Virtual Reality is … well, real. The last year has seen the launch of every major VR platform, from high-quality tethered systems like HTC’s Vive and Facebook’s Oculus Rift, through to cheap-and-cheerful smartphone-based platforms like Google’s Daydream and Samsung’s Gear VR. The early adopters have bought in, the launch games have been launched, and now that the initial flurry of excitement has died down, the more pressing questions are left: how will the platforms evolve? What will you actually be able to do with them? And is VR just a stepping stone anyway, to the even more science-fiction future of augmented reality tech?
At its inception, VR is unquestionably a gaming technology first and foremost. The most expensive and technologically advanced systems have an almost total focus on serving the hardcore gamer market. Even the simpler systems, which lack the pixel-pushing power necessary to satisfy modern players, still end up with a preponderance of games and game-like projects, because that’s what’s easiest to build with the tools available.
So the number one priority for the titans of VR is to carry on winning around game developers and players to prevent the juggernaut from stalling. But if the experiences of the first wave of early adopters is anything to go by, that could prove trickier than it seems.
Right now, the pressures of AAA games seem inimical to those of VR. Games for the hardcore niche of the market are often designed and sold around having durations in the hundreds of hours, with an individual gaming session often lasting three to four hours. In VR, as the devices work today, such heavy use becomes physically punishing: painful for the eyes, face, head and neck, as well as emphatically warned against by the manufacturers.
So instead, many of the highest profile games at launch are designed for quick, powerful experiences. CCP’s Eve Valkyrie and Guerrilla’s RIGS both pack intense multi-player battles into matches lasting at most five minutes, Rebellion’s Battlezone does the same with single-player tank battles, and even more story focused games like Gunfire’s Chronos and Insomniac’s Edge of Nowhere make it fairly easy to jump in and out of the game.
In the absence of the life-consuming behemoths which constitute gaming for a large number of fans, VR development has instead been colonised by quirkier games, often made by smaller studios with lower budgets who can survive by selling games at a cut price to the comparatively small install base of VR devices.
Even those studios are betting on VR growing, though. Dean Hall, the chief executive of indie studio RocketWerkz, wrote that his company’s game, Out of Ammo, “has exceeded our sales predictions and achieved our internal objectives”. “However, it has been very unprofitable. It is extremely unlikely that it will ever be profitable. We are comfortable with this, and approached it as such. We expected to lose money and we had the funding internally to handle this. Consider then that Out of Ammo has sold unusually well compared to many other VR games.”
Currently, platform owners are subsidising much of the development for VR, in exchange for making those games platform exclusives. But those owners will also need to make money at some point; they’re just capable of playing a longer game than an independent developer.
In that long term, VR needs to be more than an accessory for better games. Back in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg targeted an install base of 50m to 100m Oculus headsets in the device’s first decade. At the top end, that’s equal to the total sales of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One combined, for a device which currently needs a PC to run it that costs more than a PS4 and Xbox One combined.
Of course, Zuckerberg isn’t interested in owning a gaming company, even a successful one. He bought Oculus with the stated intention of offering far more than just better video games. “Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on goggles in your home,” he wrote in the post announcing the company’s acquisition. Perhaps tellingly, in the years since, Zuckerberg has spent far more time focusing on Oculus’ smaller, more accessible product, the Gear VR, than on the weighty, tethered Rift headset.
At the Mobile World Congress conference in February, attendees were handed one to try, causing them to miss the smiling executive strolling past them on his way to the stage.
Last week, Facebook announced it would split Oculus into two divisions, one focusing on PC-based VR, and the other on mobile. It’s clear on which Zuckerberg is staking the future of computing, and it’s not the tethered division which current Oculus CEO Brendan Irbe will be heading up.
If VR is going to become the next major computing platform, pushing mobile phones aside the way they left desktop PCs lagging in their wake, 2017 will be the crunch point: platforms like Google’s Daydream, and whatever Oculus offers as the follow-up to Gear VR, need to arrive with the same pop that tethered VR entered in the past year.
More, they need a compelling reason for those who don’t care about gaming to buy in, be that experiences like 360-degree video, or social platforms like those Facebook wants to build.
If they don’t, they could find themselves obsolete before they even hit the mainstream, thanks to the new technologies peeking over the horizon.
