“What’s the MATTER … with Matterport?”
After paying $900 to fly to Hong Kong (inc. airfare, hotel for 4 days, plus GearVR price) to get my Innovator Edition for S6 because China wouldn’t let my American shipments through Customs, I was too excited about getting a taste of VR in the modern age. After 20 years of waiting, I literally passed on all the available sightseeing in Hong Kong so I could go sightseeing in Virtual Reality instead. My first actual experience with VR was waaaaaaay back in 1992 in a German city nicknamed “K-Town” (Kaiserslautern). I was stationed there as an enlisted soldier for the U.S. Army at the time. What I saw in terms of Presence even then blew my mind and left me sleepless on many nights as I envisioned some lollipop future that never came. Well, not until Lollipop on Android, that is, the first OS to host mobile VR using GearVR in 2015.
My very first game this time around was Rocket Toss. That really was too amazing! I’m glad I chose that app to be my first new VR experience since the 90’s, because the depth was amazing. I downloaded and played a whole bunch of VR games, and didn’t know Hong Kong even existed! One of the greatest cities in the world and I’d forgotten it entirely. Matterport was probably about my 10th app, because I didn’t really know what in the heck it was at first. But I was itching (after all those games) to try out something different, like a photo app of some kind. So I gave this one a whirl. What I saw staggered me. It was better in terms of Presence than anything I’d ever seen thus far!
The first environment I chose was a little house set in modern America. It wasn’t some rich person’s house, it was an average house but still very nice. But it was SO 3D, I literally couldn’t believe my eyes! This was the greatest sense of Presence I’d ever felt in VR to date. The stereoscopic effect, the proximity of the walls and furniture hugging tightly around you, the level of detail in the textures, made everything so gritty and real I was left speechless. Dumbfounded! I spoke to the very air around me, “What … is THIS?” I ran around to all my classes showing Matterport scans to every student I could find. The students did the same thing as I had: they reached out to touch the grit on the walls, to feel that reality which seemed poised right before them like a palpable thing. The oppressive stone walls of Wire-Pass Canyon (imaged below) do not suffer from blocky textures even up close within reach of your arms, the arms you so desperately wish could feel what you’re seeing.
At that time, over a year ago, every single item in Matterport was stereoscopically rendered. The photos had great depth accuracy, and there were some amazing places in their app. There were quite a few cool houses, and ships at sea, cathedrals, and the Penthouse apartments of the ultra rich, not to mention this (see photo below) ultra-amazingly detailed Buddha Temple that stunned me because it was visceral:
And then one day (after one heinously evil patch) … just like that (SNAP!), it was all gone. About four months ago in a patch, Matterport suddenly just dumped 3D stereoscopic mode. And threw out ALL of their amazing 3D scans and replaced their entire library on GearVR with ridiculous and pathetic 2D scans. I logged into Matterport one day, drooling, expecting to enjoy my favorite Buddha Temple, my tiny house in suburbia with the deepest sense of Presence, those epic gritty-stone walls in Wire-Pass Canyon whose texturing you can literally feel with your eyes alone … and they were all nowhere to be found. I literally sank to my knees, defeated. Dumbfounded again, this time by the level of sheer stupidity that they would do something so profoundly destructive to something I loved. I had no strength to stand or sit, I lied on the floor, so angry I couldn’t bear to move. This company had almost destroyed me, because in all of VR, I’d loved Matterport the most. I am a stereoscopic purist and Matterport had the best feeling of all GearVR titles to date. I’d raved fiendishly about the company and found a sense of Presence I never knew possible, what Michael Abrash (yet another genius at Oculus) calls “True Presence … a Presence so real, you genuinely mistake it for reality.” You know, like that time in Netflix when you put your feet on the non-existent table and felt them hit the ground and then had to smack your head. Come on, you know you did that!
That’s when I genuinely got interested in Matterport and what had made it work so well. And why they’d changed their recipe from the most delicious VR food to date, to some 2D Vegan snack that could no longer satisfy one’s 3D appetite. What really was Matterport, then? And how did it work? You may be as curious as myself by now. I will take a moment to enlighten you.
