Microsoft has been putting a big focus on augmented reality with the HoloLens headset, but the company is also cooking up some clever new virtual reality technology. A recent paper published by Microsoft Research, in conjunction with Rice University Ph.D. student Kevin Boos, details a system called FlashBack that could bring high-end VR experiences to cheaper devices.
FlashBack works by compressing detailed 3D environments and saving them to your device where they won’t take up very much space. Then, when you need a specific setting or object, referred to as a “mega-frame,” those files are automatically decompressed. This removes the need to constantly render a VR environment and also means you don’t need a fancy graphics card to make it work.
The result is almost like watching a 360-degree video on YouTube, just interactive. FlashBack can render a large, fast-moving object like a car. It can even recreate massive environments like a basketball arena or an entire Viking village.
The paper claims FlashBack will deliver framerates eight times faster than a mobile device that’s rendering locally. It could also reduce mobile VR latency and energy consumption by a factor of 15 and 97 respectively.
FlashBack is still just a prototype, but it has the potential to revolutionize mobile VR. If Microsoft can get this technology to the market it could have an exciting competitor for Google Cardboard, Gear VR, and even the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.