The benefit of a tethered, desktop-powered virtual reality setup is that you can get significantly more visual fidelity from a GeForce GTX 1080 plugged into a power outlet as opposed to the tiny, battery-powered GPU in a phone. But Google is claiming that could change.
Google has developed a technology called Seurat that makes it easier to render lifelike, highly detailed 3D environments on a mobile VR headset. While companies like Nvidia and Qualcomm have beefed up the graphics capabilities of smartphones in recent years, those tiny chips still lag behind massive PC cards. But instead of trying to brute force pixels onto its Daydream headsets with more power, Google is using software to enable developers to render beautiful scenes in real time. And Hollywood effects house Industrial Light and Magic’s experimental division, ILMxLabs, has already used Seurat to bring some of the assets it built for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to life in a VR experience.
“When xLab was approached by Google, they said they could take our ILM renders and make them run in real-time in VR,” ILMxLab senior UX engineer Lewey Geselowitz said in a video about Seurat. “Turns out that’s true. I really think we’re onto something.”
Google’s not explaining exactly how this technology works — although it is promising to reveal more later this year. Bavor did imply that the magic is happening on the software side of things.
“It uses some clever tricks to help you achieve desktop-level graphics or better with a mobile GPU,” Google VR boss Clay Bavor wrote in a blog post. “Seurat enabled ILMxLAB … to bring the cinema-quality world of Rogue One to a mobile VR headset.”
If this technology works as advertised, then Google could expedite the process of making PC-based VR obsolete. That’s especially true if the company combines it with its dedicated headset that it is building with inside-out tracking that doesn’t require external sensors to determine your position in the world. When all of those elements come together, you could have a believable cyber world to explore anywhere that you can bring along a battery-powered VR headset.