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How cloud gaming is leading us to the Holodeck

How cloud gaming is leading us to the Holodeck

This sponsored post is produced by OTOY.

The kind of holographic experience that Gene Roddenberry imagined in Star Trek: The Next Generation may soon go beyond sci-fi fantasy. The seeds for it are already being sewn in today’s cloud gaming industry, and in particular, by cloud graphics company OTOY.

The Holodeck, as it’s called in Star Trek, professes the construction of interactive virtual worlds made up of freestanding holograms for an experience that’s so life-like that it’s hard to tell the difference from the real world. That may sound far-fetched, but the pieces of that experience are coming together at an incredible pace and the software that will power it all is already being explored for the next generation of cloud games. Nowhere is that more evident than at the Cloud Gaming Conference being held this week in San Francisco.

Virtual worlds that look and feel every bit as real as the world around us have been here for quite a while. You only need to take in the latest Hollywood blockbuster or superhero movie to see examples of scenes, environments, and people that look real but were entirely generated using computers. On the flip side, video game developers have been building interactive environments and gameplay for years now, and yet all of them have lacked the same graphical fidelity as what we see in movies.

What’s been needed is a way to combine the best of both worlds, to more easily create photorealistic environments that are completely interactive and immersive, and make them accessible to everyone. One company at the Cloud Gaming Conference thinks it has solved it.

Cloud graphics pioneer and the conference’s lead sponsor, OTOY, recently launched what it calls “holographic video,” combining the same visual fidelity that’s typically reserved for movies, and the interactivity that’s usually only found in games. The more scientific name of the technology is light field rendering, but you don’t need to be a scientist to appreciate the results. Holographic video produces stunningly realistic images that can be looked at from any vantage point. Each frame of video accurately simulates every ray of light in a given scene and every interaction that each light ray has with the surfaces and materials involved. The result is an experience that looks as polished and real as a scene from a movie, and is as interactive as a video game. And it has already garnered fans, notably Rod Roddenberry, son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.

“OTOY is making my father’s vision of the Star Trek Holodeck a practical reality in our lifetime. What Jules and the team at OTOY have built is essentially the software of the Holodeck: the media format that will let everyone experience an immersive, photorealistic world the way we’ve always hoped to,” said Roddenberry.

OTOY credits its breakthroughs in compression and rendering for allowing holographic video to work. The same technology will let any PC, mobile device, or virtual reality device like the Oculus Rift experience holographic videos, taking detailed and often complex scenes and displaying them locally or from the cloud — similar to streaming an online video. OTOY boasts a content pipeline that will allow game developers and content creators to produce their own holographic videos, using OctaneRender, its popular rendering software, to create, edit and publish holographic videos using the crowd.

The idea of putting complex calculations for virtual words into the cloud is a concept that’s growing in popularity. At this year’s E3, the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, there were a handful of developers that claimed to make use of the cloud to improve their game experience. The cloud can offer more complex simulations of real-world physics and destruction, and more complicated artificial intelligence to help or hinder players.

For its part, OTOY sees the same value in the cloud and wants to put that power in as many developers’ hands as possible. The company has integrated OctaneRender and its real-time photorealistic engine, Brigade, into Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 and Pixelux’s Digital Molecular Matter engine. Together, this brings photorealistic graphics and advanced simulation of physics and audio to next-generation cloud games, while giving game developers access to tools and systems they’re familiar with.

Games will be delivered over the cloud using the company’s application streaming service, X.IO, or through X.IO appliances that can be leased. Launched in August, X.IO App Streaming is effectively an “easy button” for developers and publishers who want to take their games and applications to the cloud. After a simple setup, the application effectively runs on any platform and on any device requiring nothing but an HTML5-compatible browser, suggesting that maybe the future of cloud gaming is platform-agnostic after all.

We may not be at the point of walking around a holographic projection just yet, but as cloud gaming shows us, we’re not that far off. The software is well on its way and the tools needed for content creators to produce those types of next-generation experiences are coming, too. That just leaves the holographic projectors themselves. Of course, OTOY believes they can solve that too. The company recently announced development of a freestanding holographic projector that aims to deliver Princess Leia-like holograms sometime next year, bringing us one step closer to the Holodeck that was envisioned almost thirty years ago.

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