, will not support Apple’s Macs in the immediate time frame. What can you say about that situation?
We are disappointed but understand. I am sure the Oculus folks don’t want to exclude Macs; everything [in VR] is about the GPU and the requirements are pretty high. So in essence, VR taxes the GPUs and they throw off a lot of heat. This is very contrary to what Apple is about in terms of the design of their hardware.
Apple emphasizes, weight, thinness, battery life and design in minimal enclosures, things not very conducive to being able to handle ultra-power, heat-producing GPUs.
This whole situation is quite disappointing then for Mac-based professionals. What do you think is going to happen for Apple’s customers?
We think that Apple will have VR support in their future phones. It would also be great if Apple had their own VR gear or device.
There have been Apple patents filed to this affect.
Yes, and we are aware of those. The industry doesn’t know what Apple has planned but we all know they have something in the works.
Do you think future Macs will meet the minimal GPU requirements and then Oculus and the others will support the Mac in VR?
It’s very possible as GPUs continue to get better and better. The issue driving the performance requirements for GPUs supporting VR gear is prevention of motion sickness. This has been a historic development issue for VR for quite sometime. Early VR was too slow and people would get sick experiencing VR. These devices require 90 hertz or 90 frames per second with 2K output. When I met you at the Vectorworks Design Summit you tried on the Oculus Rift being powered by an Nvidia 980 running on a Windows PC. Basically, that system is about the baseline of what is required for the upcoming hardware release.
So yes, future Macs may contain GPUs that equal or exceed the Nvidia 980 but the VR hardware makers still need to support the Mac. This is important for us too, as we are doing most of our development on Apple’s Macs.
Speaking of the Design Summit, when will you support a Vectorworks plugin for irisVR? You were working on one last year.
We are still working on the Vectorworks plugin. However, we took a step-back on native file support to focus on getting ready for the release of the VR hardware. For the last four or so months we put file type integrations on the back burner and instead worked on supporting larger files in a few key formats, like SketchUp. The goal is to make sure things perform really well.
What formats are the key ones for you at this point?
We have SketchUp and Revit..and we also support OBJ.
What can you say about the two main competitive VR hardware devices—Oculus Rift and HTC Vive? What sets them apart?
They are both nice devices and experiences but offer different challenges for folks like us. Vive, for example, is a standing experience and uses two wands for UI control. In terms of our development, our Oculus Rift work is more flushed out but have been shifting to Vive. At launch we will be equal.
What will be the better platform for professional VR?
At this point Oculus is less interested in B2B than the HTC Vive folks.
I find this so odd because I see VR transforming so many enterprise industries.
We agree with that. That is why irisVR exist and what we are about. VR can be transformative to business and we know that enterprise users are more interested in updating their systems to handle VR where in the gaming world not everybody is or has the resources to do so.
In 2015 a big IT trend was the emergence of the cloud as a compute and application delivery model. Now we have emerging offerings where users can focus on the devices that are mobile, flexible and preferred and not so much on the hardware horsepower needed because they can tap massive GPU power in the cloud. Do you think this can transform and bring VR to everyone—and if so when?
Well, it’s a conversation in the industry. The GPU makers are trying to bring desktop-class power to the masses on mobile devices, from ultra-thin laptops to smartphones. As for the cloud model, it’s going to take maybe five (5) years. When you turn your head it’s the latency issue that causes the motion sickness inducing effects not the raw power of the GPU behind the software.
What does the VR industry need in terms of a stream to prevent motion sickness?
You need latency below 20 ms (milliseconds) to avoid motion sickness. OTOY is a company that is making interesting streaming technology that will use a bunch of GPUs in the cloud to help solve this; they are looking at rendering predictability—that is, the software system predicts head tracking and thus can race ahead and render the scene before the user has gotten there yet.
Five years is a long time out. But yet every architect, product designer, urban designer, is going to want to have VR at their disposal. What about solutions like Teradici that can stream over a LAN environment so an office can have a powerful GPU server powering VR solutions and bring that into say, the conference room, and various workstations where the professionals are?
The ability to stream over a LAN connection will be a big leap for the industry when it does occur. However, for the foreseeable future the future of irisVR will not support LAN streaming in favor of maintaining the best possible user experience while VR.
Well, I look forward to seeing your upcoming releases. Thanks for talking to me.
You are very welcome.
Learning More—irisVR Solutions
irisVR today has early access for those who sign up for their Windows-based application, Prospect (v0.3.2). Again, it is Architosh’s hope, as well as the irisVR folks, that the Mac will gain support as soon as their is a pathway around GPU limitations currently at work.
We encourage our readers to check out irisVR. We awarded irisVR a 2015 AIA National BEST of SHOW award in the Innovation Category. The company has been written about in Business Insider, Architect, Entrepreneur, AlleyWatch, and others.