Forget 360 Videos, Photogrammetric Virtual Reality Is Where It's At

When you combine piles of digital photos with 3D modeling, it's almost as good as actually being there.

So much of the talk surrounding virtual reality these days tends to focus on games, but German developer Realities.io is busy demonstrating it can bring the real world to your headsets as well. In a new video posted to UploadVR, we see the recreation of several interior spaces through the eyes of a HTC Vive headset, and even on a flat screen I found myself gasping at the detail and realism Realities.io' technique provides.

That technique, specifically, is photogrammetry, which works by compiling a host of images taken from various angles and using them to create realistic depth. Much of the initial work is done with cameras, but someone from Realities.io comes in after they're stitched together and improves the 3D modeling. Superficially, the end result looks somewhat like the "spherical camera" photos you find on Google Maps when seen from a distance, but that perception quickly vanishes upon a simple zoom-in. In short, it's a photorealistic 3D environment you can explore in virtual reality, and it looks that good because it's literally created from photographs.

Instead of growing distorted as images do on Google Maps, details become clearer and the room retains its dimensions. Even the light realistically shifts, thanks to specular lighting technology that adjusts as you move about.

The technology includes a zoom feature that effectively teleports you across the room, but the beauty of the Vive is the way it lets viewers walk around in the space as though they were actually there. This kind of thing must be stunning to experience with the Vive itself, as each fallen chair and lump of rusty junk looks like something you can pick up and inspect. Equally amazing, in fact, is the menu, which uses photos and data from NASA to depict Earth as a globe you can handle like a beachball.

Realities.io chiefly wants to use to use the tech for virtual tourism, thus allowing future Vive owners to walk about in distant or restricted spaces they may never see in person. Even so, it's also experimented with other uses, such as using it to capture the layout of an archaeological digsite. There's an educational aspect behind it as well, thus allowing viewers to pick up photos that reveal tidbits of history when users flip them over.