If VR doesn’t charm, could AR succeed where it failed? AR devices, like Microsoft’s Hololens and vaporware start-up Magic Leap ‘s prototypes, allows virtual images to be imprinted over the real world. It’s not cheap – the developer preview of the Hololens retails for almost GBP3,000 (Dh13,573) – but it fixes a number of issues which hold VR back when it comes to everyday practicality. Hololens users can still interact with the real world, with their colleagues and companions, rather than locking themselves away in a virtual space. That interaction makes it much more appealing to imagine using Hololens as a general-purpose computing system, fitting in alongside your current life.
Or maybe neither will actually take off in the foreseeable future. For the first time in well over a decade, technology companies worldwide are looking at the end of one hyperbolic growth curve – that of smartphones – with nothing obvious to pick up where it died off. They may have a lot of interest in convincing their shareholders that something is the next big thing, but that doesn’t mean we have to believe them. After all, we live in reality. If the future of video games is VR, it needs to stop making us feel sick.
When you think of VR, you likely think about immersive games like racing cars or vanquishing enemies in a simulated war zone. But that’s not going to be the primary way most people encounter virtual reality, two high-ranking executives in the industry say. Max Cohen, who leads mobile VR work for Facebook’s Oculus VR division, and Clay Bavor, who’s in charge of Google’s VR efforts, expect to see a lot more activity in virtual exploration and education.
Cohen called it a passive VR experience and Bavor called it VR video, but it’s the same basic idea: You’ll don your VR headset to visit a museum, explore the world with Google Maps Street View, watch concerts and sporting events, and immerse yourself in wraparound 360-degree video.
VR uses computer graphics technology to generate a simulated world. Its close cousin, augmented reality, blends the virtual and real worlds. Both are set to bring a major new digital experience to our lives — but only if the VR industry can come up with enough interesting things to do with them.
Part of the reason passive VR activities will dominate initially is simple financial reality. The cheapest way to get VR is by popping a higher-end phone into an inexpensive headset. The phone does the work of tracking how your head is moving and presenting the computer-generated stereo view on the phone screen that your brain interprets as a virtual realm. Google began selling its $79 Daydream View headset Thursday, and Oculus technology powers the Samsung Gear VR that’s been for sale for nearly a year.
“You need a device that can unlock access to interactive VR video experiences that’s inexpensive, that makes sense for tens of millions of people,” Bavor said at a Code Mobile event here in Santa Clara, California. “The vast majority of people will be introduced through one of these mobile devices.”
He and Cohen also see a role for higher-end dedicated devices with their own screens and electronics. However, they wouldn’t need to be as powerful as the Oculus Rift, which requires a powerful dedicated PC, or Sony’s PlayStation VR, which requires a game console. Phone-based devices and standalone headsets will bring VR to hundreds of millions of people, Cohen predicted.
Analyst predictions are in the same ballpark, though they don’t expect those numbers immediately. Juniper Research forecasts that 17 million phone-based VR headsets will be sold this year, increasing to nearly 60 million in 2021. That’s a lot, but for comparison, 342 million phones shipped in the second quarter of this year, according to IDC.
So far there are millions of Samsung Gear VR users, with 400 apps available and 100 more due by the end of the year, Cohen said. Collectively, they’ve spent more than 20 million hours using them. “That’s a lot of time that’s been spent in VR,” he said.
Bavor believes exploring museums and other distant destinations will be big. Already today, kids in school go on group expeditions using Google Cardboard headsets — a lower-end VR headset technology that takes the same approach as Daydream View but that doesn’t need as powerful a phone.
“Kids can go visit the Galapagos Islands or Verona together using VR as a portal to another space,” Bavor said. And they can check the ultra-detailed digital reproductions of art at the Google Cultural Institute. “I’m excited about VR’s potential in making art forms much more accessible, but in a form that’s much more true to the original,” where you can see each stroke of the paintbrush and get as close as you want — virtually — to the canvas.
Social activities like communicating with friends and family will come next, Cohen predicted. “VR is not isolating. It brings your friends and family to you.”
And in the long run, VR will completely reshape learning, constructing virtual worlds on the fly to match what students are researching.
“I don’t think you’ll have textbooks for teenagers in a decade,” Cohen said. “You’ll have VR, because you can experience it so much more and remember it better.”
Wanna get away? If you’re looking for a ticket out of this universe, at least temporarily, VR can deliver that on your phone. Or, even give you ways to reach out and communicate with the world. Samsung (with Facebook) and Google offer you two options: the Samsung Gear VR, and the new Google Daydream View. They work with recent Samsung Galaxy phones and the Google Pixel or Pixel XL, respectively.
