The idea of virtual reality (VR) is nothing new. It has been here since the 19th century. Early versions of VR were 360° panoramic murals, by 1956 we had the "Experience Theatre", and in 1993 - Disney created their own "Imagineering Virtual Reality Studio". More recently, we’ve seen a VR consumer product hit the shelves in the form of Oculus Rift.
Any interactive product designer ultimately aims to create an immersive experience. A Virtual Reality headset such as the Oculus Rift - monopolizes users’ sight and sound with an immersive virtual environment thus making it the best machine to create that immersion.
Oculus and VR in general offer a unique user experience, but it is still in its infancy. As with any emerging technology - there are unknowns.
The idea of User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) Design has taken on a whole new meaning over the past decade with wide adoption of mobile applications and console games. With the advent of Oculus Rift, there is a whole new uncharted territory for UI. Up until now, keyboard, mouse or gamepad has never been an integral part of Virtual Reality. The head-tracking mechanic has been central to the experience.
2D elements like pop-ups look more intrusive than ever before when seen in VR. But with inspiration from Hollywood movies and games like DeadSpace – UI is no longer required to be 2D, it becomes part of the environment. It is highly contextual and begs the question:
"How would you interact with the User Interface, if it was part of the real world?”
In VR, user interface and experience should work in tandem like never before. The challenge is not just in design but also the techniques.
Convergence is the how far a human eye rotates to focus on an object in the virtual world.
Objects that are near require your eyes to rotate more than objects that are far away. It also puts the depth of each object into perspective. The farther the object is, the harder it would be to clearly see. Finding a balance in VR without creating disparity and straining the eyes is key to a good user experience.
With Virtual Reality, latency is fundamental. If there is a slight drop in latency - experience becomes deluded and chaotic. The vision perceived by the eyes becomes indistinguishable from the users perception of real world objects – they don’t’ match up. For example, it is highly required for the content to run at 60 frames per seconds. Anything below 60 would start to add a frame or frames of latency or delay. John Carmack (CTO, Oculus VR, Inc.) clearly explains the issue as follows
The low-level latency is very much required to immerse the user in the virtual world. The higher it is, the higher the sickness induced upon a user.
In VR, the sight and sounds are so cohesive that it makes you think that they are real, essentially tricking the brain. Hence, a small amount of deterioration to the virtual world can cause motion sickness; including headaches and nausea. Some feel it after prolonged use and others feel it right away. The best way to avoid it is for every idea that is about to be implemented, have a strong eye on predefined constraints.
Virtual Reality is more than the creation of a virtual doppelgänger of oneself. It is immersive by its very own nature, nascent and emerging. It’s attracting the greatest minds this technology industry has ever seen. It is a start of an exciting era in human-computer interaction. The 'YOU' in the virtual world will have a lot of reasons to believe and bridge with the 'YOU' in the real world. As much as it is exciting, we are curious as to how it will evolve to overcome the early flaws. But time will only answer that.