Today November, 8th 2017, Opera has released a new version of its desktop browser that adds a lot of innovations and among them, there’s support for easy VR videos visualization. I’ve tested it to see how it works and I want to report you my impressions.
Opera has always been an interesting product, that while doesn’t have a big market share (according to Wikipedia, it holds less than 5% of the whole browsers’ market), has always tried to introduce innovations to shine in front of other most popular web browsers as Firefox or Chrome. With the just released version, codenamed Reborn, they tried to perform a big step forward. As Krystian Kolondra, head of the Opera browser, says:
We believe today’s browsers are getting dated, and that there is a strong need to rethink and modernize the browser. This year, we first launched a concept browser, Opera Neon, which truly captured people’s imagination of what a browser can become. Now we continue to refine and implement novel concepts as part of the project codenamed Reborn.
This Reborn version introduces some handy tools, like:
- The ability to chat inside the browser with all the most popular messaging services, as Whatsapp, Telegram, Messenger. Using the left sidebar, it is possible to chat with all our friends on all social platform while we browse the web on the desktop PC;
- An improved screenshot capture tool, that lets us modify the snapshot we’ve just taken adding emojis, blurrings, hand drawings and such. The same tool can also be used to take selfies from our webcam and modify them. The modified image can then be saved or shared on social media;
- An improved start page, more personal and handy;
- Integration with VR videos.
The first two points highlight how the company is investing in making web browsing a more social experience, blurring the line between web navigation and social media. The third point aims at making the browser more personal. The fourth one is… wow, VR!!
What do I mean with “integration with VR videos”? I mean that if you have a desktop PC connected with a tethered headset like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, you can browse the web and then watch 360 videos directly in your headset with just a click of a button! While on mobile this is surely easy with some browsers (e.g. Samsung Browser has a VR version that autostarts 360 videos in VR), with desktop PC this is far from easy. When I had to review Rose Colored on Vimeo, for instance, I had to download it and play it through my Whirligig player. That has been a true nuisance. I would have really loved a “VR toggle” button to enable visualization of that video directly inside my Rift. Well, Opera has made exactly that.
I was excited by the idea, so I decided to try it myself to see how it worked. So, I started Opera web browser, I looked for “360 videos” on Youtube and selected a video with an interesting topic: a Korean girl 😀 . (If you need the video link for “research purposes”, it is this one). I opened the video page, and above the video appeared a VR button proposing me to watch the video in VR. Wow! This auto-detection feature of videos is very easy and friction-less: all the videos you watch can be viewed in VR. I just had to click that button, to see my SteamVR runtime launching and then the video magically appearing inside my headset! It has been a bit weird that Opera couldn’t connect directly to my Oculus runtime and it had to open SteamVR, but the whole thing worked like a charm. Just a click and I was in VR with that beautiful girl!
As you can see from the above image, inside VR you have a basic VR video player, that reminds me a lot DeoVR. You have a very simple and neat interface, to:
- Navigate the video
- Mute/unmute audio
- Select the projection type for the video (360, 180, flat, cube)
- Select if the video is stereoscopic or not
You can obviously use your VR controllers, that cast a blue ray with which you use the UI buttons. Everything worked perfectly with the video of the Korean girl. The only issue I had is that I had to understand the type of projection used by the video: that video appears to be one with a cubemap projection, so unless I selected that projection type, I had really weird visuals. It’s a pity that the system can’t automatically detect the type of video (but honestly no video player out there does), but with a fast trial-and-error is easy to watch the video correctly.
Because I saw that it worked well for that video, I decided to stress-test a bit this feature and I tried it with:
- A VR 180 video on Youtube about Charlie Puth
- A standard flat video on Youtube with hot Korean guys (link for “research purposes” for all women in VR reading this post)
- A 360 video on Vimeo (the already mentioned Rose Colored)
And everything always worked perfectly, provided that I selected the right parameters. So, everything that I can say to Opera engineers is: kudos to you, because you’ve made an awesome job in making 360 videos visualization easier on a desktop PC: you just navigate the web using your standard browser, press a button and BAM! You see every video in VR. Zero friction.
I think that at the moment Opera is the best answer to the question “How do I watch easily Youtube and Vimeo videos in VR?”.
Of course, there are some issues with this system, too:
- There’s no way to control the volume while in VR, you can only mute/unmute the audio;
- There’s no way to change the quality of the video: when watching Rose Colored, I had a Minecraft-like resolution, but to change that I had to remove my headset and change it directly on Vimeo;
- On stereoscopic videos, the player controls may make a strange effect, with the eyes that don’t get at what distance they have to focus. On Charlie Puth video, for instance, I had to hide the video controls to be comfortable;
- The system opens a SteamVR app and this can be something we don’t like. Furthermore, if the focus of the PC is not on the Opera browser, this VR app doesn’t respond to input commands;
- The system proposes to view in VR every kind of video, even the flat ones. It is comfortable, but could also be annoying always seeing this button appear on videos. I have to say that anyway, the button appears only when you hover the video with your mouse, so it is easy to make it go away.
These are little issues that I think that the Opera team can fix easily. I loved this feature they introduced, so I decided to stress-test also Michał, the PR that contacted me, making him some questions about VR plans of Opera. This is the little interview that I made with him (that has passed the test as his product :D).
Does this feature mean that Opera has implemented WebVR, too? Or are you focusing only on videos?
Right now we are focusing on 360 videos. We plan to have full WebVR support as soon as the standard is more mature and ready for great VR content.
Why do you think that what you’re doing is different from what other browsers are already doing?
Thank you for that question. Indeed, as you’ve pointed out, there are already some efforts in the VR world. Opera is the first major desktop browser that allows watching 360-degree videos right from the browser. It’s very simple – once you have your VR headset plugged into your computer, you simply have to click on a dedicated button and you can immediately explore great 360 videos. This allows the user to focus on the quality of the content without any workarounds.
Why has Opera chosen to make this step?
Opera wants to bring the best possible experience to its users. We believe that there is great potential in VR and it’s an opportunity we can’t miss.
So are you a VR believer? There are a lot of people thinking that this technology is dead…
We wouldn’t dedicate our time and efforts on VR if we didn’t think it’s worth it :). The technology is not dead. I personally believe that it’s now evolving faster than ever.
What about your plans for AR? Google wants AR to go to the web with ARcore… are you going to support that? And when?
AR can be a very adventurous journey. But I can’t officially speak about Opera’s AR plans.
What about all your future XR (AR+VR) plans?
For now, our next steps in the “VR world” will probably be WebVR. However, we are open to any directions that our users would expect from us.
Something more to add?
In this stable update, we also improve some other things. I strongly encourage you all to try the browser for yourself. I hope you will like it!
(I agree with him: as always, I invite you to try the feature by yourself downloading Opera browser to gain your personal impression on these new features!)
From this short interview emerges the fact that this implementation of easy 360 videos visualization is just the first step of Opera browser towards a complete VR integration that will of course include WebVR. Maybe a future release will also merge their interest for social media with their interest for VR, integrating some kind of social VR space. Who knows. For sure knowing that another important company like Opera truly belives in VR and doesn’t think that VR is a fad makes me happy.
About their future plans, I also dream about an AR integration, because I think that web + AR can be really an explosive mix: imagine going to Amazon website with your phone and be able to try immediately the product you’re viewing inside your house, without having to installing an app or such. There’s a reason if Google with ARCore is already pointing at WebAR… it is because it will be a disruptive framework. But I’ll give Opera engineers some time to implement that… they already seem busy enough 🙂
(Header image by Opera)
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