This simple Infographic explains the process pretty well. Scan the room, upload the scan for Cloud-server processing, and then see the finished result in VR. This makes it easy for anyone to capture just about any space without having to be great at using computers.
On their website, Matterport explain it thus:
Capture Any Space with Ease: the Matterport Pro 3D Camera and Capture App for iPad both automatically produce high-quality immersive 3D models in the hands of any user. As the camera gently spins, it captures the colors and contours of a space, then calculates dimensions and spatial relationships between objects. Other laser-based camera systems are cumbersome, expensive and take days to create a 3D model. At $4,500, the Matterport Pro 3D Camera costs the same as a high-end DSLR camera but is easier to use.
But as you can see, that camera is fairly expensive, enough to be prohibitive of the average person’s budget. But as it turns out, it’s perfect for the Real-Estate Industry, which has really gone bat crazy over this technology. There are 1.2 million different views per month happening now, and most brokerage companies are now clients. There are literally TENS of THOUSANDS of scans going up on Matterport’s site monthly for homes, condos, and luxury-estate spaces. The company could literally make a killing on this business model alone, as use of the Cloud site is Subscription based, but Matterport recently got $30 million in additional backing from Qualcomm and Singapore’s GIC to expand their operation into other markets. This technology isn’t going away. But that did lead me to ask the obvious question: WHY DID MATTERPORT DUMP THEIR 3D SCANS ON GEARVR?
I cast around on Reddit, where my first clue came from this post which stated:
“I tried Matterport again about a week ago and found that many of the new scans were not in 3D at all.”
ME: “That’s a crying shame because in my opinion, the 3D effect of any Matterport location is the best stereoscopic effect in any game or demo to be found on GearVR! The scanning technique is far from perfect, there are strange anomalies in every scene and the morphing is too weird when you move from place to place, but all of that can’t stop what is notably the most perfect 3D sense of Presence GearVR can offer to date. Nothing else even comes close to the feeling if you find the right Matterport scan. There are at least 2-3 out of the first 25 scans that blow my mind every time I visit them. One thing that hurts Matterport in GearVR’s lack of head-tracking. If we just had that and could look around a bit more freely without the room following us, Matterport would be the current VR God of GearVR.”
And then this from another Redditor:
“They downgraded most of the 3D scans for Quality-Assurance reasons a couple of weeks ago. Hopefully, they bring them back soon, as the 2D versions aren’t impressive to me at all.”
I couldn’t agree more! The 2D scans at that time were pretty boring. Without stereoscopic rendering, Matterport felt lifeless and I didn’t feel like I was in the space, just looking at photos of a space. That really makes a big difference, trust me. I no longer want to reach my hands out and touch the gritty textures, because there were none. Without 3D mode, Matterport was dead. I resolved I would never use it again until they restored 3D mode to us. And I kept my word. Because VR is about Presence. By down-grading their application to 2D only, that ship had now sailed. I had to ask myself, and the world at large, anyone who would listen: “What in the HECK is the MATTER … with Matterport?”
Then an interesting thing happened to me almost out of the blue regarding Matterport only a week later that explained a lot. I was chatting with an interesting fellow in Oculus Social (in the theater room) regarding all things “tech.” Matterport came up in the course of our discussion. It turns out, he was a CEO of a major Real-Estate company and had contracted with an interested party to create a expansive house tour of an glamorous mansion deep in the Kansas suburbs. He’d just done the scans himself and uploaded them to Matterport the very same day. He said there are over 100K scans online. But in GearVR, there are never more than about 20 scans to look at. I asked him why, did he know why?
He said Oculus is licensing the software to help kick start their VR hardware and that they couldn’t afford to add Matterport’s rather extensive gallery of places. Oculus is only allowed so many pieces for GearVR at their current subscription model. They are paying for the scans we see now, so that’s why we can’t see the whole library of awesome scans. In GearVR, there are only about 25 places now. And those 25 places are not even the best ones Matterport has. Their database has some of the most exotic, wonderful locations in the world scanned, and we can’t see them in GearVR due to the licensing. So this app’s potential is stagnating under licensing issues with Oculus. And the 3D mode was removed due to issues with GearVR not being able to handle it well enough at the current time.
