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See it, feel it, believe it: The future of VR

Our hunger for new experiences and fresh sensations has driven the development of visual computing, from the advent of real-time 2D computer imagery back in the 1970s, to graphics accelerators enabling 3D gaming in the 1990s, and advanced GPUs enabling near-photorealistic 3D images a decade later.

Over the last 20 years, we as an industry took a lot of this graphics technology and applied it to a wide variety of platforms, from PCs and consoles to smartphones and tablets. On PC we pushed the resolution higher and higher, performance faster and faster, and made the image quality more realistic. The jump from 1080p to 4K is large. The jump from 4K to VR is going to be even more so. There’s demand for more pixel throughput and more GPU processing power. The pixel counts are growing exponentially. The next step is to get to the goal of photorealism in VR – to reach the interactivity of the game and the video quality of the movie.

Virtual reality is seeking to create a richer, more intuitive way for people to simulate their physical presence within a software-created world. Today, when you look across verticals such as education, media, and medical research, it is clear VR is poised to dramatically transform an array of applications and industries.

Telling stories with VR

Storytellers not only give life to imagination but can also augment our thinking and excite our every sense. They continue to be at the vanguard of innovative ways to conjure and impart their stories. Now, they have a new wonderful technology to revolutionise how stories are told and how they are experienced.

Using VR technology, people will be able to able to walk around a scene, pause, rewind, and see historic events from different vantage points, to feel present at the event. Every detail can be thoroughly researched and reproduced. The technology can enable us to figuratively walk in another’s shoes, leading to greater understanding and empathy. We are witnessing the dawn of a new medium with VR that could revolutionise storytelling.

The Neuro VR Experience

General Electric is utilising AMD technology in their Neuro VR Experience, where GE scientists have created a virtual portal into the human brain, enabling a user to enter, view, and explore the brain in ways never before possible. Through this programme, VR is enabling researchers to gain a better understanding of the possible treatments needed for brain illness or injury.

Customer acceptance and adoption of VR technology will likely resemble the 'bell curve' describing many other technology rollouts, with a tiny percentage of early enthusiasts, the 'early adopters', growing into a massive swell of mainstream adoption. The real question to ask here is:

How many, and how fast?

A crucial factor in having a comfortable VR experience is creating and maintaining what is known as 'presence' — a state of immersive awareness where situations, objects, or characters within the virtual world seem 'real'. Designing realistic virtual-reality environment requires tremendous computing power to render the virtual world with the best possible performance parameters. VR technology requires fast graphics processing, high image resolutions, low latencies and great visual quality, all while working to eliminate processing lag times, graphics frame-dropping, or slow response to events or stimuli within the virtual world.

In the short term, solving motion-to-photon latency is key to creating and maintaining presence. The solution will require a unified effort of the companies and technologies participating in the VR processing pipeline, from initial input controllers all the way to the display technologies within a head-mounted display.

Medium to long term, we as the industry need to deliver immersive, interactive and intuitive user experiences. The technologies used must create and sustain the virtual environment to enable virtual presence — and then stay out of the way and be entirely inconsequential to the actual experience. The VR user on the other hand requires only one thing to maximise their experience: make the technology disappear.

The workplace of the future

I believe that in business, the workplace of the future will look vastly different than today. The creation process will become much more collaborative where someone working on the simulation of a car, for example, will be able to take input from a colleague in real time. We will be able to twist and turn models, change background images and lighting, and build virtual 'real life' models instead of spending valuable resources on prototypes. The content will be freed to become significantly more visual where a database will not be textual but a colourful, layered 3D object.

We expect a wide variety of VR devices to emerge in coming months and years. Many of these devices may represent entirely new categories, and may not initially have native support from content and operating system ecosystems.

Combining the visual fidelity of today’s feature films with the interactivity of video games, VR is creating a new medium of interactive experiences. Like radio, TV and personal computers, VR offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to radically change how we interact with information, content and entertainment.

Sasa Marinkovic, Head of virtual reality marketing at AMD