What we already know and have seen about Virtual Reality (VR) is exciting. Its development has not stopped at all; it is ongoing and still experts are exploring its possibilities and improving upon its capabilities. Indeed, not everybody has yet experienced VR, but this advanced technology is already showing its potential in different industries, .and it keeps evolving! Every day, VR experiences become more innovative and engaging. There are different challenges ahead, but now, VR experts are claiming an important progress called Cloud VR. But, is Cloud VR a real thing or is it a useless trend? Is it really a big step ahead for VR? Let’s find it out!
What is Cloud VR?
Cloud VR, or Cloud-based virtual reality, is a technology that leverages cloud computing infrastructure to deliver virtual reality experiences to users over the Internet as a service. Instead of rendering the virtual environment directly on the users’ local VR headsets or other devices, the rendering and processing tasks are offloaded to remote servers in the cloud. The resulting visuals are then streamed back to the users’ devices, providing them with high-quality VR content (experience) without the need for very powerful local devices.
How does Cloud VR work?
Let’s take a look at the Cloud VR process to understand the differences with traditional VR.
1. Getting the user input. You have a user ready for a VR experience. He or she has a local headset or another device to interact with the VR environment. This interaction can involve actions such as hand or head movements, gestures, or the use of controllers (button presses) for navigating and interacting within the virtual world.
2. Input transmission. In traditional VR, the user input data we previously described (gestures, movements, etc.) is transmitted to the user’s device (headset, console, or PC). Cloud VR transmits the user input data over the Internet to the cloud servers, rather than to the user’s device. Then, these powerful cloud servers update the virtual environment based on the user input (interaction, decisions, etc.) they receive.
3. Cloud rendering. When using traditional VR setups, the device of the user (headset, console, or PC) oversees rendering the real-time scenes and complex 3D graphics included in the virtual experience. This means that the user device must have power and features enough to execute this hard but critical task. Well, Cloud VR transfers the responsibility of rendering to powerful servers with high-performance GPUs (Graphics Processing Units) and more hardware components capable of executing demanding computational tasks. Such servers are located in data centers and there is where rendering takes place.
4. Frame compression. Once the rendered frames are ready, they get compressed to reduce the data size before they are sent back to the user’s device. The main goal of compression techniques is to keep a balance between visual quality and data transmission speed.
5. Streaming to local device. When the frame compression is completed, the frames are streamed over the Internet to the user’s local VR headset or another device. This streaming process must be executed with a stable and relatively high-speed Internet connection. Otherwise, you can’t ensure smooth and responsive visuals.
6. Frame decompression and display. The compressed frames are received and decompressed in real time on the user’s device. Once this task is done, the decompressed frames are displayed on the screen of the VR headset. Then, the user can see and interact with the virtual environment.
7. Synchronization and latency management. For everything to work properly, the user’s input and the streamed frames must be kept synchronized. In other words, the delay between the actions of the user and the corresponding visuals (latency) must be minimized as much as possible by the cloud system. To keep the latency low is essential to offer a comfortable and immersive VR experience to the user.
8. Creation of a constant feedback loop. As the user keeps interacting with the VR environment, his or her actions are transmitted to the cloud servers, which render new frames based on the updated input of the user. This process creates a constant feedback loop that makes it possible for the user to navigate and interact within the virtual environment in real time.
What are the advantages of Cloud VR?
Cloud VR offers tangible benefits, but its usefulness depends on different factors (challenges). Let’s review them to evaluate whether Cloud VR is a meaningful innovation or a passing trend.
· Accessibility to a wider audience. Cloud VR gives the hard work to powerful servers and not to the users’ devices. So, Cloud VR has the potential to make virtual reality experiences accessible to more users, including those with less powerful devices or limited hardware resources.
· Reduction of hardware costs. This benefit is very much connected with the previous. Since Cloud VR deletes the need for users to invest in high-end VR-ready consoles or PCs, hardware costs to access the VR ecosystem could be lowered.
· Immersive Content. Cloud VR works with powerful cloud servers, and this allows it to deliver more immersive and graphically advanced content. To run such content using local devices might be very challenging.
· Scalability. With Cloud VR, it is easier to scale up VR experiences without investing in additional and complex hardware. Cloud VR can adapt to the users’ or businesses’ needs, understanding that they can change (upscale or downscale) through time, and provide the necessary technology resources to ensure a positive experience even during peak usage times.
· Seamless updates. You know the importance of keeping systems updated very well. It’s mostly about security and new features. An advantage of Cloud-based solutions is that they can update automatically and regularly. This way, Cloud VR (applications and content) can offer security and the latest features to users.
What are the challenges of Cloud VR?
· Latency reduction. Low latency is essential to guarantee a smooth VR experience. We already explained how important it is to minimize delays between the actions of the user and the visuals. Latency can cause an unpleasant or disappointing VR experience due to reduced immersion and motion sickness. Think about very demanding applications like fast-paced multiplayer games. They demand real time interactions and responses to satisfy the users. High lag in all cases leads to low immersion and not a great virtual experience. Looking for solutions, another technology that is being explored is 5G (telecommunications). The fifth-generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks features higher bandwidth which means delivering data at a much faster speed. 5G is expected to improve the quality of Internet services. Offering large bandwidth and low latency, 5G looks like a great ally for Cloud VR. 3D images and videos, user inputs, etc. could be transmitted faster, resulting in better performance and VR experiences. 5G began to be deployed across the world in 2019, so it will take time to have the technology available everywhere, but this option sounds promising. Latency reduction is a big challenge because it doesn’t just involve Cloud VR providers. Internet service providers (bandwidth) and users (Internet service they hire) have a role to play.
· Network dependence. Cloud VR relies on stable and high-speed Internet connections. This means that enjoying a high-quality VR experience in rural areas or regions with poor connectivity doesn’t seem viable.
· Security and data privacy. Encryption and secure data transmission protocols are regularly used to protect user information (personal data and all the input and interactions transmitted to the remote servers). However, Cloud VR can be vulnerable to cyberattacks just like any other cloud-based service. Security to protect data privacy must be a priority not to create concerns in users.
· Quality Cloud servers. Since a quality VR experience depends on the performance of the cloud servers, a quality provider is essential. Technical issues or downtime will directly affect the user’s satisfaction.
Conclusion: Is Cloud VR a real thing or is it a useless trend?
Now, the answers are clearer. Yes, Cloud VR is a real thing, meaning it is a technology that already works, but not to its full potential yet because it is being developed right now – even while you are reading this article. But definitely, it is enhancing how VR content () is delivered and experienced. Cloud VR is not a useless trend, but an alternative found by developers after years of learning and facing challenges while improving. Let’s say that Cloud VR appeared as a natural next step for VR to solve some of its challenges. For instance, since the beginning, using VR was expensive and incurred a high cost because the hardware required demanded high-quality features, so it wasn’t an option for many would-be users.. Cloud VR came as a good solution to this issue, so it meant progress, a step forward, but it did not solve all challenges and, instead, it brought along some new ones. In terms of technical requirements, Cloud VR reduces the hardware requirements for some devices but adds new ones, like high-quality display and reliable network connection. Other modern technologies are being explored to use their potential to solve Cloud VR issues. We already mentioned 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) could enhance sensor tracking and computer vision in VR experiences, and the IoT (Internet of Things) ecosystem could help improving connections between different devices. This is nothing out of the ordinary – this is the way evolution works and it is the path many other technologies have followed before becoming mainstream. What is yet to be seen is if Cloud VR is set as the best solution, once it solves its current drawbacks and matures, or if we are going to witness the birth of a new technology discovered on the way. That is why computing science and development are so exciting!