In this blog post, I will explain how XR cloud streaming allows XR developers and project managers to combine the benefits of Standalone VR devices and proven Windows-based VR development in order to build future-proof and scalable enterprise XR applications.
With the release of the first PC VR headsets, developers began experimenting and creating a wide range of consumer and business applications using game engines like Unity and Unreal. Then Standalone VR devices emerged, and it became clear that these are the devices people will want to use. No wires. Simple ease of use. Independent from a PC. Affordable. So everyone who could, did switch to develop native Android-based Standalone VR apps. But not everyone. Today, two approaches exist:
Develop Android-based Standalone VR apps, primarily for use cases such as VR training, where 3D assets are either static or have limited complexity.
Develop Windows-based PC VR apps. For use cases such as Design Review or Architectural Visualization, where a strong PC is still required.
Both of them are not ideal. We all know how difficult and expensive it is to deploy PC VR at scale, but how about Standalone VR?
What's wrong with Standalone VR?
Limited hardware capabilities
While Standalone VR seems to be the future, it still has some heavy disadvantages. Many use cases require run-time 3D asset import, such as Design Review, or photorealistic rendering like in AEC. Standalone VR rendering is just not powerful enough. Also, the RAM of Standalone VR devices is limited, which makes it very difficult to run apps where users can load data at runtime. Applications that demand significant memory allocation for tasks like real-time data loading or handling complex 3D environments can quickly exceed the available resources, causing performance issues or even crashes. This poses a major barrier to the creation of diverse, dynamic, and interactive VR experiences on Standalone VR devices.
Missing screen to observe and configure
For most enterprise VR use cases, it is important to allow users to observe the VR user. It could be for a better shared spatial understanding or simply to assist the user. Also, many apps require the operator to configure or even interact with the app at runtime, which is easy on a PC when you have the application window at hand. Developers that port to Android will need to come up with either a networked companion app that increases the complexity a lot. The other option is to use casting to a phone, which is inflexible and often unreliable, especially when thinking about remote assistance.
Slower iterations during development
The developer experience (DX) for Standalone VR is less favorable compared to Windows, where developers can simply initiate play within Unity or Unreal to instantly see their latest changes in action. The development process in Android involves a constant cycle of coding, building, installing the build on the device, and repeating this sequence multiple times. This process is time-consuming, especially considering that building takes significantly longer on Android devices compared to Windows. Additionally, it's more challenging to utilize tools like Profilers or Debuggers to troubleshoot issues as the app is running on a different device than the one the developer is using. Consequently, this results in lengthier iteration cycles, ranging from 30 seconds to several minutes, depending on the size of the application.
Missing cross-platform support
PC-based VR systems have a significant advantage with their robust support for OpenXR. This support allows developers to leverage a unified framework across various platforms, making development more streamlined and enabling applications to run seamlessly on PC-based VR. However, standalone VR devices still lack comprehensive OpenXR support and depend on proprietary SDKs and frameworks. This absence can introduce complexities, requiring developers to adapt their code and implement device-specific optimizations for each platform separately. And even when OpenXR support is here, vendor specific SDKs will still be required.
App distribution and security
PC-based VR is easy to deploy due to the open nature of the Windows platform. Standalone VR devices such as Meta Quest make enterprise use and content deployment a challenge. Although many third-party MDM solutions have eased that pain a lot, it still adds complexity. Also, in many use cases developers need to ensure that 3D assets are kept secret, which is difficult if they are stored and rendered locally on a mobile VR device.
Still, the desire to have an easy-to-use Standalone VR headset is very high. And luckily, a solution is around the corner: XR cloud streaming.
XR cloud streaming as a solution
XR cloud streaming addresses these challenges. It has the potential to turn both XR development and deployment upside down.
What is XR cloud streaming?
The idea is simple but powerful: Give users a Standalone VR headset, but render the application on a remote Windows machine that simulates a PC VR headset. NVIDIA CloudXR is a cutting-edge technology that does exactly that: A Windows-based PC VR app is streamed into a Standalone VR headset, with low latency and no noticeable delay for the VR users. But how does this approach overcome the problems of Standalone VR?
Use powerful GPU VMs in the cloud
Cloud-based rendering allows users to leverage the computational power of high-end GPUs without the need for a local PC, thereby bridging the gap between the rendering capabilities of PC-based VR and the convenience of Standalone VR. With support from both AWS and Azure cloud services, Innoactive Portal provides users with access to the most suitable GPU, precisely when and where it is required.
Web-based interactive spectator view
Most PC VR apps already include a spectator view, allowing interaction with the experience. Innoactive Portal lets the users control the XR app via a WebRTC stream, available directly in the browser. This approach eliminates the need for complex networked companion apps or unreliable screen casting, providing a more streamlined and accessible way for others to observe and collaborate in VR experiences. Even from remote locations.
One unified code-base across platforms
Another advantage of using XR streaming is the elimination of the need to handle differences between Standalone VR headset vendors. NVIDIA CloudXR does a very good job in abstracting the UI so any Windows-based OpenVR or OpenXR app will be accessible on almost any Standalone VR headset. The developer team can focus 100% on the app and does not need to mess around with various platform SDKs. It is to note that CloudXR does NOT require developers to add an SDK to your application. The app simply must support OpenVR or OpenXR, that's it.
