Virtual Reality Whitman's Sampler

Posted by Shawn Wildermuth on Jul 20, 2016 on 19:09PM

20160626_232049When I was a kid, I had the dream of building an immersive ‘video’ game. I thought the magic was going to be holography. My idea was a holographic skiing game. Of course holographic tech didn’t mature like I hoped it would.

So now that VR is having it’s resurgence, it’s made me think back to those days of old. In this post, I’d like to talk about the different devices I’ve had.


I have to admit, I got an Oculus DK2 not to try and write some software for it. Instead I was obsessed with Elite Dangerous and being able to fly around the galaxy in three dimensions was too enticing.  The Oculus DK2 was a great device. It opened my eyes that VR has finally landed and was real.

But I will admit that Elite Dangerous looked awesome on it (even with the DK2’s limited resolution). The real issue for me was that it was an developer kit which means that it was wonky and some days it just wouldn’t start up. But that’s the case with development kits. I was on board to pick up an Oculus until the price jump scared me off.

VR Gear

imageWhen I switched to a Samsung phone, I decided to splurge for the $100 headset just to see what it was capable of. In case you’re not familiar, the VR Gear is different mostly because you strap your phone on it to power the VR experience. So the device is mostly just plastic and lenses. Dollar for dollar, VR Gear is the best deal of all the headsets right now. It’s limited in what it can do, but the VR Gear is very impressive. Especially interesting for me is to be able to watch movies during flights in full immersion.

My favorite apps for the VR Gear include:

Jurassic Park Experience

Minecraft for VR Gear

Hulu’s 360 Videos

HTC Vive

$800 is a lot of money. That’s more money than I spent on day-one XBox 360 which was ridiculous at the time. But I had read a lot online when the Oculus and Vive came out and was sold on the idea of motion controllers and room-scale experiences. Luckily, I have the best wife in the world and she got me this for my birthday.

Let me be clear: I LOVE THE VIVE. Luckily I have a laptop that can handle the requirements which makes the full cost of VR at my house pretty high. But I think it’s worth understanding how it works.

The Vive starts with two ‘lighthouses’ that use IR cameras to locate you in a room space (minimum 1.5m x 2m). This means it requires more installation than any of the other VR solutions. In addition, there are two motion controllers that track where your hands are, but also double typical controllers (they feel like you’re holding a light sabre, bow and arrow, or double handguns).

But for me the real magic is room-scale. Being able to not just look around, but walk around makes the experience wholly different. Take for example the simple sniping game “The Nest”. Having to dodge to not get shot changes the way shooting will affect you. The first time in “Vanishing Realms” that I picked up a sword and had to shuffle out of the way to keep from getting hit and wait for my chance to hit a skeleton behind his shield was magical. And the controllers make all the difference for me. In “The Lab”, shooting a bow and arrow I could almost feel the string draw (because I was making the motion and the vibration made me think an arrow was in fact cocked).

Because I’m already a PC gamer, extending the buying experience with Steam makes the Vive an easy recommendation. Their easy refund policy means I can try games and if they’re awful, get my money back quickly.

My favorite apps for the Vive include:

The Lab

Fruit Ninja VR


Vanishing Realms



imageFinally, I signed up for a HoloLens developer kit and when wave 5 was announced, I battled with myself about letting my company get me one. But I relented. The HoloLens is a very different kind of device. It’s not exactly virtual reality, but I am not sure ‘augmented reality’ is right either.

My first impression of the device is that unlike being tethered to a computer (like the Vive and Oculus), the HoloLens is a completely self-contained unit. It is like a heavy set of glasses that you can interact with objects in your environment. It scans and tracks your hands and maps the rooms you’re in all in one smallish headset. I found the headset lighter than the Vive and easier to wear longer. Seeing ‘holograms’ in your vision and interacting with them is very cool. It’s not yet light enough to just wear all the time (and has a limited battery life), but it’s very cool tech.

The real issue right now is the so called, ‘keyhole effect’. The viewing port through which holograms appear are just in front of you. There isn’t enough peripheral vision or up and down space. I found myself turning my head trying to see everything I needed to see. But this is a pre-release in much the same way that the original Oculus DK2 experience didn’t’ compare to Oculus retail units.

So far, there aren’t a lot of apps for the HoloLens, but my favorites are:

Robo Raid



But What About Code?

I’m just getting started thinking about coding for these devices. So far, the obvious choice is Unity3D and writing my first app was really fun. The eight video tutorial from their site is really good at introducing you to some beginning ideas. But I am so far in the beginning I have no idea how far I’ll get before I get sidetracked.

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