In today’s rapidly evolving multimedia landscape, Unreal Engine has carved a unique niche with its wide array of tools and features. The wide range of Unreal Immersive Media tools available has transformed how far we can push the software in the realm of Immersive Design. In this article, we’ll dive deep into various communication protocols and integrations that make Unreal Engine a standout choice for creators in the field.
Communication Protocols and Integrations
OSC, which stands for Open Sound Control, is a communication protocol optimized for modern networking technology. While its name might suggest it’s solely for sound control, OSC is broadly used for communication among computers, sound synthesizers, and other multimedia devices. In the context of the Unreal Engine, OSC provides a method to communicate and exchange information with other software or devices in real-time, allowing it to be part of a broader multimedia setup. Once the OSC Plugin is activated, is possible to Integrate with Blueprints using specific OSC nodes. Because OSC is a network-based protocol, it can be sent through the internet. This enables remote control scenarios, where Unreal Engine projects might be controlled from a distance or even from another country.
MIDI Device Support
For artists working on interactive installations, Unreal’s support for MIDI devices can be invaluable. MIDI, another communication protocol to share digital information has Unreal support through the MIDI device plugin that can be activated in the Plugin tab. This powerful integration allows you to activate and send MIDI events through blueprints or have blueprint events activated through MIDI inputs, really expanding the range of controllers you can use with Unreal Engine.
If you’ve worked in live events, more likely than not you’ve worked with DMX before. The DMX communication protocol is used across multiple live event fixtures like lighting fixtures, lasers, smoke machines, mechanical devices, among others. However, in general, with very few exceptions, most of the softwares that control DMX have very limited installation and setup previsualization. Unreal Engine 5 includes a set of DMX plugins that utilize the Art-Net and sACN network protocols that allows you to not only to create real world integrations, but also allows you to virtual integrations for previsualization.
To make previz even easier, UE5 includes a set DMX Fixtures blueprints that includes lights, firework machines, laser machines, among others, that allows you to go from mapping your DMX setup to previz in almost no time. Also, because of Unreal Engine can receive video feed and signals from other softwares using OSC, Spout or NDI, even if you are controlling you setup from another software you can visualize your entire stage setup in Unreal in real-time.
nDisplay is a feature in Unreal Engine that allows users to project a single Unreal Engine scene across multiple displays. It’s particularly valuable for multi-display installations, simulations, CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) systems, virtual production, dome projection and other scenarios where content needs to be rendered across multiple screens or projectors with precise synchronization and configuration.
A particularly exciting feature of working with nDisplay is, that because is possible to get trackers like the HTC vive trackers in Unreal, it’s possible to use these trackers to monitor a camera position in real-time, akin to virtual production methods. The nDisplay manages all the calculations involved in computing the viewing frustum for each screen at every frame, creating an environment that updates real time. Unreal Engine 5 includes a starter template that includes all the basic blueprints necessaries to run a nDisplay setup. Another advantage of using nDisplay in unreal is that is possible to previsualize your whole setup including architectural details in the Software.
OpenXR is an open standard developed by the Khronos Group to provide a unified interface for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) platforms and devices. Its primary goal is to simplify VR and AR application development across different hardware and software platforms, reducing the fragmentation in the XR industry. Unreal Engine has integrated native support for OpenXR through their plugin library. Because OpenXR gets updated as new technologies emerge, using OpenXR for development in Unreal is an astute move to future-proof your projects. Not only that, OpenXR is compatible with Blueprints, meaning that is possible to integrate all its capabilities without extensive coding knowledge.
AJA and Blackmagic Integration
AJA and Blackmagic are well-established brands in the video hardware industry, and both have developed integrations with Unreal Engine. Using the AJA Media Player and the Blackmagic Media Player plugins is possible to create direct input and output of high-definition video feeds within the engine to the cards, a capability that is especially useful for virtual production, live broadcasts, and immersive installations. The key advantage of these integrations is their ability to handle video with low latency, ensuring timely responsiveness in interactive scenarios.
Spout is an open-source video frame-sharing system for Windows. Essentially, it allows different software applications to share video frames in real-time, without a loss in quality and with very low latency. In the world of multimedia design, interactive art, and VJing, Spout has become a standard tool to enable different creative applications to communicate and share visuals seamlessly. To start using Spout with Unreal first you need to integrate a Spout Plugin. In the case of UE5 one of the most popular is off-world’s Unreal Engine Live Streaming Toolkit. Once the plugin is downloaded and activated, you have access to specific actors that can be integrated into Unreal materials and allow you start sending textures from and to Unreal to any application in Windows with very low latency.
Similarly to Spout, NDI is a network protocol developed by NewTek that allows multiple video systems to identify and communicate with one another over IP, as well as to encode, transmit, and receive high-quality, low-latency, frame-accurate video and audio in real-time. To access NDI streaming in UE5, first you need to install the NDI SDK for Unreal Engine. Once the Plugin is installed and activated, is possible to access specific actors that allow you to receive and send NDI streams.
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Unreal Rendering Features
A primary reason to use Unreal is its stunning visual output. Unreal’s real-time rendering of particles, aesthetics, and materials is impressive. Let’s take a look at the features that make unreal rendering so great for Immersive and Interactive.
Real-Time Ray Tracing
Ray tracing in real-time engines simulates how light interacts with objects, delivering realistic lighting, shadows, and reflections. For immersive installations, this enhances the environment’s realism and allows for dynamic lighting adjustments without relying on pre-baked solutions. However, while ray tracing provides superior visuals, it’s resource-intensive and requires powerful GPUs. In larger installations, the hardware demands can be significant. To maintain performance, developers often blend ray tracing with traditional rendering techniques. Because Ray Tracing lighting and rendering takes places in real-time is possible to create fully interactive environments that respond to inputs.
Niagara VFX is Unreal Engine’s visual effects system. Niagara embraces a node-based and data-oriented design, which allows for Niagara’s effects that dynamically respond to user interactions and environmental shifts. Its GPU acceleration ensures robust performance, vital for consistent VR or interactive immersive experiences. Notably, the system can integrate real-world data, allowing effects to adapt to external events, amplifying immersion. Its capacity to simulate realistic phenomena like fluid and smoke, combined Unreal’s vast ecosystem of plugins and communication protocols, like OSC, Spout, or MIDI, allows for uniquely interactive realistic particle simulations.
As we’ve seen, Unreal Engine offers a rich tapestry of tools and integrations, catering to diverse needs in immersive and interactive installations. Its incredible visual rendering capabilities combined with robust support for numerous communication protocols make it an indispensable asset for developers and creators. As the horizon of virtual environments continues to expand, it’s certain that Unreal Engine will remain a valuble tool for Immersive Designers.