Fast development cycle
One of the biggest advantages of Windows-based XR development is the acceleration of the development cycle: Developers can make changes, test them immediately, and deploy the updated application quickly using XR cloud streaming across platforms. It eliminates the need to build, install, and test the app on different devices, which can be time-consuming. Consequently, the overall time from ideation to deployment is significantly reduced.
App and 3D data stays in the cloud
Using cloud streaming via Innoactive Portal eliminates the need for app distribution and simplifies the deployment process, making it more accessible for users. They will automatically receive the latest version of the application. Also, 3D models and CAD files stay within the (secure) cloud environment, which makes it easier to fulfill security requirements and reduces the risk of compromised data a lot.
Who is using XR streaming already?
XR streaming is already being adopted by various industries and for good reasons. In the manufacturing and energy sectors, companies are leveraging XR streaming to implement digital twins of physical assets, such as factory machines and oil rigs. This technology allows engineers to interact with complex 3D models, analyze operational data, and run simulations, enabling them to detect and address issues before they occur in the real world. By using XR streaming, these industries can scale their digital twin implementations, optimizing operations and reducing costs.
In the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry, XR streaming is revolutionizing visualization capabilities. Architects and engineers can now explore their 3D models in a shared virtual space, inspecting every aspect of their designs with great detail. This level of visualization enhances design quality, efficiency, and collaboration among team members. Additionally, it enables clients to experience and provide feedback on proposed buildings before construction even begins. The scalability of XR streaming in AEC allows for widespread adoption and improved design outcomes.
The pharmaceutical and medical device industries are embracing XR streaming for photorealistic training and education. With this technology, trainees can interact with highly detailed virtual models of equipment and procedures, gaining practical experience without the risks associated with real-world practice. By using XR streaming, training programs can be scaled effectively, accommodating a larger number of trainees and ensuring consistent knowledge acquisition. This approach improves safety, enhances employee proficiency, and ultimately leads to better patient outcomes.
What are the requirements of XR cloud streaming?
If your use case needs PC VR today and your users have a decent broadband connection (50+ Mbps), you are all set. Innoactive Portal offers global multi-edge-cloud orchestration that allows using CloudXR to stream your PC VR app with one-click in over 60 regions world-wide. If your users have difficulties with broadband connectivity, you can try to leapfrog this with 5G hotspots, which are also available in most urban areas.
If you are hesitating because some users need offline access or might not be able to stream as they are in remote areas: Innoactive Portal allows you to still download and deploy that PC VR app to a local machine, so you can use a Standalone VR device tethered to that PC.
Standalone VR, despite its simplicity and cost-effectiveness, is a bit of a square peg in a round hole when it comes to enterprise XR development. It's like trying to squeeze a semi-truck through a bike lane, it just doesn't fit. However, there's a new player in town: XR cloud streaming is like the superhero we've been waiting for. It beams PC VR applications straight to Standalone VR headsets. Industries like manufacturing, energy, AEC, they're already harnessing this power. Whether it's bringing digital twins to life or offering life-like training, XR cloud streaming is making it happen.
By adopting XR cloud streaming, you're not just overcoming the limitations of Standalone VR, you're stepping into the future. You're creating XR applications that are powerful, immersive, and flexible. If you're serious about enterprise XR development, XR cloud streaming is the game-changer you've been waiting for.
This is where we are now. I am tapping on a calendar invite on my phone, which starts a XR meeting in StreamRoom AI. This is a cloud-native, Windows-based XR application, built with Unity, hosted on the Innoactive platform. It is streaming to my Quest 2 which is tethering from my smartphone, accessing the internet via 5G at 650 Mbps. There is no PC, there are no cables either. I’m looking at a 45 million polygon oil rig model that was just shared with me minutes ago. So are my meeting participants, located thousands of kilometers away.
StreamRoom was developed in just a few months, using a cloud-first approach. In combination with a powerful XR cloud streaming platform like Innoactive Portal, such use cases can be shipped faster, with higher quality, less errors and accessible to more users than using device-specific development that renders locally on Standalone VR.
Looking into the near future, a few thoughts:
Devices get smaller
Applications get more demanding
Data gets more complex
Users demand life-like experiences
It does not require a glass bowl to see where we are heading. Users will consume XR apps streamed from the cloud, like Netflix, with a click of a button. Enterprise developers should better think twice before investing too much into Android-based Standalone VR applications. XR streaming is disrupting local rendering. Better be prepared for that.
If you want to get started with XR streaming on Innoactive Portal using NVIDIA CloudXR,
About the author
Daniel Seidl founded Innoactive in 2013, driven by a clear mission: enabling people to harness the power of extended reality (XR) for their work. As an early adopter of VR in the enterprise sector, he positioned Innoactive as a frontrunner in the delivery of VR/AR solutions. This vision led to a significant roll-out with the Volkswagen Group in 2017, where Innoactive's platform facilitated the deployment of over 150 XR applications to 10,000 employees across 30 countries. Expanding the business from Europe to the United States, Seidl has served a wide range of Fortune 500 companies. His robust technical background, fortified by a Master's degree in Information Systems and research in applying AR to robotics, continues to drive Innoactive's innovative trajectory