Could this large ‘crystal ball’ display be the future of collaborative VR?

19 Feb 2019

The Crystal VR display. Image: Clare Kiernan/UBC

While VR focuses almost entirely on headsets and personal experiences, a new ‘crystal ball’ display could make it a lot more social.

While using a virtual reality (VR) headset can be a social experience to connect people online, those in the physical presence of the person wearing the device can be left wanting. However, a new display developed by a team of engineers from the University of British Columbia in Canada may have found a way for more than one person in a room to enjoy the same VR experience.

The 600mm crystal ball-shaped VR display supports two users at the same time, using advanced calibration and graphics rendering techniques which produce a distortion-free 3D image even when viewed from multiple angles. The display, simply called Crystal, was custom-made, and the four high-speed projectors and camera within it were bought from a standard electronics supplier. Small headsets worn by the users track their movements, which then corresponds with what they see on the sphere.

The crystal ball shaped display in the lab with a soccer pitch projection inside.

Image: Clare Kiernan/UBC

Rich from any angle

“When you look at our globe, the 3D illusion is rich and correct from any angle,” explained Sidney Fels, an electrical and computer engineering professor involved in the project. “This allows two users to use the display to do some sort of collaborative task or enjoy a multiplayer game while being in the same space.”

The researchers are now looking to develop a four-person experience for Crystal. They see a number of other uses for it, including virtual surgery and VR learning. For now, they are focused on developing a device for teleconferencing and computer-aided design.

Another one of the researchers, Ian Stavness, added: “Imagine a remote user joining a meeting of local users. At either location you can have a Crystal globe, which is great for seeing people’s heads and faces in 3D.

“Or you can have a team of industrial designers in a room, perfecting a design with the help of VR and motion tracking technology.”

The researchers stress, however, that they don’t envision Crystal ever replacing VR seen in headsets or flatscreen TVs. More so they think this concept can be a good option for VR activities where you still want to see and talk to other people.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic