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November 30, 2016

The Grand Virtual Reality Experiment-VR Catheter Lab


Virtual Reality overview of catheter lab 3D model scene of catheter lab 

The Grand Virtual Reality Experiment – VR Cath Lab

At Optera we are always looking to understand new technology trends how to make them commercially reasonable projects. Virtual Reality (“VR”) has been a hot topic in the last year. Optera has seen a lot of interest in it and use cases that can really leverage VR for business results.

The question really becomes – how do you do a VR project in a reasonable way? To understand this, Optera decided build a VR project through a series of steps and test the utility of various VR platforms through.

Ultimately, we want to discover what works and what does not work so that we can better advise clients in their VR projects. By building a single experience that crosses a variety of devices and mediums, Optera can really learn the difference in quality, cost and efficacy of the different types of VR. This information can be invaluable in deciding how to execute a VR project to meet business objectives.

Project at a Glance

Our project goal was to understand VR mediums and workflows. The situation we are testing is the development of a fully animated VR Cath Lab (very similar to an VR Operating Room). Optera had a large collection of 3D OR and Cath Lab assets, so initial development of the set was fast. The VR Cath Lab provides great context for evaluating the value of the outputs in different business situations.

A cardboard VR movie can be viewed here, either through an iPhone or viewed on a computer. When it launches quickly hit the pause button to stop the movie.

Virtual Reality entrance view of catheter lab

Virtual Reality direct view of patient on table in catheter lab


As part of our Grand Virtual Reality Experiment, we wanted to test the limits of the following:

  1. Solidworks (CAD software)-used to build out all the Lab equipment and environment
  2. Maya (animation software) – for development of 3D environment and rendering
  3. MentalRay rendering engine
  4. V-Ray rendering engine
  5. Unity (game development platform) – for development of interactive VR
Virtual Reality Devices
  1. Desktop – mass market with ubiquitous technology
  2. Cardboard VR – low quality, lowest cost, mass market technology
  3. Gear VR – medium to high quality, lower cost, mass market technology
  4. HTC Vive – high quality, high cost, specialty market technology
Virtual Reality Experiences
  1. YouTube 360 Video for desktop (animated)
  2. Cardboard VR – leveraging YouTube 360 video (animated)
  3. Gear VR – leveraging YouTube 360 video, native video and 360 pictures
  4. Gear VR – leveraging native application
  5. HTC Vive – leveraging native application

Across all these dimensions, Optera was looking to understand:

  1. Cost – to develop for the platform
  2. Quality – quality of the experience
  3. Ease of Production – how easy is the medium to produce for
  4. Fit – what use cases are appropriate for the experience

Virtual Reality catheter lab ground view


What We Learned:

First and foremost, the 360 degree experience is overwhelming. Optera has been creating rich media education and training content for years around medical device and procedure for many Fortune 500 companies. Using state of the art 3D and motion graphics software we have pushed the limits of traditional linear and interactive content. Leveraging those resources into a truly 3D immersive environment has exponentially enhanced the learning experience and opened up incredible possibilities for user engagement that truly mimic real world experience.

All in all, this project was just fun and SO worth the effort. While Optera had done over ten commercial VR projects, we learned so much more from this project then we thought.


Key Learnings:

  • Great Art – Maya is a great tool to build 3D assets but any VR project needs great artists to make great VR experiences. Tools are not enough, artists are key to make it look great and believable.
  • Phone Quality – While VR on mobile phones is a highly accessible route to VR, phones have a very limited quality level for 360 video. We tried almost every combination of rendering we could think of and 360 video on a mobile phone always looks “soft”. Soft video is just a limitation of mobile phones (as of Fall 2016) and makes 360 video seem a bit underwhelming for some people.
  • 360 Still Images – While 360 Video may seem “soft”, 360 still images can be AMAZING. For many of the VR use cases, still image may do the trick just fine. The quality level is great and they are significantly easier to render. This was the biggest surprise to us.
  • Render Engines Matter – When trying to solve some the “soft” video issue, we experimented with several different render engines. Surprising to us all render engines are not the same when it comes to VR.

Our next blog will focus on YouTube 360 Video and Cardboard VR.


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