VR Digest: Microsoft announces hand controllers;
Windows HMDs available for preorder

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written by John Dewar (@jstarrdewar) Issue 120 – May 17, 2017

VR Digest: A Virtual Reality newsletter brought to you by Studio Transcendent

Hi Friends,

Last week at Microsoft’s Build conference, a version of The Ledge experience that we created for AppliedVR was shown running on Microsoft’s new VR hardware. It was even set up with a synchronized 4D physical platform courtesy of Two Bit Circus, who ran the demos. 

The new Acer HMD is pretty good, obviously not yet on par with Oculus, Vive or PSVR, but position tracking works well, and it appears that most of the issues, like latency and unexplained framerate drops, are symptoms of immature software that Microsoft ought to be able to get sorted by release. The inside out tracking is going to be fun to experiment with—we’ve thought up quite a few use cases in our ideation meetings where outside-in tracking is impractical.

John, Aaron, Bowdy, and Elissa 
at Studio Transcendent

Microsoft announces hand controllers; Windows HMDs available for preorder

At Microsoft’s Build Conference in Seattle, Microsoft announced new motion controllers to go with their wired virtual reality headsets. The headsets are now available for preorder. The Acer costs $299 while the HP version costs $329. A bundle with both the controllers and the Acer headset will retail for $399 when it becomes available.

The hand controllers are obvious progeny of the Vive and Oculus Touch, with a Vive-like trackpad, and the LED-studded tracking ring of the Touch along with its grip button and joystick. The controllers were not demonstrated at the show; Microsoft chose to introduce them with a pre rendered video showing a fantasy 3D modeling app with a highly unrealistic series of interactions producing flying paper lanterns and a giant dragon.

One great advantage of the hand controllers is that they will not require external tracking, Microsoft confirmed. Instead, the sensors inside the headset used to provide position tracking to the VR layer can be used to track the LEDs on the handsets. However, it also hints at a potential weakness: “If you can see your hands, we are tracking them with high accuracy,” said Microsoft’s Alex Kipman. Which begs the question: what kind of tracking do you get when you can’t see your hands? It remains to be seen whether Microsoft will get a good enough solution purely from the accelerometer, magnetometer and gyroscope in each controller.

The controllers did make an appearance in one on-stage demo, a presentation by Cirque du Soleil purportedly showing how they use Hololens to collaborate while designing the massing for the center ring of their new show. Director Michel Laprise joined the Hololens users as an entirely virtual avatar with hands provided by the controllers. Unfortunately, Microsoft persisted in its bad habit of padding the Hololens’ capabilities in their marketing, and the entire demo was clearly faked, showing a number of unrealistic interactions like adding perfectly placed volumetric captures of performers merely by speaking the command “add contortionist!” So it’s unlikely that Laprise’ avatar was any more than a pre-recorded animation himself.


Google continued its program of swooping up top virtual reality developers by acquiring Owlchemy Labs, creators of Job Simulator (one of VR’s few undisputable commercial successes) and Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality.

Steam and Pixvana launched their Field-Of-View Adaptive Streaming service. A publishing tool called Spin is available in beta. [Road to VR]

Meanwhile a competitor called Visbit has made its service available with Gear VR and Cardboard support.

Starbreeze is bringing its blockbuster franchise Payday to Virtual Reality. [Road to VR]

Upload VR has a review of the new PSVR Aim Controller and a video review of Farpoint, a game designed specifically to showcase the controller that also happens to include a 5-hour campaign with AAA production values.

An Oculus Research blog post and video previews a new technology they have developed that mimics “the way our eyes naturally focus at objects of varying depths. Rather than trying to add more and more focus areas to get the same degree of depth, this new approach changes the way light enters the display using spatial light modulators (SLMs) to bend the headset’s focus around 3D objects—increasing depth and maximizing the amount of space represented simultaneously.” Unfortunately there are few details as to how the system works, but they will be submitting a paper to Siggraph.

Disney Research posted a blog entry on their own Siggraph contribution and included a PDF of the paper. They have developed a pipeline for rendering, compressing and playing back animated lightfields with high efficiency, achieving a compression ratio of 150:1. It sounds impressive, but even a relatively simple lightfield render contains as many pixels as a 16K UHD video stream, so we will need all the compression we can get to practically stream light fields over a network connection. Even with this technique, enough data might be streaming at once to saturate GPU bandwidth. A big innovation in Disney’s work is that the software optimizes the number of viewpoints that need to be rendered using a gnarly-looking calculus equation, saving both bandwidth and rendering time.

In the aftermath of their case against Facebook-owned Oculus, ZeniMax has filed a complaint against Samsung, claiming that, with the GearVR, “Samsung has used, and continues to utilize, ZeniMax’s VR technology (or derivatives thereof) that was misappropriated by Oculus.” According to a recent UploadVR article, Zenimax is seeking damages and injunctive relief that will “fairly and fully compensate” the company.

UK’s Quantum Care along with marketing agency Tribemix have created VR experiences to help patients feel happier and more relaxed. Originally designed for people living with dementia, the “project is now being broadened to include patients from paediatrics, respiratory disorders, physical disabilities and elderly care.” The Irish News features a video of patients’ responses here.

Radiance Games’ Eric Provencher discusses the challenges that come with adapting an existing game to VR. From redesigning the game interface to optimization and user tests, Provencher emphasizes the need to “strip down the game to its essence to find out what’s absolutely necessary to make the game work without compromising what it’s about”. The company recently ported Radiant Crusade to VR. Based on their experience, Provencher says the focus should be on what VR can bring to the experience. “It’s often not that interesting to simply port a game into VR, as the movement mechanics will likely cause nausea, while not leveraging all the interaction tools VR brings.”

VR Digest™ is a Virtual Reality Newsletter brought to you by Studio Transcendent, a producer of premium Virtual Reality experiences. We publish weekly on Wednesdays.

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