2 weeks ago I reserved some time to encounter virtually my friend Sasha. I got to know him some times ago on Twitter because he was interested in my work in full body virtual reality and soon he proved to be very friendly and supportive. Unluckily he lives in Canada, while I’m in Italy so it’s very hard for us to meet.
But but but… we’re two VR passionates and he’s a super-fun of virtual worlds… so he said to me “why don’t we meet in VR?“. I immediately liked the idea and so in the end on February the 1st at 17.30 Italian time we managed to finally meet in VR. This is a little resumée of my experience.
Being naive about virtual worlds (I’ve only tried AltspaceVR some times ago) I let Sasha pick the right application. He proposed BigScreen VR.
So I installed the app and run it. Bigscreen is a virtual reality application that lets you see your computer screen inside VR and share it with other people. This may seem useless at a first glance, but this is absolutely not true. Reasons are the following ones:
- Since you can use your PC screen inside VR, you don’t need to continuously remove your headset and put it on again if you need to do VR and non-VR stuff. You just keep it on and use your flat screen seen in VR when you need to send an e-mail for example.
- Since you can share your screen, this app can be used to do things together in a collaborative environment. Think, for example, if I have to fix a problem on my PC and a friend of mine in the US looks at my computer screen and gives suggestions on how to do it;
- It is not only a screen-sharing app, it is a complete social application.
If you’re wondering how you do see and control your flat PC screen in VR… well, when you launch your app you find yourself inside a virtual room (surely prettier than my real room 😦 ), with your screen being a quad floating in front of you. It is like having a big tablet in front of you. I was using Oculus Touch and so I used the controllers as pointers. The index trigger activates the pointer, then you move your controller as a magical ray to move your “mouse pointer”. A button is for the left click and B is for the right click. The secondary trigger, instead, serves to move your screen inside the virtual world (so you can make this big tablet closer or farther from your eyes, for example). If you have to type some text, Bigscreen will show you a virtual keyboard. Keep in mind that BigScreenVR duplicates your screen, is not a secondary screen… so whatever you do in VR is mirrored on your flat PC screen and viceversa (e.g. if you open Notepad in Bigscreen, you really open Notepad on your main PC screen). This means that you can use your mouse and keyboard on your virtual screen, if you get bored by using your controllers as a magician.
But let’s return to my social experience. I customized my avatar and made all configurations very very easily. Avatars have few customization options and have only heads and hands, but are nice anyway. Then Sasha created a shared private room and I joined his room. I teleported there, with my screen in front of me… when I heard someone breathing (Vive has a mic that filters bad the breath of people, so it’s more noisy), then I saw his avatar: Sasha was there with me! Actually he was weirdly positioned (had his head coming out from a couch, lol… if he were a horse, this could have been a scene from The Godfather), but I clearly saw him!
It has been strange… so many kilometers away, a so big timezone difference and we were there in the same (virtual) room! I could see his face and his hands… we started chatting a bit and soon, after some minutes, I just forgot that I was in my office (mith my colleagues actually working while I was playing :D). I started experiencing that kind of emotional presence that only VR can really convey: my brain forgot everything else. I was in a room with my friend Sasha, talking about Virtual Reality, about Zenimax vs Oculus, about life and whatever came to our minds. We also gave a lot of high fives, since with Bigscreen VR you can high five your friends and hear a funny sound when this happens. Then we also took some photos together: there is this functionality that you pretend to have a camera in your hand and start shooting amazing photos of you and your friends! Wow, I’ve also memories of this great encounter! Unluckily you can’t share VR beers, otherwise this encounter would have been perfect.
I was really astonished on how I got deeply entranced in this moment: now I understand perfectly why people say that social VR will be so huge: because it really gives the impression of meeting people like in real life. When we’ll have better avateering and full body, social worlds will be really impressive… and we’ll spend lots of time in it (maybe leading to the Fermi Paradox? We’ll see…)
Inside the social room you can teleport to move to different pre-fixed places (e.g. different seats around the same tables) and your floating screen moves with you. It has to be noticed that everyone can see the screen of the others and this is one of the most important features of BigScreenVR. One of the participant of the meeting can even stream his/her screen on a big screen mounted inside the room so that everyone can see it easily. Sincerely speaking, having my screen exposed to others creates in me some privacy worries (I mean, receiving an email about Pornhub premium while you’re in chat with people you just met shouldn’t be that great), but it enables a lot of possibilities. You could work in a team remotely, being in the same virtual room while being in completely different parts of the world: you could work from home, but with the impression of being really there with your workmates, allowing that exchange of informations that is the greatest part of working in the office. It would be even better, thanks to the big virtual screen sharing. Or you can do virtual meetings and presentations. You can meet with your bosses in a virtual lounge, share your PPT on the big screen and pitch like a boss! This application has endless possibilities in the business world.
Unluckily at the moment the screen sharing works quite bad since the resolution of the other people’s screen makes them unreadable, but this will surely be fixed in the future.
BigScreen has convinced me a lot: it is great for meeting with some friends in a private lounge and talk a bit, take photos and maybe watching a movie together (Netflix and chill? 😉 ); it is great to meet new people, since you can create a public room and make new acquaintances of people that come to your place; and it is also great for business stuff, since you can use it for meetings, for small work teams and for presentations. Really liked it.
In the end Sasha took me also to another virtual world: the one of VRChat. We stayed there very few time, so I got just some little impressions. VRChat is a complete virtual world: it is more like Second Life. There you meet lot of people and you start knowing strangers.
It is bigger than Bigscreen and there you have more functionalities. Avatar customization is impressive (there was a guy with a 2D avatar!!) and you have full body VR. I have to admit that their full body emulation using only inverse kinematics was really good and I appreciated it.
There I started talking with my friend and with some people from Germany and the US. It has been interesting. Then my time run out and I had to go back to work.
My first true social experience has been really good. Now I appreciate better these technologies, because I know that they can create really a new kind of social interactions. They are useful for leisure, but also to work and so I agree now more than ever with all people saying that social VR (and AR, for sure) will be the future. I really liked spending my time with Sasha (that I thank a lot for this amazing moments) and one hour and a half have just flown away. Removed my headset, I felt some kind of sadness. Time to get to work.