June 5, 2017

AR And VR For The Rest of Us

By Tim Sweeney

Apple is bringing AR to hundreds of millions of consumers! It’s high-end, and it’s powered by Unreal.

At WWDC, Apple surprised the whole industry by revealing a visionary and wide-reaching set of AR and VR technologies, demonstrated live with film-quality content created by industry luminaries using Unreal Engine 4.

Augmented Reality for Everyone

Apple’s ARKit transforms an iPhone or iPad into a “window into the world,” using the device’s camera for high-quality positional tracking. It brings AR to hundreds of millions of consumers today.

At WWDC, Apple invited Alasdair Coull, Creative Director of Wingnut AR, onstage to demonstrate this new technology on iPad Pro. Designed by director Peter Jackson and powered by Unreal Engine 4, the jaw-dropping AR demo brought a spaceship battle scene onstage for the audience to enjoy in full detail.

High-quality AR experiences truly demand the power and performance Unreal Engine provides: Realistic lighting and shadowing that match the real world. High-end cinematic tools. Filmic post-processing. Physically-based rendering with advanced materials. A solid engine foundation that scales.

These desktop-class mobile rendering features are the reason Unreal Engine has become the engine of choice for high-end mobile games such as Lineage 2: Revolution, Netmarble’s open-world MMORPG that earned over $176,000,000 in its first month of debut.  Now, AR will be an enormous new accelerator of high-end engine adoption.

And the best news: Unreal Engine 4’s beta support for ARKit is available now on GitHub (login required)! So, you can get started building AR experiences right now with 100% complete source code that’s ready to compile and run. Binary support is coming with the Unreal Engine 4.17 Preview in July followed by launch in early August.

Mac Virtual Reality featuring Industrial Light & Magic

Apple announced support for VR on Mac, powered by Metal 2 and Valve’s SteamVR, demonstrated with an HTC Vive headset connected to a newly-announced iMac.

To show the capabilities of this new medium on Mac, Apple invited Academy Award-winning John Knoll, Chief Creative Officer at ILM and Rogue One visual effects supervisor, to unveil a real-time Star Wars scene on the volcanic planet of Mustafar.

The demonstration started not in a game or cinematic, but in the Unreal Editor -- running live in VR mode, on an iMac. Epic’s tools programmer Lauren Ridge was backstage building the scene live as John talked, using the Content Browser to add terrain, TIE fighters, and other components of the Sequencer-based action scene. The demo culminated with the entrance of Darth Vader on the virtual set.

John Knoll talked about the use of Mac and of Unreal Engine at ILM, enabling a group of designers to create one high-quality base of content that can be used across film and immersive real-time content.

While many engines enable real-time 3D, only Unreal Engine delivers photorealistic final-quality pixels in real-time. Earlier this year, John Knoll joined Epic onstage at GDC to reveal that one of the scenes in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story featured the K-2SO droid rendered in real time in Unreal Engine.

Mac VR support, together with general Metal 2 support and wide-ranging Mac optimizations, will ship in Unreal Engine 4.18 binary tools starting with previews in September and with the full release in early October. Valve has released a beta for SteamVR on the Mac today.

[Update: Our beta support for VR on macOS is now available on GitHub.]

VR and AR Just Got Real

Apple’s debut of VR support for Mac and AR support for iOS are true game-changers. Whereas there are a couple million VR enthusiasts today, and early AR hardware from other companies has reached several thousand developers, Apple is bringing this high-powered technology to hundreds of millions of consumers right now.

I believe this is truly the start of the mainstream VR and AR revolution that we at Epic have been striving for, and building for, over the course of many years.  It’s the most definitive event marking the move to high-end technology that will power a new generation of world-class experiences transcending games and storytelling.

Apple’s emphatic entry into this space marks the beginning of AR and VR as a mainstream consumer phenomenon, as a market that’s now ready to grow beyond a few million enthusiasts, to reach hundreds of millions and then billions.

Best of all, this revolution is open to everyone. Just download Unreal Engine 4 and get started right now!

(UPDATE: You can check out out Getting Started with UE4 and ARKit blog post now!)

The future of AR just got real - and Unreal!