Today is January 21st, and as of the 15th, Matterport has a new patch available for GearVR. The app was already ruined from the patch prior; I didn’t think it mattered if I tried it again at this point as it had sunk so low, ANYTHING they might have done would only improve it. Might as well see if they’d restored 3D mode. The results? YES! Amazingly, YES. They had brought 3D mode back at long last!
And there were some really welcome changes. Matterport has some new features. A Settings screen where you can turn 3D mode ON/OFF, force automatic downloading of scenes you open on a web page (which implies you can go to Matterport’s site and click on a link yourself directly.) That means the whole catalog of scans is now available! No more licensing restrictions. There are about 25 scans available already inside the app. I was staggered to find my favorite Buddha Temple had returned to the available places I can visit automatically! And Wire-Pass Canyon was back! All In glorious 3D! I am elated!
In addition, since the new patch, Matterport sports a new screen layout, in a beautiful hexagon arrangement as shown below. The icons rotate around when clicked on.
There are still a few issues I’d like to discuss, however, before Matterport will be best it can be:
- The app loads in 3D the first time you load it. It stays in 3D, with its interface floating only 2 feet in front of your eyes, until you click on any 2D scan. After that, it goes into 2D mode and won’t go back to 3D until you reload the app. I really like the 3D interface and want it to stay 3D the whole time I’m using Matterport. I don’t want to see it fall down into 2D mode. Please repair this issue, Devs.
- Why are there still SO MANY 2D scans being presented? Why do you even have 2D scans at all? If the model is 3D, why not display all scans as 3D? I don’t like the 2D visuals in Matterport, I love the 3D ones. There is a really cool new house in the small Gallery available for GearVR, but the house is all in 2D. It has 3 stories and a pool and a view over the valley below. I wish I lived there. But for just right now, I wish this house was rendered in 3D. Why can’t it be? Can someone please explain what’s going on there at Matterport? Why have 2D AT ALL? Are some of your scans being ruined at upload time or something? Are the Cloud servers destroying the 3D data somehow, so all you have left is the 2D data? Otherwise, why not give us THOSE 3D ones instead of these 2D ones!? I don’t get it, Matterport!
- Why are the look-gaze controls so slow? When looking at a dot, it takes 6-8 seconds to activate it. It is frustrating. I would like to be able to set my own look-gaze speed, say between 3-5 seconds, I’d have to test it to see what is the best bet. But I feel frustrated looking at the yellow dot for so long waiting for it to turn green before I can move to the next location.
- Please find a way to label ALL 2D scans and ALL 3D scans with a little icon or a popup that tells us which one is which. Or create a separate folder only for 3D scans to keep them different from 2D scans. So we purists can find the 3D models we want to enjoy and not bother with the 2D scans we are not interested in. But best of all, just make sure all your scans are 3D so we can enjoy every scan in the true depth and Presence your camera was made to capture.
Matterport is one of the greatest apps available for VR enabling its users to experience places they could never otherwise get to visit. You feel like you’ve really been there. For example, in the newest crop of scans available for GearVR is one small portion of Neverland Ranch, a really unbelievable house made in the mind-set of Walt Disney. Or you can see the palace at Taj Mahal. Or a famous castle in Hapsburg Germany that I actually saw in person when I lived in Germany. But limiting some of these amazing experiences to mere 2D is a fatal flaw, because what Matterport is good at is creating the greatest sense of Presence available of GearVR to date. As long the scans are shown in 3D.
I really miss some of those original scans that were all in 3D, because now I’ve tested 9 scans in the new content available, but only 2 are shown in 3D. And the 2D ones just aren’t that impressive, although I should at least say that the places they depict are quite awesome in most cases. Whoever owns that 3-story house are some lucky individuals, that’s for sure. I’m sure they have quite the house parties up in there, and a lot of friends to visit them, too. Would be so nice to have that kind of real money and opportunities. But for those of who can’t get to fantastic places like that in real reality, Matterport can take us there … in Virtual Reality. And for the most part, to our eyes at least, it feels pretty much the same as in real reality.
Because when it’s on it’s AAA-game, Matterport really IS that good!
Categories: Retro Reviews