These headsets are the next best thing to wiring yourself into a PC or PS4-connected VR system. Phone-based VR may not allow any walking around — the apps are designed to be used while sitting down and turning your head — but having a portable, wireless and less expensive way to try VR is actually a better choice in a lot of ways. It’s akin to buying an extra-legroom economy ticket to brave new worlds, rather than splurging on business class.
Samsung’s Gear VR is the place to go for its massive app collection, but with Daydream you’re getting a more knitted-in connection to Google apps like YouTube, plus an excellent wireless controller. Just be ready for a truly sparse app library in Daydream.
I’ve been using both, and here are the big differences you need to know.
It requires a Google Pixel phone (will support other phones later on).
To use Google’s new headset, you need the Pixel or Pixel XL. Otherwise, no dice. But down the road, the Daydream View headset is going to work with other Android phones. Not all of them, but some. The Huawei Mate 9 is one of them.
It’s smaller than Gear VR, and feels like yoga pants.
The comfy-cozy outer part is soft and somewhat reassuring, like a security blanket. And the headset is smaller, so it’s easier to carry around. Just don’t throw it in a bag with velcro strips unless you like the pulled-thread look.
It’s easy to put a phone in.
Once a compatible phone is dropped into the Daydream View headset, it automatically connects. No plugs, no aligning parts.
A magic wand is included.
The best part of Daydream is a little remote control that’s packed in. It works with motion control, like a little Wii remote. You could wave it like a wand, use it like a fishing pole, or turn it into a pointer. It even pops into the Daydream headset when not in use. But, it needs to be charged separately.
t connects to YouTube, other Google apps and Google Play.
YouTube launches right into Daydream and is one of the best apps at launch, with tons of 360-degree content and a cinema mode for other videos. Google’s support for movies, photos and maps also give it a more essential Android-connected feel.
There aren’t many apps yet.
Daydream only has a few dozen apps. Samsung’s Gear VR has several hundred. Some, like the promotional app for the upcoming movie “Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them,” are fun and free. More apps and partnerships should be coming, but with Daydream you’ll be an early adopter.
It didn’t fit me perfectly.
The headset’s design didn’t fully block out light for me, and some of the apps looked distorted when I looked around. That didn’t happen with Samsung Gear VR. But, the lenses didn’t fog up like they sometimes do with Samsung’s tighter-fitting headset.
Samsung Gear VR
It needs a Samsung phone.
Gear VR connects with Samsung Galaxy S6 phones and later, and the Note 5 onwards. Other Android phones can’t be used. Still, at the moment, Gear VR has more compatible phones than Google Daydream View. That should shift next year.
You need to plug it in via Micro-USB (or USB-C).
Popping a phone into Gear VR isn’t bad, but it’s a bit finicky. Aligning the plug and inserting the phone isn’t as seamless as Daydream. The latest Gear VR also supports USB-C for…well, yeah, the Note 7 doesn’t exist anymore. But next year’s Galaxy phone will have USB-C for sure.
It’s bigger and bulkier.
Compared to Daydream, Gear VR is significantly larger. But, neither headset is pocket-friendly.
A trackpad on the side of the headset controls apps.
Instead of Daydream’s great wireless controller that’s included, Gear VR relies on a side-mounted touchpad that’s hard to find and use. Alternatively, some games can use a wireless game controller (not included, but most Bluetooth Android-compatible gamepads work).
There are hundreds of great apps to choose from.
Oculus and Samsung have built an impressive library of apps and games, including Netflix, Minecraft, and even a growing collection of social apps. This is the place to be for apps until Daydream catches up.
The Oculus mobile experience is separate from Android.
Unlike Daydream, the Oculus Store app is a separate environment with its own app library. Down the road, that could be a problem when Google knits more Daydream-connected VR features into Android. But, it does have some hooks into Samsung’s collection of Galaxy phone apps.
So, which do you choose?
Sadly, neither Daydream nor Gear VR are cross-compatible. And if you like Google Cardboard-compatible VR apps you might find on your iPhone or Android phone, you won’t be able to play them on either, although Daydream will play better with Cardboard apps down the road.
(Of course, you don’t need either: Get a cheap folding headset like Google Cardboard, and you can try plenty of 360-degree videos and VR apps for iPhone and Android. But you should know that Gear VR and Daydream are both better options.)
