What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual Reality (VR) is a term made popular by Jaron Lanier in the 80’s. It refers to a replication of environment with computer technologies and software such as the world of a videogame. The last few years the term is closely connected to the devices which make the virtual realities more realistic. Devices such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Playstation VR and even Google Cardboard, are mounted on your head giving you a closeup view of a screen. With the help of specific lenses and some clever rendering of images the brain tricks you into thinking you are actually in the virtual space. In the early days these devices had a nauseating effect but this has since been resolved by head tracking and more advanced software and screen technologies. Even though it’s still early days and the more advanced head-mounted displays (HMD’s) are expensive and only used by early adopters everyone who tries one is impressed by the sense of being in another environment completely.
What is WebVR?
WebVR is a term used to encompass the different techniques which makes VR accessible via a browser. Some websites already offer the possibility to view it in VR. If you put on your HMD you can actually be ‘in’ the website. This currently mostly consist of 3D models which you can navigate around. Some WebVR examples.
As you can see the samples are also available in browsers without using a HMD. The unique thing about WebVR is that it is available for everyone with a browser and an internet connection. Which is different from specific VR applications that are available for more advanced HMD’s such as the Rift and Vive. In those cases you need to shell out some big cash to get the experience. The fact that it is so easily accessible is the main reason it will change the web.
Current technologies for creating WebVR
Oculus also announced a new technology called ‘ReactVR’ which is based on the popular ReactJS library developed by Facebook. This will become available in the near future with a VR browser called Camel also developed by Oculus.
How these technologies will work together is still unclear. In the most ideal scenario there will be a standard and these technologies will work seamlessly together. But in a realistic scenario there will be some hard fought battles before we come to a standard.
How WebVR will change the internet
You might be thinking: “Just spinning around some 3D models? How is this going to revolutionize the way we use the web?”. First you have to realize we’re in the very early stages of WebVR. Compare this to the early days of the web. A great example is Geocities which, in retrospect, was very crude and barebones. If you want to see the potential of WebVR you have to look further and imagine how VR and WebVR will evolve in the next few years. Let me paint you a picture.
Imagine you want to buy a car. You visit a WebVR site where you can actually sit in the car. The image is so realistic you really have the feeling you are in the car. This is already been done! But we can go even further. A salesman pops into existence and answers any question you have in real time. And the best things, you can mute him or her anytime you want!
How websites will evolve with WebVR is still unclear. Websites still have to be practical and offer a quick way to scan and consume information. WebVR won’t be the best solution for every website but it does have the potential to add something extra to any website.
How to view WebVR?
If you want to dive into WebVR you will need to have a HMD (it can be as cheap as a Google Cardboard or as expenisve as a Rift) and you will need to use a browser which is WebVR ready. To check which browser is ready I advise to visit this frequently updated website which keeps track of the availability of WebVR in the current browser generations.
Got questions about WebVR? Let me know in the comments!