This Tuesday, April 14, was the third Tuesday of VIVE’s online GDC content. It was the third of seven scheduled live webinars that VIVE announced as a way to share content in lieu of the canceled Game Developers Conference.
This week, David Sapienza, AVP of content production, took the discussion away from games to present on “Working Remotely in VR using VIVE Sync.” The talk was an exciting first look at the virtual meeting platform, currently in closed beta.
What Is VIVE Sync?
Sync is an upcoming virtual and remote meeting platform. Right now, everything that we know about it comes from Sapienza’s talk, though he promised more details on May 5.
The platform was originally created by VIVE as a tool to solve internal communication needs. However, according to Sapienza, the platform was so popular internally, that they decided to develop it for public release. The apparent timeliness of the announcement is coincidental.
“These stats were collected before COVID had taken over the world,” Sapienza said of the 50% of Americans engaged in remote/virtual teamwork. “While remote work can be liberating … it can also also be isolating. Two-thirds of remote workers see themselves as not as involved in their team.”
The platform will focus on “small to medium-sized teams” of thirty and under. That’s because the things that require real presence – making decisions, brainstorming, and relationship building – become unwieldy in large groups whether the meeting is remote or not. Simply conveying information can be done in existing platforms.
Meeting Rooms in VIVE Sync
There are a number of different meeting rooms in VIVE Sync, with more options to be made available shortly before or shortly after launch. Some rooms are picturesque or scenic, while others look like something out of a science fiction film.
“Depending on what kind of meeting you have, you might want to change what space you have,” said Sapienza. However, there are some things that all of the rooms have in common.
All of the rooms are circles, around 20 ft across. The floor either drops off or has a sort of mote between the meeting floor and the rest of the environment. The idea is to keep people focused without making them feel enclosed.
All of the meeting rooms also have a large central screen for things like presentations. While one of the rooms shown in Sapienza’s presentation featured lecture hall-style seating, most looked more like a conference room.
One of the least flashy but most useful of these rooms is that they are persistent. Files and content placed in a room can be left there for ongoing or repeating meetings.
“Think of it as a virtual studio that’s always there,” said Sapienza. “It’s not necessarily having to be there at the same time, but having a space that you can leave and have it be persistent.”
Some, but not all, of the rooms feature a central table. Chairs appear and disappear based on whether an avatar is sitting or standing. That’s only one of the cool features involving avatars.
Avatars in VIVE Sync
Avatars in VIVE Sync are created off of a selfie taken of the individual via a mobile phone. There’s then a brief and optional editing process. The user can do any number of things with their avatar, but the idea is to have a realistic facsimile that can be created in moments.
“You can do whatever you want, or just make an avatar that looks like yourself,” said Sapienza. “If you don’t even want to do that, we have a bunch of default avatars as well.”
The avatars are full-body avatars, and work has been taken to make their movements and biomechanics realistic. When users move or gesture, their avatar does so in a convincing fashion. If your VIVE headset also has lip tracking, your Sync avatar will be compatible.
VIVE Sync Meeting Tools
If this was just a consumer-model chatroom, cool meeting spaces and avatar customization might be enough. However, when one remembers that VIVE created this tool to solve its own problems, one should expect more productivity features. And more productivity features there are.
Sync allows users to upload files. Depending on the settings users place on these files, they can be private or shared with all of the users in a meeting.
Users can also take “private notes” – personal annotations on the meeting that are not shared with others. Right now, files can be text, slides, images, or 3D models.
Other tools include full-screen viewing of the shared screen, 3D drawing in the environment, a laser pen, and a screenshot tool.
Additional tools become available with VIVE’s upcoming XR Faceplate. This allows users to view 3D models and avatars of remote attendance in their actual surroundings.
While the XR feature requires pretty advanced tech, most of the features discussed are available on all VIVE headsets. And, in the future, the platform will go platform-agnostic. It’s not clear when Oculus support will roll out, but Sapienza said it should be sometime this year.
Further, viewing modes for PC and mobile are expected to roll out soon. While these versions would be limited compared to VR versions, they would allow users without headsets to participate to some degree.
The platform will be available via VIVEPORT as well as through VIVE’s website.
Things to Come
Sapienza promised more information on the launch of Sync early next month. This presentation should include information on joining an open beta and may include pricing figures and a more complete roadmap.
Next week’s talk should return to game-focused content with “Lessons Learned from Marketing 100+ VR Games.” Registration is open now. The talk is likely to include some of the content from the first talk, “VR Experiences Designed for VIVEPORT” as well as supplement similar content from Oculus GDC content posted late last month.