Installing and running first Vrui applications

In my detailed how-to guide on installing and configuring Vrui for Oculus Rift and Razer Hydra, I did not talk about installing any actual applications (because I hadn’t released Vrui-3.0-compatible packages yet). Those are out now, so here we go.


If you happen to own a Kinect for Xbox (Kinect for Windows won’t work), you might want to install the Kinect 3D Video package early on. It can capture 3D (holographic, not stereoscopic) video from one or more Kinects, and either play it back as freely-manipulable virtual holograms, or it can, after calibration, produce in-system overlays of the real world (or both). If you already have Vrui up and running, installation is trivial.

Continue reading

Setting up Vrui for Oculus Rift

As promised, here is a detailed guide to get Vrui version 3 running with an Oculus Rift (and optionally a Razer Hydra, since that seems to be the 6-DOF input device du jour).

Step 1: System Preparation

If you are already running Linux, good for you. Skip the next paragraph.

If you don’t have Linux yet, go and grab it. I personally prefer Fedora, but it’s generally agreed[citation needed] that Ubuntu is the easiest to install for new Linux users, so let’s go with that. The Ubuntu installer makes it quite easy to install alongside an existing Windows OS on your system. Don’t bother installing Linux inside a virtual machine, though: that way Vrui won’t get access to your high-powered graphics cards, and performance will be abysmal. It won’t be able to talk to your Rift, either.

One of the first things to do after a fresh Linux install is to install the vendor-supplied drivers for your graphics card (if you don’t have a discrete Nvidia or ATI/AMD graphics card, go buy a GeForce!). Installing binary drivers is much easier these days. Here are instructions for Nvidia and ATI/AMD cards. If you happen to be on Fedora, enable the rpmfusion repositories and get the appropriate driver packages from there.

Continue reading

This is a post about Vrui

I just released version 3.0 of the Vrui VR toolkit. One of the major new features is native support for the Oculus Rift head-mounted display, including its low-latency inertial 3-DOF (orientation-only) tracker, and post-rendering lens distortion correction. So I thought it’s time for the first (really?) Vrui post in this venue.

What is Vrui, and why should I care?

Glad you’re asking. In a nutshell, Vrui (pronounced to start with vroom, and rhyme with gooey) is a high-level toolkit to develop highly interactive applications aimed at holographic (or fully-immersive, or VR, or whatever you want to call them) display environments. A large selection of videos showing many Vrui applications running in a wide variety of environments can be found on my YouTube channel. To you as a developer, this means you write your application once, and users can run it in any kind of environment without you having to worry about it. If new input or output hardware comes along, it’s Vrui’s responsibility to support it, not yours.

Continue reading

Vrui on (in?) Oculus Rift

I wrote about my first impressions of the Oculus Rift developer kit back in April, and since then I’ve been working (on and off) on getting it fully and natively supported in Vrui (see Figure 1 for proof that it works). Given that Vrui’s somewhat insane flexibility is a major point of pride for me, what was it that I actually had to create to support the Rift? Turns out, not all that much: a driver for the Rift’s built-in inertial tracking unit and a post-processing filter to correct for the Rift’s lens distortion were all it took (more on that later). So why did it take me this long? For one, I was mostly working on other things and only spent a few hours here and there, but more importantly, the Rift is not just a new head-mounted display (HMD), but a major shift in how HMDs are (or will be) used.

Figure 1: The trademark “double-barrel” Oculus Rift screenshot, this time generated by a Vrui application.

Continue reading

Behind the scenes: “Virtual Worlds Using Head-mounted Displays”

Virtual Worlds Using Head-mounted Displays” is the most complex video I’ve made so far, and I figured I should explain how it was done (maybe as a response to people who might say I “cheated”).

