There’s been a lot of press about the productivity benefits that can be realized when virtual reality (VR) is added to digital workflows. Applications for VR can include product design, training and simulations, building design, and a myriad of research applications. VR environments scale from Head-Mounted Displays (HMDs), like the VIVE or Oculus products, to large scale walls and walk-in immersive rooms, like the CAVE and CAVE2.
While the prospect of using any of these tools is exciting, the next question is often “will the content I have work in VR?” One primary reason that VR systems go underutilized is that users find it difficult to integrate data, simulations, models, and other content into VR. Luckily there are a variety of methods to successfully transfer that content. Let’s discuss the four most typical ways to provide VR experiences.
Software that is Natively Capable of Displaying in VR
Many software providers have updated their program’s capabilities in recent years because of the growth in VR’s popularity. It’s possible that the software you’re using is already capable of VR. Software like Dassault’s 3D Experience, Autodesk’s VRED, Siemens’ Teamcenter, and some scientific software are VR ready. If your current software version isn’t, a simple upgrade may enable that feature. Ask your software provider about VR capabilities, whether native or possible through other means. Be sure to consider the type of VR environment you may need for your data. VR-ready software may be compatible only with HMDs, not with larger immersive systems like a multi-projector wall or CAVE. Working within these more complex environments may require another means as below.
Graphics Interception Plug-in
This approach involves a plug-in which essentially intercepts the 3D geometry of your data before it gets to the VR system. The plug-in creates the left and right eye views necessary for VR viewing. Some plug-in applications will only enable viewing the data. Others will allow for navigation and remote sharing of data. Alternative applications may include more advanced capabilities like text windows in the VR space, measuring tools, sectioning tools, and more. The interactive feature set will vary by plug-in developer and application, so consider what capabilities you workflow needs before making a selection.
In addition, not all plug-ins will display across all VR environments. Many have focused on HMD implementations. Larger, more collaborative VR systems may need software to work across multiple graphics cards, angled walls, and more interactive tools. Your goals for your work in VR should always drive consideration when selecting plug-in applications.
Conversion into a Game Engine
Today’s game engines, like Unity and Unreal Engine, have developed advanced tools to convert CAD, AEC, and other data into the game engines. Conversion to a game engine offers many benefits compared to viewing proprietary software using a plug-in, but more work may be required. Once data is converted, game engines enable users to create custom interactions like interference detections and navigation. More advanced rendering capabilities are available in-game engines for photorealistic visual quality. Another benefit is that game engines are supported by global communities of users, so additional tools are always being developed and made available.
Not all game engines are capable of displaying in all VR environments. VR displays like the CAVE or ultra-high resolution systems may require a VR-enabling plug-in. The game engine/plug-in choice that’s best for you will be based on your workflow requirements.
Create Directly in a Game Engine
Depending upon the resources you have available and your use cases for your data, you may consider building your experiences directly in the game engine. The game engines provide authoring tools to create visualizations interactively or programmatically. It may be more cost-effective to buy a model from an online asset store than build it from scratch. Doing so eliminates the step of converting content from one program to another. Not only does this increase productivity, but it also creates the simplicity of learning only one software program.
Avoidance of VR because of perceived content issues is a missed opportunity. VR can generate significant returns in efficiency and cost savings that significantly outweigh anticipated conversion challenges. Take the steps necessary to find the right solution for your use case. Working with a VR software developer can help find the right approach for the maximum return.
Understanding the insights important to your business will help you to define the right workflow for taking your content into VR. Depending on the approach, you may then deliver the experience that provides maximum impact for your users.