Microsoft Research project could bring quality VR to phones

microsoft flashback system high quality vr content
Kevin Boos/Rice University
VR hardware looks poised to make a huge impact over the next couple of years, but there’s still the question of how to expose mainstream audiences to this type of experience. Samsung and Google have found some success by using smartphone hardware to power the content, and now it seems Microsoft might be following suit.

Next month, a team comprised of representatives from Microsoft Research and Rice University will present a paper called FlashBack: Immersive Virtual Reality on Mobile Devices via Rendering Memorization at the MobiSys 2016 conference in Singapore. This report details new methodology that could make it easier for hardware like smartphones and low-end PCs to run VR content well.

The concept hinges around the user’s perspective, according to a report from WinBeta. Instead of rendering 3D objects in real-time, the FlashBack system would utilize a library of compressed frames that look at the object from all possible angles.

Basically, whenever the user looks at a 3D object, they’re actually looking at a still image of it taken from their perspective. The device would only render what the user can see from that angle, which cuts down on all non-essential rendering of the wider environment.

The tests detailed in the paper demonstrate that FlashBack could make VR available to a much wider range of hardware. A prototype version apparently offered sizable improvements over a locally-rendered VR set-up, making framerates eight times better while reducing energy consumption per frame by a factor of 97 (remarkably), and reducing latency by a factor of 15.

However, there’s some way to go before FlashBack is ready to be implemented. Restrictions relating to file sizes and methods of compression mean the system isn’t quite ready for a mass rollout — but once these issues have been ironed out, FlashBack could help Microsoft bring VR to the masses.

Emerging Tech

What’s it like to die? This VR experience puts doctors in a dying man’s shoes

A new VR experience depicts the last days of a lung cancer patient. It is already being used as a teaching tool in hospices and medical schools. But can VR really make us more empathetic?
Virtual Reality

Think virtual reality is just for games? These awesome apps will change your mind

Virtual reality isn't all about gaming. Swim with turtles, paint in 3D, and immerse yourself in some unique experiences the platform has to offer with our curated list of the best VR apps.

Feeling nostalgic? Here are the 25 best Sega Genesis games

Although the company has since fallen into obscurity, Sega was an indisputable titan throughout the '90s. That said, here are 25 best Sega Genesis games that helped define its fabled decade.
Virtual Reality

Is the Vive Pro better than the original Vive? Our answer might surprise you

HTC Vive vs. Vive Pro, which comes out on top? That's the subject of our latest comparison, which looks at everything from tracking solutions, to controllers, and the brand new headset that could set a new standard for VR.

Keep on clicking with the 10 best browsers for Android

Browsing the web on an Android device should not be a pain. Check out our picks for the best browsers for Android, so you can surf the web with greater ease and access a trove of unique features.

Intel’s augmented reality brings Red Bull Rampage into your living room

The extreme mountain biking action of Red Bull Rampage is coming to your living room thanks to the power of augmented reality and 360-degree video that lets fans load a scale replica of the course right in their phones.

From the road to your wrist, see how Android has evolved over the past 10 years

Android started out as just a mobile operating system, but 10 years in it's pretty much everywhere. Check out our round-up of all the different Android variations that have cropped up so far, and what might be coming in the future.

With flip-out lenses, the Vuze XR transforms from 2D to 180-degree VR camera

The Vuze XR is a compact, dual-lens camera with an integrated handle and a neat party trick: The back-to-back lenses can flip forward to transition from 360-degree, two-dimensional video to 180-degree, three-dimensional video.

Following the Portal, augmented reality glasses may be Facebook’s next step

Following the launch of its Portal smart display, Facebook says it is working on AR glasses, possibly in a move at challenging both Apple and Google and perhaps to rise up in the hardware scene. 
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best gear and gadgetry you can snag for $100 or less

A $100 bill can get you further than you might think -- so long as you know where to look. Check out our picks for the best tech under $100, whether you're in the market for headphones or a virtual-reality headset.

Oculus VR could upgrade the Rift with a new display in 2019

Oculus could be set to release a new version of its Rift headset in 2019, but it will be more of a modest upgrade than a true sequel. The Rift S, as its purportedly called, will have a new display, and inside-out tracking.

Google awarded patent for using eye tracking to detect expressions in VR

Google was awarded a patent that involves using eye tracking to infer facial expressions using machine learning in virtual reality. The tech could help make virtual reality a whole lot more immersive than it already is.

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR has surpassed expectations and along with it comes an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.