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Degrees of Freedom needed for Truly Immersive Experiences

Live free or die” - that’s the inspirational motto of New Hampshire, a gorgeous state in the northeastern United States. While the quote itself is a bit dramatic (as befits a revolution), it’s no secret that one of the defining characteristics of the real world is our ability to move freely within it, generally speaking.

So it stands to reason that a truly immersive VR environment should replicate the freedom of movement we enjoy in the real world as closely as possible.

Currently, most VR environments, especially those implemented on mobile devices, respond only to Rotational Movement - rotation of the viewer’s head about the X, Y and Z axes of our 3D space. Looking up, down, left and right, in various combinations, there are 3 Degrees of Freedom (3 DOF):

  1. Tilting your head front and back on the X-axis (aka Pitch)

  2. Turning your head left and right on the Y-axis (aka Yaw)

  3. Tilting your head left and right on the Z-axis (aka Roll)

The image below illustrates this:

All Virtual Reality experiences use at least some rotational movement.

But in the real world, we have more freedom again along the same X, Y and Z axes. This is called Translational Movement and has 3 DOF too:

  1. Move sideways left and right on the X-axis (aka Sway)

  2. Move up and down on the Y-axis (aka Heave)

  3. Move forward and backward on the Z-axis (aka Surge)

The image below illustrates this:

So combining Rotational Movement and Translational Movement, we get Six Degrees of Freedom, or 6 DOF in total. This is further illustrated below:

Degrees of Freedom are an important consideration when building virtual environments.

Why 6 DOF is important

Simply put, 6 DOF is closer to mimicking a real world experience than 3 DOF.

3 DOF VR experiences (typical of Mobile VR) can easily break the sense of immersion. For example, imagine you are looking straight at a painting in a virtual environment, and you only have 3 Rotational DOF. When you take a step closer toward the painting, the painting will appear to move away, remaining the same distance from your eye instead of appearing to move closer to you, as it would in real life. Similarly, if you were to step to your left, the painting will not move away to the right side of your field of vision. This is because this VR experience doesn’t have Translational Movement capability.

This lack of alignment with reality breaks the sense of immersion and results in you breaking the illusion and sense of “presence” as well. You become acutely aware that something is off and that you’re in a simulation.

3 DOF mobile VR using 360 renderings or photos are easy to create and therefore, common. But they don’t really engage a viewer well enough since the viewer is constantly distracted by being reminded that they are in a simulation. The also don’t communicate a sense of scale, because scale is understood through depth created by movement of objects relative to one another.

On the other hand, high quality room scale VR with 6 DOF is very challenging to create. But it is also vastly more impactful in engaging viewers emotionally into the virtual world and gaining their trust along the customer buyer’s journey. Or in gaining their consensus for a shared project vision.

Here at Outer Realm, we focus on impact and value. We understand that for VR to be more than just a gimmick, it has to create a true sense of presence and make the viewer feel like they truly are immersed in a world that is “real.”

We’ve repeatedly watched (often to our delight and entertainment) users of our VR solutions instinctively react to the virtual world as if it were real. Setting controllers on a virtual countertop, only to have them drop to the real world floor, or trying to catch a falling virtual glass to make sure it doesn’t shatter. Their minds are sufficiently convinced that the virtual world they are experiencing is REAL.

To get an overview of what, immersive VR experiences for unbuilt properties are like, visit our website. But keep in mind, the best VR experiences require a headset, so be sure to reach out for an in-person demo.

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