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See your new home designs in 3D before renovating

A new software lets home owners get an immersive view of their homes

In a home owner's dream world, he would be able to stand in his home and see his final vision realised, even before renovations have begun.

Do not like the dark accent colour on the walls? Swop it for something lighter and easier on the eye.

The couch you had your heart set on? Test it out in your living room before paying for it at the store.

Visualising the end product is what interior designers have tried to do for their clients for a long time - using everything from blueprints and digital 3D renderings to sketches and floor plans.

Unfortunately, misunderstandings still occur because professionals and laymen visualise things differently.

The final look can never be 100 per cent identical, as the renderings can capture only an approximate idea of wallpaper... and furniture choices.

HOME AND DECOR MAGAZINE EDITOR REBECKKA WONG on the VR software

Virtual reality (VR) technology company Dimension 5 hopes to bridge the gap with its new VR software called D5 Fusion, in which everyone will see the same thing and be on the same page.

Aimed at the interior and furniture design industries, the software, which launched on Thursday in Singapore, allows users to experience the physical interiors of their home in full virtual-reality format by donning VR goggles.

What this means is once an interior designer inputs details such as the floor plan, wall heights as well as window and door placements into the software, a user who has his goggles on will be able to experience the exact physical space of his home and get a 360-degree perspective of his interior design and furnishing choices in real dimensions.

Besides bringing 2D blueprints to life, the software also allows users to walk around the space to get a realistic understanding of it.

Dimension 5 was founded by six people. Mr Jens Thang, a former investment banker, is the only Singaporean. The rest are from China and some have worked at A*Star, a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and have a background in virtual reality technology, Mr Thang said.

Dimension 5 is not the first software company to launch visualisation software for interior design in the world. However, its product might be the most advanced.

Internationally, the trend of VR in the design space has already been started by companies such as Decorilla, an online interior design services business; and Doing It Right This Time, a Canadian company that builds prefab office and residential interiors.

However, Mr Thang is not fazed, saying the team's years of research and development have allowed them to create an advanced software, with features that are particularly suited to the design industry.

The timing was particularly apt because virtual reality is also "taking off in a big way", he adds, as an important new piece of hardware has been introduced to the market: the Oculus Rift goggles.

American VR technology company Oculus, which Facebook bought in 2014 for US$2 billion (S$2.7 billion), launched its first VR headset, called Rift, in March this year. Rift was followed closely by similar headset launches later from companies such as Samsung and HTC.

The Dimension 5 team worked hard to ensure its software catered to the requirements of the design community. This meant researching the right ways to convert conventional 3D models on software such as Sketchup into VR format.

VR format requires accounting for the shape of an object from all angles and also factors in light and shadows to maximise realism.

Also, features such as real-time rendering were added, meaning designers can make changes instantly - unlike conventional methods of manual rendering, which can take up to 30 minutes for a single change.

Some home-grown interior design firms are already interested in using the product.

Dimension 5 declined to reveal the pricing plan or capital it has invested in the business. But it said the software will be available to industry practitioners on a per-use basis.

The company - which contacted more than 50 interior designers and furniture manufactures - has rolled out the software in more than 10 companies here. They also have a waiting list of studios who are interested in the software.

Most interior decorating firms The Straits Times spoke to said they hope to roll out the service on a case- by-case basis or as an additional service to clients for a small fee.

Project Guru, which specialises in interior design for home and commercial renovation projects, plans to introduce the use of VR at its studio by next month.

The firm's managing director Elton Then, 29, is drawn to the real-time rendering function, which allows him to make changes and show them to clients almost instantly.

Mr Jackie Lai, 39, creative director at interior design consultancy Copper Design Associates, said the realistic feel VR will give his customers is also a huge benefit. The firm does interior design work for commercial and residential projects.

"Besides depth perception, VR is particularly useful in countries such as Singapore, which have sunlight as a dominant weather feature," he said. "As light and shadows are accounted for, someone wearing VR goggles might make better decisions about where to place his television or bed so he isn't dealing with glare from the sun."

Given that D5 Fusion is already customised for the industry, Mr Lai said it is more affordable than most other VR options he has explored, some of which can cost upwards of $30,000 after being customised to his needs.

Will home owners bite? It is hard to say at this point, given that pricing is still up in the air.

But Ms Rebeckka Wong, editor of Home and Decor magazine, cautions consumers to temper their expectations despite how realistic the layout might look in VR.

"The final look can never be 100 per cent identical, as the renderings can capture only an approximate idea of wallpaper, laminate surfaces, paint colours and furniture choices," she said.

She added that interior designers also have to be "judicious in their renderings and be able to deliver what has been promised".

For now, though, managing director of interior design consultancy Space Define Interior, Mr Daniel Loi, 34, remains optimistic. The firm - which specialises in interior design work for home and commercial projects - hopes to introduce the VR service by next month.

"VR will help clients understand and tweak their vision, which gives them flexibility and reduces miscommunication, he said.

"Yes, we still have to figure out the cost, but I'm excited about the technology. I definitely think VR is the future."


3D imaging and blueprints do not come close

I am trying out Dimension 5's new D5 Fusion software at its office in Ayer Rajah.

The weight of the virtual-reality headset feels heavy in my hands. Putting it on feels somewhat between putting on a motorcycle helmet and a gigantic pair of costume sunglasses.

With the goggles strapped on, I have a split second of pixellated confusion in my vision and, suddenly, I am no longer in that office space in Ayer Rajah. In fact, I forget the weight of the headset entirely.

Instead, I am fixated on my new surroundings: what appears to be a chic, blue-walled, two-storey townhouse in Manhattan.

This is going by the view of tall, red brick-style buildings outside the windows that are just to my right.

The experience feels hyper-real, not only because the colours and shadows seem so realistic, but also because I can pick up on the textures in the house - from the white rugs on the floor to the textured surfaces of the laminates.

The 360-degree experience allows me to navigate the space and get an exact understanding of depth and dimensions from different angles, such as from a virtual second floor.

A laser pointer-style gun I am carrying in my right hand helps me navigate to the second floor (the stairs are virtual too), which also helps me see how the living space looks from a different vantage point.

I am not a home owner and have yet to dive into the challenges of space planning.

However, should I have to do it one day, I would top up a few hundred dollars to my renovation bill to use VR. This is because the experience is like nothing blueprints and 3D imaging can provide, even if you have an active imagination.

With VR, you are in the space - it is a way to experience the process of interior design in a way that was not possible before.

Ankita Varma

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2016, with the headline 'Enter my virtual home'. Print Edition | Subscribe