Continue reading

The reality of head-mounted displays

So it appears the Oculus Rift is really happening. A buddy of mine went in early on the kickstarter, and his will supposedly be in the mail some time this week. In a way the Oculus Rift, or, more precisely, the most recent foray of VR into the mainstream that it embodies, was the reason why I started this blog in the first place. I’m very much looking forward to it (more on that below), but I’m also somewhat worried that the huge level of pre-release excitement in the gaming world might turn into a backlash against VR in general. So I made a video laying out my opinions (see Figure 1, or the embedded video below).

Figure 1: Still from a video describing how head-mounted displays should be used to create convincing virtual worlds.

Continue reading

Intel’s “perceptual computing” initiative

I went to the Sacramento Hacker Lab last night, to see a presentation by Intel about their soon-to-be-released “perceptual computing” hardware and software. Basically, this is Intel’s answer to the Kinect: a combined color and depth camera with noise- and echo-cancelling microphones, and an integrated SDK giving access to derived head tracking, finger tracking, and voice recording data.

Figure 1: What perceptual computing might look like at some point in the future, according to the overactive imaginations of Intel marketing people. Original image name: “Security Force Field.jpg” Oh, sure.

Continue reading

Virtual clay modeling with 3D input devices

It’s funny, suddenly the idea of virtual sculpting or virtual clay modeling using 3D input devices is popping up everywhere. The developers behind the Leap Motion stated it as their inspiration to develop the device in the first place, and I recently saw a demo video; Sony has recently been showing it off as a demo for the upcoming Playstation 4; and I’ve just returned from an event at the Sacramento Hacker Lab, where Intel was trying to get developers excited about their version of the Kinect, or what they call “perceptual computing.” One of the demos they showed was — guess it — virtual sculpting (one other demo was 3D video of a person embedded into a virtual office, now where have I seen that before?)

So I decided a few days ago to dust off an old toy application (I showed it last in my 2007 Wiimote hacking video), a volumetric virtual “clay” modeler with real-time isosurface extraction for visualization, and run it with a Razer Hydra controller, which supports bi-manual 6-DOF interaction, a pretty ideal setup for this sort of thing:

Continue reading

Oh, the places you’ll go!

Hey look! A still frame of an animated visualization I created of a CAT scan of a fragment of the meteorite that landed close to Sutter’s Mill in Northern California almost a year ago made the cover of Microscopy Today. Here’s a link to the original post I wrote back in December 2012, and because it’s really pretty, and all grown up and alone out there in the world now, here is the picture in question again:

Figure 1: X-ray CT scan of Sutter’s Mill meteorite fragment.

To quickly recap from my original post, the CAT scan of this meteorite fragment was taken at the UC Davis Center for Molecular and Genomic Imaging, and then handed to me for visualization by Prof. Qing-zhu Yin of the UC Davis Department of Geology. The movies I made were to go along with the publication of Qing-zhu’s and his co-authors’ paper in Science.

I thought I did a really good job with the color map, given that that’s not normally my forte. The icy blue — dark blue gradient nicely brings out the fractures in the crust, and the heavy element inclusions stand out prominently in gold (Blue and gold? UC Davis? Get it?). You can watch the full video on YouTube. I’d link to Qing-zhu’s own copy of the video, but it has cooties, I mean ads on it, eww.

And as can be seen in a full-page ad on page 31 of the same issue of Microscopy Today, apparently my picture — no doubt by virtue of the 3D meteorite fragment scan shown in it — was one of the winners in a “coolest thing you’ve never seen” contest held by the company who made the X-ray CT scanner. My little picture is Miss September 2013. Hooray, I guess?

Low-cost VR for materials science

In my ongoing series on VR’s stubborn refusal to just get on with it and croak already, here’s an update from the materials science front. Lilian Dávila, former UC Davis grad student and now professor at UC Merced, was recently featured in a three-part series about cutting-edge digital research at UC Merced, produced by the PR arm of the University of California. Here’s the 10-minute short focusing on her use of low-cost holographic displays for interactive design and analysis of nanostructures:

Continue reading