Step into Distant Lands With ‘Realities’, Launching Free on HTC Vive April 5th


Realities is a collection of incredibly detailed virtual environments created with a technique called photogrammetry. It’s about the closest thing we’ve seen yet to teleportation, and you’ll be able to check it out for yourself come April 5th, when the experience launches alongside the HTC Vive on SteamVR.

We went hands-on with Realities last month and called the VR environments “jaw-droppingly detailed.” The team has taken to photogrammetry, which is the art and science of creating a detailed virtual copy of a real object by capturing hundreds of photos and combining the data to derive the shape and appearance with very high resolution.

Realities has gone far beyond objects though; the team has used the technique to capture entire rooms and complexes with such detail that at times you might think you’re looking at a picture. Compared to a 360 degree photo or video though, Realities is actually creating the scene as 3D geometry, allowing you to navigate and explore rather than being stuck with one perspective.

realities photogrammatry virtual reality (6)
This is an in-engine screenshot, not a photograph.

The team is bringing their photogrammetric captures to SteamVR through the Realities app for free on April 5th, the Vive’s launch day. You’ll be able to download and explore for yourself, provided you’ve got an HTC Vive. (The team tells us Rift support through SteamVR is coming soon).

The Realities team says the app will launch with five or so different locations to start, and further say that they want to “fill the globe with interesting places all over the the world.”

realities photogrammatry virtual reality (5)

In the launch trailer (at the top of the article), we see a quick glimpse of the beautiful globe that the developers created, which acts as a menu for Realities. I was mesmerized when I saw it for the first time:

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Starting at about the size of the beach ball, the Earth in front of me looked like one of those amazing NASA photos showing the entire sphere of the planet within the frame. There’s a good reason it looked that way: it was constructed using assets from NASA, including real cloud imagery and accurate elevation data for the Earth’s continents (which was exaggerated to allow users to make out the detailed terrain from their satellite vantage point). The dark side of the globe also accurately lights up with a brilliant, warm grid-like glow of city-light scattered across the planet’s surface.

With the Vive’s controllers I was able to reach out and manipulate the globe by spinning it, moving it, and doing a pinch-zoom gesture to make it bigger or smaller. I grabbed the Earth and lifted it over my head to look at it from below; for the first time in my life, I truly got a sense of the way in which South America really curves down under the Earth as it reaches toward Antarctica. I’d never seen—or I suppose ‘felt’—the shape of the continent in that way before, not even when playing with one of those elementary school globes in the real world.

I went looking for Hawaii, where I once lived for a year. After spotting the lonesome island chain in the middle of the Pacific I wanted to zoom right down to street-level to see my stomping grounds. When I couldn’t zoom in much further than the ‘state view’, I had to remind myself that this was, after all, just the menu. At this point I realized I’d been playing around with it for 10 or 15 minutes and hadn’t even stepped inside Realities’ actual product.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • TaxPayer

    I’m really excited about this, so much potential. Underwater, Space, other planets, around the globe etc…

    • v_volker

      Space! Yes!!!!

      • Simon Che de Boer

        Kinda hard to Photogrammetry space :D

  • cognitiveVR

    I still don’t understand how this tech is so good. The environments look crazy good.

  • Super Game-guru

    Well….photogrammetry is very cool but the models that came from this process have a large number of polygons so there are not so good for videogame graphics. I’m curious to see it in action!

    • Wout Standaert

      It depends! The vanishing of ethan carter depended heavily on photogrammetry as a starting point for their environments. If you want to see really heavy data, check out videogrammetry :) no links between different frames, so “videos” of a couple of seconds can quickly take up multiple gigabytes of space (and, sadly, VRAM)

  • richard coughlan

    So are they building 3D geometry, taking photographs and then adding the photograph over the geometry like a texture?

  • Simon Che de Boer are cool cats. We are doing the same stuff here in New Zealand. The pipeline is crazy complex to initially work out and perfect but once done, is remarkably simple, just a lot of waiting around for computers to crunch numbers, also the taking of the photos can be a little dragged out :D But compared to traditional means, a fraction of the time. Check out our most recent work

    • realtrisk

      Looks awesome! Are you doing this for a specific project?

      • Simon Che de Boer

        Um nah not really, just homing the skill of actually doing it more than anything. However, definitely getting a few locations of interest over the next few months, will make for one very interesting experience. There’s some cool locations around these parts. Thanks.

        • realtrisk

          Well heck, just release it like these guys are doing for people to experience! There aren’t many scenes coming with this, at least for now, so more is better! :) Plus yes, you live in the land of awesome scenery, I’d love to visit it virtually. :D

          • Simon Che de Boer

            Absolutely! Challenge accepted!

  • Simon Che de Boer