Virtual Desktop and Video Player in Virtual Reality
Videos and games are rigid demands for HMD users, for which I have led a product from zero to one to optimization.

Role

Project Manager

Product Designer

Interaction Designer

Team Member

Leo Cui, Product Designer

Colin Xu, Lead Back-End Developer

Heng Zhang, Front-End Developer

Yan Wang, QA Engineer

Yichen Li, UI Designer

Applied Skills

Scrum

Competitive Analysis

Prototyping

User Testing

Deliverables

Project Checklists

Product Requirement Documents

Interaction Flows

Interface Wireframs

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Overview

HYPERSCOPE is a giant screen in VR environment, which can stream PC content from the display to the HMD. In this application, you can watch panoramic movies, stream videos and even play games with a big screen. Now it is available at HYPEREAL's App Store.

For the users of HYPEREAL Pano, there is an urgent need to experience premium content in an immersive environment, especially the content of video entertainment which is in short supply in the early stages of a VR platform. Due to the PC-based platform, premium content can be accessed from native applications of Windows, which can meet users' requirements at the lowest cost.

PLAYING LOCAL VIDEOS

HYPERSCOPE can access the file explorer of Windows and play local videos. More than full format support, HYPERSCOPE can recognize the type of the panoramic video and display it on a proper screen.

PLAYING STREAM VIDEOS

Online videos such as Youtube, NetFlix and IQIYI can be streamed to the HMD through the virtual desktop, a main function of HYPERSCOPE. Compared with the regular-sized screen, videos shown in the IMAX screen are more immersive.

PLAYING PC GAMES

Like stream videos, the virtual desktop can also stream full screen PC game to the IMAX screen in the HMD, such as Playerunknown's Battleground, Overwatch and even the mobile game Glory of The King.

In the aspect of user experience, the basic strategy of design is to keep users from making decisions. Compared with same types of products, I keep the UI simple and easy to use through an automatic recognition engine, some underlying code which can accomplish the operation to set the correct stereo modes and decoding modes. In this way, extra menus and buttons as well as redundant actions can be eliminated.

Project Goal

Before HYPERSCOPE, HYPEREAL's App Store had been introduced SKYBOX as the VR player. The following three points are the reasons why we are dedicate to developing our own product for video entertainment:

1. Although SKYBOX is a competent and immersive VR player, users cannot feel the full benefit of the HMD due to lack of premium content.

2. SKYBOX of PC-VR is overlooked and restricted by the long update period. Users often complain about the frequent crash.

3. The lack of underlying code of media player can cause inconvenience of extension to HYPEREAL's VR platform.

With considerations of both company strategies and user requirements, we decide to design and develop HYPERSCOPE with self-made code. Before beginning, several competitive products had been analysed, such as SKYBOX, Virtual Desktop, Simple VR Player and Oculus Video. The following two products are the most typical but different types of VR media player.

SKYBOX

SKYBOX is a mobile-based VR media player featured by its immersive environment, which is strongly attractive to the first-time VR users. The architecture of SKYBOX includes a media management module so that it can run in both mobile and PC platforms. However, it is inconvenient to access video content in SKYBOX.

Virtual Desktop

Virtual Desktop is a VR-based media player featured by its across-the-board functionality. It is integrated with the function of screen sharing so that content from PC can be streamed to the HMD device. But because of the integrated functionality, the UI is complicated and hostile to novice users.

The opportunities for HYPERSCOPE to overtake SKYBOX is to combine advantages of the former two products. On one hand, HYPERSCOPE needs to integrate the virtual desktop to broaden the content of resources. On the other hand, it also needs to lower the use cost so as to attract new users of HYPEREAL Pano. In a word, the product strategy is to help users get access to premium content in VR environment as easy as possible.

Project Goal

HYPERSCOPE aims to entirely displace SKYBOX. More specifically, the unique visitors and the time spending of HYPERSCOPE need to be twice those of SKYBOX within three-month product iteration, and then the latter will be removed from HYPEREAL's App Store.

Design Goal

It focuses on the users' requirements of video entertainment, supporting playing from local videos to stream videos to PC games. More than the user experience of the interfaces, it will support various methods of input from the keyboard and the mouse to the gamepad to the 6DOF controllers.

Design Strategy

The user flow of the VR player and the virtual desktop is that users keep the content ready and then put on the HMD to adjust the screen properties. Two touch points, the desktop and the HMD, will have significant impact on the product's information architecture, for which I have asked the following two questions to clarify the scenarios:

1. Where will users open the content? Should this product need to contain the UI on the desktop?

2. Should we design the same UI or the different UI for these two touch points?

For these problems, the limiting conditions need to be taken into consideration, such as company strategy, project scheduling and development resources. There are more details about the design process in the following sections.

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Strategy 1: Design for Independent Product

The structure of an independent video player includes a module of media management. In this way, the video player does not need to leech on to any operating system.