Daydream might have longer legs, but right now Gear VR is the better experience. Daydream could use Gear VR’s app library. Gear VR could use Daydream’s controller. Hopefully both platforms will learn from each other and work together, because choosing a between virtual worlds isn’t easy.
This Incredible Short Film Looks at the Frightening Potential of Virtual Reality. Get a dark look at the possible implications of virtual reality, and what happens when the lines between reality and fiction begin to blur.
We have finally managed to release the alpha version of the Jahshaka VR authoring toolkit under the GPL and wanted to invite people to jump in, look at the code and help out. We have been working on it for 6 months now and its starting to stabilize.
For our first release, to simplify development, we built everything using Qt3d – but as a result there are a lot of fundamental problems that exist that we cant get support for from KDAB to help resolve. So we have decided to build out our own 3D engine on top of QOpenGL and will see how that goes. We will open that process up to anyone who wants to participate and will happily support anyone using it for free.
We are getting a 12 month plan in place but our goal is to have a solid beta out within the next 6 months, and a interim release in 3 months if all goes well.
We have set up a community page a Reddit for discussions and feedback
Please try the project out and let us know what you think.
Alienware announced the launch of a high-end gaming facility with dedicated VR space in Sydney.
Called Alienware Live AU, it will feature 28 high-end gaming rigs loaded with the latest games. All of the PCs that will be running in the gaming space will be from Alienware’s Area 51, Alpha, Aurora and gaming laptop lines.
Two of the units in Alienware Live AU will be dedicated to the VR experience: one fitted with the Oculus Rift and the other equipped with the HTC Vive. Both will be running on Dell’s 43-inch 4K monitors.
Alienware has partnered with City Hunter to facilitate the creation of the gaming space, which will be located in the internet cafe’s Chatswood location. There is no word yet on how much using Alienware Live AU will cost, but hopefully pricing won’t deviate so far from the current price structure used by City Hunter across its establishments.
“[Alienware Live AU will be] the perfect place for our community to come and experience the latest gaming hardware in a first-class venue, complete with the newest games like Overwatch, DOOM, and high-end VR experiences,” said Jun Zhong, co-founder of City Hunter.
A launch party will be held on Aug. 18, which Alienware Australia will be hosting. Fans can win tickets to the event by participating in the company’s #PushYourLimits competition. Those who want to join simply have to tweet Alienware Australia’s official Twitter account how they push their gaming limits. Entries may be sent in until Aug. 11 and must include the hashtag for the contest.
Aside from tickets and accommodations to the launch party, the first prize winner will get an Alienware 15 and a Red Balloon voucher worth AUD $600 ($456). And while the first prize (valued at AUD $4,000, or $3,044) will go to just one person, the second and third prizes will go to four and five winners, respectively. All winners will be notified via direct messages on Twitter.
The contest is open only to Australian residents who must be at least 18 years old.
Back in June, Alienware launched its Area 51, Alpha and Aurora desktops and the Alienware 13 laptop during the E3 2016 conference. These units were first announced during the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, with the desktops specifically designed to support VR technology. The Alienware 13, on the other hand, boasts of a screen powered by OLED for high-contrast graphics.
The Area 51, Alpha and Aurora desktops and the Alienware 13 laptop are now available for purchase.
A recent reported hinted at the possibility that HTC would establish an independent subsidiary for its virtual reality division. The move, according to a company executive, would help HTC build alliances with potential strategic partners and solicit equity investments for the business from these partners.
HTC has now made that possibility a reality, as it has formed a wholly owned subsidiary named the HTC Vive Tech Corporation.
According to HTC, the unit will serve as a vehicle for the development of strategic alliances which will help in the growth of the global virtual reality ecosystem, a statement which is not too far from the comments made by the HTC executive in the earlier report.
HTC’s decision to enter the burgeoning virtual reality industry has been an excellent one, as the company’s headset, the HTC Vive, has seen massive success with great reviews. With the formation of a new unit, managers and engineers that will be working under HTCVTC will gain the breathing space that they need to be able to solely focus on entertainment and gaming, which are two sectors that the parent company has not dealt with in the past.
HTC has not been doing particularly well in its main smartphone business, as it continues to lose market share to the likes of Samsung and Apple. Other companies looking to become partners with HTC for the HTC Vive will likely be more inclined to team up with a unit that is only focused on virtual reality as opposed to also having to be involved and affected by HTC’s smartphone division.
