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.
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.”
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:
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.