With its latest update out today, Bigscreen is living up to its name.
The Andreessen Horowitz-backed virtual reality app will be receiving one of its biggest updates since launch with the Cinema Update, which brings a hulking dynamically lit IMAX-like theater environment into the app, which will allow users to watch movies, play games and do work on their PC in a pretty epic manner. Aside from the big screen, Bigscreen is seeing a number of under-the-hood updates as it moves to a new engine built in C++ that CEO Darshan Shankar says will significantly reduce CPU, GPU and RAM usage.
While the social features shine through and can often make the app feel like it’s going head-to-head with apps like VRchat and AltspaceVR, Bigscreen is fundamentally a screen-sharing application — and a damn good one at that. While most desktop applications can support things like PowerPoints but crack under the pressure of anything video-related, the latest update will be able to stream 1080p video at 30fps. The update also brings native desktop audio streaming in stereo, so you can enjoy it with whichever speakers you choose.
Additionally, the latest update brings Bigscreen to more users, adding experimental Windows 7 support and brining some love to laptops powered by Nvidia Optimus.
I had a chance to hop into VR to check out the new update with some of the Bigscreen team and the giant Cinema screen evoked some bits of a recent trip to the IMAX to see Dunkirk. (Shankar says the digital screen measures out to around 100 feet.)
“Cinema view” has come to be an important part of a lot of different video apps for VR headsets because 360 content is generally bad, well-produced stuff is generally pithy and amazing spherical video is still almost nowhere to be found. For companies like Netflix, HBO and Hulu, this is a necessary evil given that either 99.99 percent or 100 percent of their content is in 2D at this point in time.
There is, truthfully, something to be offered by being completely zoned out from your world with your content in front of you, though it’s probably overstated. For most products, the problem is that the cinema environment you’re in distracts from the content by trying to be too trendy and separate.
Bigscreen had this problem in the past; the latest update rectifies this. One of the coolest things is the way the screen-shared content changes the dynamic lighting of the theater. When the screen lights up, so do the faces of the AI bots watching alongside you (up to 40 NPCs are present in the updated environment).
Though the app allows social-sharing with up to four other users, most of the time spent on the app is done so in single-player mode. Shankar tells me about 60 percent of total usage on the app is users doing stuff on their own. The app’s power users (top 5 percent) spend between 20 and 30 hours in the app, on average, per week. In the next six months, the startup is hoping to expand the size of rooms from its current maximum.
For now, to use the free app you’ll need an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, but soon the company plans to add support for mobile VR platforms.