Remote Visual Observation of Real Places Through Virtual Reality Headsets
Virtual Reality has always represented a fascinating yet powerful opportunity that has attracted studies and technology developments, especially since the latest release on the market of powerful high-resolution and wide field-of-view VR headsets. While the great potential of such VR systems is common and accepted knowledge, issues remain related to how to design systems and setups capable of fully exploiting the latest hardware advances. The aim of the proposed research is to study and understand how to increase the perceived level of realism and sense of presence when remotely observing real places through VR headset displays. Hence, to produce a set of guidelines that give directions to system designers about how to optimize the display-camera setup to enhance performance, focusing on remote visual observation of real places. The outcome of this investigation represents unique knowledge that is believed to be very beneficial for better VR headset designs towards improved remote observation systems. To achieve the proposed goal, this thesis presents a thorough investigation of existing literature and previous researches, which is carried out systematically to identify the most important factors ruling realism, depth perception, comfort, and sense of presence in VR headset observation. Once identified, these factors are further discussed and assessed through a series of experiments and usability studies, based on a predefined set of research questions. More specifically, the role of familiarity with the observed place, the role of the environment characteristics shown to the viewer, and the role of the display used for the remote observation of the virtual environment are further investigated. To gain more insights, two usability studies are proposed with the aim of defining guidelines and best practices. The main outcomes from the two studies demonstrate that test users can experience an enhanced realistic observation when natural features, higher resolution displays, natural illumination, and high image contrast are used in Mobile VR. In terms of comfort, simple scene layouts and relaxing environments are considered ideal to reduce visual fatigue and eye strain. Furthermore, sense of presence increases when observed environments induce strong emotions, and depth perception improves in VR when several monocular cues such as lights and shadows are combined with binocular depth cues. Based on these results, this investigation then presents a focused evaluation on the outcomes and introduces an innovative eye-adapted High Dynamic Range (HDR) approach, which the author believes to be of great improvement in the context of remote observation when combined with eye-tracked VR headsets. Within this purpose, a third user study is proposed to compare static HDR and eye-adapted HDR observation in VR, to assess that the latter can improve realism, depth perception, sense of presence, and in certain cases even comfort. Results from this last study confirmed the author expectations, proving that eye-adapted HDR and eye tracking should be used to achieve best visual performances for remote observation in modern VR systems.
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