Earlier this year Oculus CTO John Carmack revealed a new video playback technique designed to bring high-resolution video to mobile headsets like Oculus Go. Oculus released a sample of the system and developer Cubicle Ninjas saw a perfect opportunity to adapt the code to their Guided Meditation VR app, resulting in a vastly improved visual experience.
While Guided Meditation VR is rendered in real-time on tethered headsets which are backed by a PC with plenty of processing power, the mobile Oculus Go version of the app, relies on 360 video captures of the virtual environments instead. The monoscopic 360 footage is a far cry from the crisp real-time 3D renderings found on the PC version, making it more difficult to get lost in the app’s otherwise often beautiful environments.
But then along came a new method for playing back 360 video content on Oculus Go. Developed by Oculus CTO John Carmack, with the goal of delivering top quality playback, the technique involves rendering individual strips of high resolution footage depending upon where the user is looking. Doing so allows the more of the device’s video decoding power to be put to work where it matters most (where the user is looking) rather than spreading evenly everywhere.
The technique happened to be very well suited to the static viewpoints of Guided Meditation VR, and the developers went to work adapting Carmack’s sample code to the app.
The result is a major leap in visual fidelity for serene scenes in Guided Meditation VR, which are being slowly updated for the new format. Not only does the new approach bring 3D to the table (which is already a big step forward for immersion over monoscopic video) but the scenes now look nearly as if they’re being rendered in real-time, except with graphics which Oculus Go could never hope to deliver with its limited processing power.
Having built a full Unity integration for the playback system, Cubicle Ninjas claims they’re the first to deploy Carmack’s VR playback tech outside of the re-release of Oculus’ Henry on mobile headsets which was first used to demonstrate the new technique. They’ve also built some extra functionality on top, like the ability to add 3D objects rendered in real-time into the scene, which they use to layer in near-field effects like falling leaves and floating dust.
The move to this new playback tech is a clear net positive for Guided Meditation VR, but it isn’t without some drawbacks. You can sometimes see the higher quality video strips pop into place as you turn your head, but it’s not too bothersome and doesn’t overtly harm the experience. Another downside, which is a necessary conceit based on how the playback system is designed, is that the quality at the top and bottom poles of the scene is clearly lower resolution than the rest. That’s fine when most of what you’re interested in looking at is near the horizon, but in scenes where you’re close to tall trees (which naturally draw your eyes up to the canopy) or interesting things like rocks and grass at your feet, it becomes apparent. Smartly chosen scene compositions will make best use of the new playback method.
Right now the app offers just eight scenes in the special 5K format (out of a library of 100 or so), though the studio says each week they’ll be adding more and update existing scenes with the extra quality. The 5K content is only available on the Oculus Go version of the app; the Gear VR version will see the same quality as before the 5K update.
In addition to letting you immerse yourself in scenic vistas, the app includes hours of guided meditation voiceovers to instruct your relaxation; the studio has confirm to Road to VR that a new series of meditations on Mindfulness will soon debut in the app.