Bringing Virtual Reality to the Web platform

The world of Virtual Reality in 2016 feels a lot like the world of Mobile in 2007: a lot of expectations around a new way to interact with users, a lot of innovations in hardware and software to make it a reality, and a lot of unknowns as to how these interactions would develop.

Having played a tiny role in making the Web a better platform for mobile devices, and with the feeling that Progressive Web Apps are finally bringing us where we need to be in that space, I have been looking in the past few months at where the Web needs to be to provide at least one of the major platform for Virtual Reality experiences.

Beyond the expected application of VR to gaming and video consumption, many innovative use cases have emerged to make Virtual Reality a compelling platform for e-commerce, news (see for instance NYTVR), learning and discovery, communication and social inclusiveness, engineering, and many other use cases.

As such, VR feels to me like a big new set of opportunities for creativity and expression, with its more immersive and more direct interactions. The Web ought to be able to cater for this space of innovation.

The Web comes with well-known strengths in that space:

  • As the number of headsets and other associated VR devices grows by the day, the plasticity of the Open Web Platform to adapt content and services to a great many of device types, varying in processing power, resolution, interactions and operating systems is no longer to demonstrate, and is certain to bring content and service providers a uniform platform on which to build.
  • As wearing a headset tends to isolate users from their external environments, there is a risk that VR experiences remain limited to intense but somewhat exclusive type of content or applications (e.g. games or videos); but the Web has proved excellent at providing an on-ramp to engaging users (as Progressive Web Apps demonstrate). While it’s hard to imagine oneself immersing into a real-estate VR experience while looking for a house, the idea of starting a VR experience while browsing a particularly appealing house on a real-estate Web site seems much more compelling.
  • The Web was created first and foremost to facilitate sharing, and the continued demonstration of the power of URLs to enable this some 25 years after its inception is a testament to the robustness and strength of that approach. VR would hardly be the first ecosystem to benefit from the reach and social effect enabled by the Web.
  • Finally, as a fundamentally open platform, that anyone can use, build on and contribute to building, the Web can ensure that the new space of creativity enabled by VR is not stifled by the rules and constraints of closed and proprietary platforms.

But to make these strengths applicable to VR, the Web obviously needs to provide the basic technical bricks that are necessary to build VR experiences.

Fortunately, many such technologies are already in place or are making good progress toward widespread development.

WebGL has provided the basic layer for 3D graphics for a number of years and has now reached widespread deployment.

The Gamepad API brings the necessary interface to the various type of devices used to navigate in virtual experiences.

The Web Audio API features, among its many amazing capabilities, spatialized audio, providing a critical component to truly immersive experiences.

But critically, the possibility of projecting graphics to VR headsets, taking into account their optical and geometrical specificities, has been recently enabled experimentally via the WebVR API that Mozilla started (recently releasing it in its nightly builds), soon after joined by Google and Samsung with their respective browsers, and recently joined by Microsoft.

While this collection of APIs can easily be perceived as a steep learning curve for many Web developers, another project pushed by Mozilla, A-Frame, demonstrates the expressivity of encapsulating a lot of such APIs in Web Components. With A-Frame, a few lines of HTML-like markup suffice to create a first VR-enabled scene, including all the plumbing needed to make the experience of switching from regular browsing to the more immersive view.

WebVR is being developed in a W3C Community Group, but is not on the W3C standardization track yet. It will be one of the core topics of the upcoming W3C Workshop on Web & Virtual Reality I am organizing next month (October 19-20) in California. The goal of that event (open to all practitioners of the field) will be to establish the overall roadmap to standardization to make the Web a robust platform for Virtual Reality.

Let’s all work together to make sure Web & VR grow together harmoniously!

5 thoughts on “Bringing Virtual Reality to the Web platform

  1. I agree that it is time and actually is an overdue feature that should already be an accessible platform to access the Web. Virtual Reality or VR, has picked up tremendous steam this decade as far as availability across multiple devices/platforms, accessibility to technology/equipment needed to access VR, and overall popularity. The graphics race can be limited as far as end result in conjunction with existing graphic engines and images/videos/etc. can provide only so much compared to experiencing for example a tour of a piece of real estate, which could be a possibility with Web VR implementation. I am all for the Virtual Reality movement! It provides nearly limitless possibilities to experiences that could potentially be provided with full Web VR implementation!

  2. I am beyond ready for a world where we can step out of our everyday happenings and into a world that can make us more excited about waking up the next day and going to work/doing school work. I feel like a great way that the world is showing it’s readiness is through Microsoft HoloLens! This device allows the user the abilities that we saw when we watched The Gamer and saw Gerard Butler jump into what was the just movie magic.

    Another personal feeling I have that Virtual Reality can bring to the playing field is a form of Therapy for those with disabilities that do not allow them to speak. This is a way where they can socialize in ways unimaginable in their minds right now and be able to have friends…and yes people can have friends on-line…it’s a huge part of today’s Internet Culture. I can see the disabilities becoming less of a stress/hinder to other’s lives as they can make friends, play games, build worlds of their own imaginations.

    I truly feel we are not fully ready for all of what people come up with but I do believe that Virtual Reality will bring great things to the world. Of course there will be out there who try to use it for negativity or to hurt others but the greatness and good it will bring will be life changing for many.

  3. Bringing Virtual reality to the web will change the lives of people in this society forever. In today’s life time, researchers say that computers are growing in speed and in power quickly. Virtual reality will improve along with the computers. You’re right that virtual reality will do very well for gaming. Microsoft has already made virtual reality headset for gaming. That is very successful. It makes you feel like you’re in the game. Many researchers say that virtual reality will be one day enhance education, science, industry, art, and entertainment. Virtual reality will one day become a big global thing that everybody in the world will use.

    There are other people that say virtual reality will be bad for the society. Some researchers say that “virtual reality have much less helpful effects.” They point out people that got physical and mental problems from using this technology. They said that people were use to pausing the event or even stopping altogether. Like for people that play war video games, they can pause the game, but they can’t do when they go out in a real war like environment.

    In my opinion, virtual reality is a good thing. Virtual reality will be good for the society because it will expand technology to something new and exciting. People will be able to experience something totally new with technology. That society will learn and see what technology can really do with the world around us.

  4. Virtual Reality has come a long way in my lifetime. I still remember the time when I first put an oculus rift on my head. I was at a lan party with my friends and one of them had a pre-production oculus rift I was able to try out. It was amazing. I played a horror game and the jump scares were out of this world. Adding Virtual Reality to the internet just makes it even better. Imagine watching a youtube video. It would be like you were actually there. Realtors could add a program to their website that could allow buyers to check out and virtually walk through the home right from their home computer. The only downside to this virtual reality is that every consumer would need super high-end computer components to process the graphics for virtual reality. If you already have a high end computer though, its not a problem. I am very excited and I think it is a huge advance in the World Wide Web. I just cant wait until they come out with holograms.That is definitely the next step.

  5. It is a very good article about Virtual Reality and Web. Personally, I am very skeptical of Virtual Reality and Web. It is super hard to navigate online with a VR headset. Beside this, it doesn’t improve the efficiency or the quality of data. On the web, most of the data it is still text and image. There are not a lot of movies and 3D. Virtual reality, I think it is not applicable for text, images, or 2D videos.

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