In addition to the formation of HTCVTC, HTC also announced its involvement in the creation of the Virtual Reality Venture Capital Alliance, which is a consortium made up of 28 venture capital firms that are ready to invest into the virtual reality industry.
The member companies of the consortium have a total of $10 billion in capital that can be invested, which says a lot about the power that these companies hold. Among the members of the alliance are Sequioa Capital, 500 Startup and Matrix Partners.
With these moves, it can be seen that HTC is indeed placing a larger focus on virtual reality and its initiatives in the space. While the company has been struggling in widening its hold in the smartphone market, its early lead in the virtual reality game provides it with a golden opportunity in the lucrative industry.
Google is working add fully immersive browsing capability to Chrome, allowing users to browse any part of the web in VR, not just those sites that are specially built for VR.
Google has played an active role in helping to define and deploy ‘WebVR‘, a set of standard capabilities that allow for the creation of VR websites which can serve their content directly to VR headsets. But what about accessing the billions of websites already on the web? Today you’d have to take your headset on and off as you go from a WebVR site to a non-WebVR site. Google’s ultimate vision however is to let people stay in VR for all of their web browsing.
The latest builds of Google Chrome Beta and Google Chrome Dev on Android bring two important new features for making this a reality. Chrome Beta now contains a WebVR setting which enables enhanced VR device compatibility with VR websites built against WebVR standards. Chrome Dev (one extra step back in development from Beta) now contains a ‘VR Shell’ setting which Google’s Chromium Evangelist François Beaufort says “enable[s] a browser shell for VR” which “allows users to browse the web while using Cardboard or Daydream-ready viewers.” Both options are available in the browser’s Flags page, accessed by entering chrome://flags in the URL bar.
The VR Shell doesn’t seem to be fully functional yet, but both options are working their way through Chrome’s various development channels with the goal of eventually landing in the stable release that goes wide to all users.
“Today I can view a WebVR scene on an iOS [device], even if Mobile Safari doesn’t support WebVR API, thanks to a polyfill + device accelerometers. Which is awesome. The web’s got reach,” he explained. “What the WebVR API gives us on top of that is much richer ecosystem support, things like link traversal between WebVR experiences without dropping out of VR mode, and more.”
Samsung introduced a VR browser for their Gear VR headset last year which achieves similar functionality, but is not available to the wider Android ecosystem. As the stable version of Chrome on Android has been downloaded between 1 – 5 billion times, it stands to bring VR web browsing to a much larger group. Google is also in development of Chrome support for headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive on desktop.
Source: Road To VR
We are pleased to say that we have been making great progress with the development of the new Jahshaka VR platform which is being rebuilt from the ground up with virtual reality as its core offering. Any one will be able to use it to easily craft beautiful worlds and share them across multiple platforms; from linux, windows and mac to mobile devices and the web.
Jahshaka is being built as a platform for digital artists, not engineers, and our team is working very hard to make the new Jahshaka VR as easy to use and intuitive as possible. While the app is currently a bit technical, once we move the interface into the virtual world we expect that to go away.
We are using the new Qt3D library as our core engine, which has made development easier and faster since it promises cutting edge open source technology and eliminates the need for writing a rendering engine from scratch. Qt3D is still very early in its development and does lack a bit of features, but that’s to be expected of any new framework and we see great things coming down the line.
Jahshaka VR will be released in a few weeks along with full open source source code under the GPL, we haven’t opened it up yet since its really in pre-production but we are only a few weeks away. We expecting a lot of good things from it in the following months.
Jahshaka was built on the philosophy that making beautiful and professional designs should be easy. With that said, some of the features on our development backlog include:
Procedural Sky Generation
A Post-Processing framework
Physically Based Rendering
Individual timelines on a per object basis
Physical integration between objects in the virtual world
Publishing of virtual worlds to WebVR
Please stay tuned!
The Jahshaka Team
This is a quick demonstration video released by ILMxLab and Magic Leap to mark the announcement of the two company’s newly announced collaboration. They’ve set up a “collaboration lab” in order to work on immersive experiences using Lucasfilm IP and driven by Magic Leap’s augmented reality technology.
It shows Star Wars favourites R2D2 and C3PO as digitally rendered characters, overlaid into reality as filmed through Magic Leap’s visor. Note how the objects in real life occlude the digital creations, a tricky effect to pull off when you’re reliying on computer vision techniques to map to reality.