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Mixed Reality Gets Official Support With Unity Plug-In, Watch This Impressive New Video

by Ian Hamilton • March 7th, 2016

The SteamVR plug-in for Unity now includes official support for mixed reality videos.

Mixed reality is a powerful new way to show what a VR experience looks like and it’s rapidly being embraced by developers building experiences for the HTC Vive. The $800 system is heading toward launch in early April against the $600 Oculus Rift and the videos do an extraordinary job showing not just what that extra $200 buys but exactly what this new medium offers people who experience it. The Vive includes controllers that bring hands into VR and the Rift, at least at launch, does not.

Mixed reality videos can be produced for the Rift too, but they might not be as compelling since the Oculus Touch tracked hand controllers aren’t expected to be available till late this year. In other words, mixed reality videos may be a competitive advantage for Vive over the next few months and official support from Valve with this plug-in should give a boost to developers preparing experiences for the headset.

The addition of support for mixed reality video capture in Unity (which seems to be the most popular toolset for VR development) is in line with the work of Fantastic Contraption developers who have helped pioneer the method. From the release notes for the 1.0.8 update for the SteamVR plug-in:

Added SteamVR_ExternalCamera for filming mixed reality videos. Automatically enabled when externalcamera.cfg is added to the root of your projects (next to Assets or executable), and toggled by the presence of a third controller.

A third controller can be strapped to a camera to provide tracking information. This can make it possible to merge a person’s movements in the real world with the virtual environment they see in a VR headset. Kert Gartner is a Canada-based visual effects expert who has been creating game trailers for indie developers and he’s building on the work of the Fantastic Contraption developers to create trailers for VR that could help accelerate adoption of the new technology.

You can follow along Gartner’s progress on his Twitter feed and the video at the top of this post shows his latest efforts, which make use of a green screen and a moving camera. Combined in post-production with a virtual environment, the video shows enormous potential to convey the unique fun of VR.