Normal photography just isn’t good enough to capture the world for virtual reality. 360° videos are nice and all, but they’re flat and lifeless compared to a proper 3D environment. Light field cameras are the next step for real-world VR, allowing light to be recorded in a more nuanced way. If you want to see the results, Google’s created a VR experience using light fields and made it available on Steam.
As Google VR senior researcher Paul Debevec explains, light fields are simply a better way of doing things when it comes to making VR content:
Light fields are a set of advanced capture, stitching, and rendering algorithms. Much more work needs to be done, but they create still captures that give you an extremely high-quality sense of presence by producing motion parallax and extremely realistic textures and lighting
With light fields, nearby objects seem near to you — as you move your head, they appear to shift a lot. Far-away objects shift less and light reflects off objects differently, so you get a strong cue that you’re in a 3D space.
Unsurprisingly, showing the benefits of light field is difficult using still images alone. While a video doesn’t hold a candle to a VR headset, the clip below does a decent job of getting the message across.
The good news is, if you own a HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or a Mixed Reality unit, you can try Google’s light field VR demo right now via Steam. The system requirements are on the high side, but that’s to be expected for VR.
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What’s going to slow down adoption of light field is the cost. Google modified a GoPro Odyssey Jump, placed it on a rotating mount and stuffed it with 16 LF cameras. I’m sure the price will come down over time, but for now, don’t expect oodles of these experiences.
[Google, via The Verge]