This past month San Francisco hosted the 2016 Game Developer Conference (GDC), an annual event for game developers who spend their days creating interactive entertainment to share and connect with each other. Talks are usually dominated by the trials and tribulations of game development and the technology that drives it.

Autodesk Stingray Game Engine
Autodesk Stingray Game Engine powers this virtual stereoscopic 3D visualisation

In addition to the usual suspects this year's GDC also saw some software companies turned hardware vendors arrive with a new trick that promises to enable new experiences that has everyone excited, and it turns out they need game developers and game engines to do it. That trick is Virtual Reality (VR).

Thanks to generations of graphics processor improvements, each bringing massive performance and visual fidelity improvements high quality VR headsets are finally here and they're the key to driving game engines not only into immediately adjacent industries, such as visualisation, but practically anything that can benefit from complete interactive immersion.

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Oculus Rift VR Headset

There are three main vendors in this new high end VR space, two on the PC, Facebook owned Oculus with their ‘Rift’ and a Valve and HTC partnership creation ‘HTC Vive’, plus one on consoles, Sony with the PlayStation VR for PS4. I’ll be focusing on the PC compatible devices since they are completely open, accessible devices perfect for use by any industry that uses 3D graphics. They're both well past their developer only periods and are consumer ready products you can order them right now and start creating or experiencing VR as soon as they arrive.

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HTC Vive VR Headset, motion controllers and tracking system

The specs of both headsets are similar, both offering high resolution (2160x1200) and high refresh rate (90hz) displays with only subtle differences in their respective field of views, but the technology used to track things is wildly different, with the Vive offering a much larger tracking volume, allowing full room sized virtual spaces that can even be expanded to multiple rooms, and the Oculus Rift better suited to smaller spaces. Capitalising on their more advanced tracking technology the Vive also includes two motion tracked handheld controllers (one for each hand) allowing you to interact with the objects in the virtual world using your hands in a very natural way.

Driving these incredibly high resolution displays at such high frame rates requires some serious graphics processing power so even the minimum recommended computer spec requires a near top of the line modern graphics card. For the time being only Windows based PCs are compatible with Oculus in particular challenging Apple to step up on the hardware front to offer better VR capable graphics processors in their systems.

On the software front VR headset comparability has been added to all the modern game engines, including Autodesk's Stringray, Unity3D, Epic's Unreal Engine and Crytek's CryEngine, all offering different ranges of performance, accessibility, content pipelines and business models ranging from software as a service to pay what you feel so there's something for apps of all shapes and sizes.

Trailer: Fantastic Contraption - the developers used VFX green screen and compositing techniques to mix in-game footage with real world video to demonstrage the game

If you've been waiting for the right time to start getting into 3D, now is the time and VR is the most immersive way to do it. Digistor can help with all aspects of the real-time 3D and VR tools pipeline, from content creation software, workstation and graphics hardware to pipeline and consultancy services. Don't hesitate to get in touch if you're curious about the possibilities this technology enables.