Just like any other mobile products, the design drafts of HYPERSCOPE almost stemmed from the mobile video players. However, VR interaction is not so mature as that of mobile devices, which means that it will take much more time to open a file in VR environment. Moreover, the VR terminal has difficulties to access the API of Windows so that it is hard to optimize the user experience as regular mobile products do. Based on these two points, the flow of opening files is mainly reflected in the PC terminal of HYPERSCOPE, whose UI is likely in the style of the PC video players.

The idea of the PC terminal was accepted, but however, the media management module was abandoned due to the complexity of implementation in short time periods. Another scheme will focus more on implementation feasibility and flexibility.

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Strategy 2: Design for Child Product

The structure of a child product depends so strongly on the parent product that the video player needs to access the file manager at the operating system.

This scheme tends to design a minimal viable product that it replaces its own video library with the file manager of Windows as well as cuts down the preview window in the PC terminal. To further reduce the workload of development (limiting development resources), the UI in VR and PC are consolidated by screen streaming.

Although this scheme has violated some principles in UI design, it was finally accepted by the company leader due to its flexible structure, which can be more convenient to access Windows. Coincidentally, Occulus Dash (2017) and Windows Mixed Reality (2017) have used a similar way of design to increase the amount of applications, which also meets the long-term plan of our company.

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Implementation

In this project, not only did I work as an interaction designer, I also served as a project and product manager, playing an important role in team communication. More than using Confluence and Jira to manage the requirements and the progress, two ways of communication can significantly boost productivity of a small team: sharing information to team members face to face; tracking progress to give regular feedbacks to stakeholders.

Agile and Co-creative Working

First, I value face-to-face communication so much in order to make development process more efficient and product ideas more pluralistic.

Whether in a large company with deep hierarchies or in a small team, people tend to wait for something done by others and complete their work in a strictly ordered sequence. However, face-to-face communication can make members feel like a part of the team rather than a screw, which can boost their work initiative. For example, the back-end developer took the initiative to build a feature prototype even when the UI documents were still on the way. Another example is that the QA engineer tried to understand the product and prepare test materials from the beginning of the project.

Another benefit of face-to-face communication is that team members can get out of their routine job functions. For instance, the developer and the designer can offer product ideas to inspire each other, and the QA engineer also can offer development ideas for developer to fix bugs.

Iteraction and Goal Tracking

Second, sprints can be a good way of communication which can share the state of product iterations and key indicators.

I use sprints to run product iteration, which can create a competitive advantage surpassing other competitors, especially when the unique visitors and time spending of HYPERSCOPE keep growing during iteration. Once running in the right direction, sprints will encourages team cohesion and member motivation.

Regular goal tracking through sprints can let stakeholders get ongoing feedback. More than keeping members informed of the latest developments, transparency can reduce risks of new product' failure due to the quick response from the company leader.

Future Work

Jinghua Zhang (2017) promoted a hierarchy of user needs in virtual reality including comfort, immersion, usefulness and impression respectively. Without sacrificing comfort, immersion is the principal attraction that people try VR products, which inspires me to refine HYPERSCOPE in simulating the real world instead of making it a tool. A major drive will be made in creating more realistic environment and multiplayer interactive experience.

Optional Environment

In the current version of HYPERSCOPE, we use a simple skybox of the starry sky as the environment. In the future version, it will be allowed to choose multiple theaters, including the movie theater, the cliff house and so on. Users can also upload their own environments to our platform and share them with others to import.

Social Experience

Besides the physical environment, the psychological atmosphere also plays a vital role in immersion, which depends on the interaction between people. HYPERSCOPE is planned to be integrated into a social VR project, HYPEROOM. In a multiplayer theater, user can feel the mood changes through voice and motion when watching a video.

Conclusion

HYPERSCOPE is a consumer-oriented product from which I have gained valuable experience in the three aspects:

1. Although VR is an emerging medium, traditional media will play an important role in user growth especially for VR products developed in an iterative approach. For example, traditional media can be a good user entrance (Web and Mobile), can bring premium content (existing content) and can be a good platform for marketing (Youtube and Twitch).

2. Interaction Design: It takes less time and resources to develop a child product than an independent product with an independent structure, and the former is more likely a minimal viable product. Like Mini Program in Wechat, the architecture of a child product is attached to the platform.

3. Team Communication: For an agile team, face-to-face communication and goal tracking are better ways than formal documents and PPT because the former can stimulate team members' initiative and creativity.

Reference

Brandon Dillon (2017). Oculus Connect 4 | Dash: Evolving the Rift System UX. Youtube.

Alex Kipman (2017). Ushering in The Era of Windows Mixed Reality. Youtube.

Jinhua Zhang (2017). Design Thinking in Virtual Reality: Designing for Google Daydream. IXDC 2017.