Zoom Goes VR: Yet Another Remote Teamwork Virtual Reality App (Avatars? Who Needs Avatars?)

You might remember that I coined an acronym which I hope starts to catch on in the industry: YARTVRA, which stands for Yet Another Remote Teams Virtual Reality App. This is an emerging use for VR, and I have compiled a list of YARTVRA apps in this recent blogpost.

Well, it would appear that LearnBrite (which I have blogged about before), the company behind Zoom (the well-known, popular remote conferencing service) wants to embrace virtual reality, and hop into the nascent YARTVRA marketplace.

It looks like they are offering a couple of different ways to represent each remote participant. Take a gander at the following one-minute video, showing three men communicating via flat-screen video “avatars” in a 3D photograph of an office:

Watching this, I ask myself: why would anybody want to do this? What benefits does this bring? Sorry, but this is just weird. No avatars at all? Horse confetti?!??

Here’s another one-minute video showing you not only the flat-screen video “avatars”, but also a tantalizing glimpse of an actual, 3D avatar:

In the first part of this video, Zoom again eschews user avatars completely, choosing instead to have each participant displayed in a video screen in a 3D virtual conference room. However, notice at the 0:38 mark in this video, someone puts on an Oculus Quest VR headset, and you can then see his three-dimensional avatar standing in one corner of the conference room.

Here’s another one-minute video (no audio) that shows you a bit more of the setup for the Oculus Quest:

Now, it’s not clear to me if this is a real avatar that you can embody, able to move around the room, or if it is just a stationary object, a placeholder that merely represents the user. Unfortunately, there’s not enough in these videos to be able to tell!

In a page from the LearnBrite website showing you how you set up a virtual room in Zoom, the company states:

Why?

LearnBrite already includes tightly integrated WebRTC conferencing capabilities such as audio, video, VR presence and dial-in by phone.

In some enterprise environments it may be preferable to leverage the tools already in place, this helps with costs and also managing change in an organization. If everyone is already familiar with using Zoom, then adding VR to it can get better user “buy-in” than asking them to use a new or different solution.

But whether or not this is actually something that is going to be truly useful, something that adds a real benefit to remote work team collaboration, remains to be seen. So I’m a little skeptical, and frankly, I want to see more of this in action before I pronounce final judgement (especially how they implement 3D avatars).

As far as I can tell right now, this half-baked solution just gives LearnBrite the bragging rights that they now support Zoom in VR, without a lot of the features seen in competing YARTVRA products. Sorry, but I’m not impressed. This looks like a cheap gimmick to me.

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Using Bigscreen As a Remote Workteams Virtual Reality App

A user named PixelRouter posted the following picture to the Oculus subReddit today:

With a post titled Bought 4 Quests and a Rift S and so the sales guy wanted a pic. Will be using them for remote collaboration with my team using Bigscreen. We’ve come along way since DK1, he sparked a lively discussion about the merits of Bigscreen as an example of Yet Another Remote Teams Virtual Reality App (YARTVRA). You can see a short list of other YARTVRA here.

When asked why he had decided to go this route, he replied:

I used Bigscreen when it first came out for the Rift a couple of years ago and found it was amazing for collaborating on digital work of all sorts. I once spent four hours teaching people to build a basic Unity VR game, inside Bigscreen. The trouble was all the wires. Now with the Quest I am hoping it will be nearly as simple as setting up a zoom video call to have team members step in to our Bigscreen room to talk about what we are working on while able to present their screens…

I use Zoom all the time for video calls with potential business partners and it’s OK, but the thing that is great about Bigscreen is the sense of presence you feel with the others in the same room. It feels much more like a real-world, in-person meeting.

When one person said that VR wasn’t yet at a stage where this would be logical, PixelRouter replied:

I disagree. At least this is my tentative stance as I set out to try this out at my company. I’ve been an Oculus developer since 2013 with the DK1. I discovered Bigscreen when it first came out about two years ago. At the time I was Technical Director at a VR company in New York. Some days I worked remotely from NJ and would use Bigscreen to review code and designs, with people at the office in New York. It was awesome, except for all the wires and setup. Now, with the Quest, I think we have crossed that threshold where it really is practical to use VR to collaborate…

This is core to my experiment here. I want to see what we can make of this. I’m not a noob. I went through the “VR is the best thing ever” phase, on to the, “but it’s not there yet phase”. Things change, though. I think that, with the Quest, it may have just crossed that convenience threshold which will make this stick. We shall see.

And I have to admit, this is a perfectly valid use for Bigscreen, which I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to before. I always used to see Bigscreen as more of an entertainment app, but it could be used as a remote workteams app, too!

The Wild: A Brief Introduction

Yep, YARTVRA. YARTVRA! (Yet another remote teams virtual reality app.) This one is rather imaginatively named The Wild, by a Portland-based company:

Here the focus seems to be on architecture and design:

Bring your work to life before it’s built​. Experience your 3D models at scale, and gain critical insights that come from working together in a shared virtual space.

According to a recent press release on the AECCafé website:

Today, The Wild launched support for Oculus Quest, adding Facebook’s newest standalone virtual reality headset to its growing list of supported devices.

The Wild is a VR/AR collaboration platform that allows architects and design teams to experience their work together at human scale, in real time, from anywhere in the world. Oculus Quest is the first all-in-one VR headset to hit the enterprise market. With this latest offering from The Wild, immersive collaboration is easier and more accessible than ever. The Wild’s mission is to help teams do their best work. For spatial design teams, that means being able to inhabit your designs long before they’re built—catching errors, gaining critical context, and making more informed decisions together.

Reviewing architectural and environmental designs at human scale is vital. With The Wild, teams can meet in real time with up to eight people, fully synchronized, from anywhere in the world. The Wild offers native sketching and annotation tools, is compatible with most 3D file types, and integrates with Revit and SketchUp. The software is cross-platform as well—users can access The Wild from VR, iOS, or desktop (macOS and PC).

The Wild supports the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets as well as the recently-announced Oculus Quest.

I’ll leave you with a cute, cheerful promotional video for the product:

STAGE: A Brief Introduction

*sigh* I’m officially coining a new acronym here on my blog:

YARTVRA = Yet Another Remote Teams Virtual Reality App

Now, repeat after me: YARTVRA (“YART-verr-uh”). Yes, you’ve got it!

Yep. I found another one. (Actually, more than one. This is just the first post for today.) This one is called STAGE, by a Munich-based company called vr-on:

STAGE describes itself as:

STAGE – the secure virtual reality collaboration platform where teams can watch, experience, and discuss designs and layouts as people do in reality.

Among the suggested use cases for the product are:

  • Design reviews
  • Layout planning
  • Training
  • Market research
An example of layout planning using STAGE

Here’s their pricing info (all prices are in Euros, per user per month, billed at the yearly rate):

One feature that their website has that I thought was quite interesting was a calculator for determining just how much money your company would save by using STAGE:

This is something that High Fidelity (and other YARTVRA firms) should consider putting on their websites (along with a detailed comparison chart of all their competitors, listing their platform features). Hint, hint…

Question: why is almost everybody in this promotional video using only one hand controller? Did they lose the other one? 😉