VR Digest: Google reveals standalone
headsets at I/O event

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VR Digest: A VR newsletter brought to you by Studio Transcendent
written by John Dewar (@jstarrdewar) Issue 121 – May 24, 2017

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

Google Reveals Standalone Headsets at I/O Event

Google held its annual I/O developer event last week where it revealed that HTC and Lenovo will be building new standalone Daydream headsets that don’t require a separate phone to work. Based on the Snapdragon 835 SoC, the headsets will feature inside-out positional tracking, similar to Microsoft’s Hololens and Windows MR technology that we covered last week.

The tracking algorithm evolved from Google’s Tango project and has been christened “WorldSense”. An announcement video shows a young girl using it to sharpen her real-world dodgeball skills. Unlike Microsoft’s solution, there are no announced plans for position-tracked controllers. Instead, the devices will use the standard Daydream controller, which only senses rotation. It seems plausible that future controllers could use the same WorldSense tech to track themselves, but it may be prohibitively expensive at this point, since each controller would require a significant amount of computing power to run the algorithm.

VR Digest co-founder Ian Hamilton had a chance to try out WorldSense on behalf of Upload VR. In his hands-on he found the system to be quite impressive.

HTC’s standalone headset will be called the Vive Standalone. Pricing details have not been announced (and Lenovo hasn’t given out any details at all about their version), but Clay Bavor revealed to Steven Levy that the product cost will be “multi-hundreds of dollars”, in line with the Rift and Vive but without the cost of a separate computer. Bavor wrote an essay of his own in a Medium post, explaining the Google team’s philosophy about VR:

“...We should remember that as advanced as they may seem, today’s VR and AR devices are largely made from repurposed smartphone components. It’s like we’re building airplanes from bicycle and car parts. You can do it — it’s how the Wright brothers started — but it’s hardly where things converge.

...One day, we’ll wonder how we ever got along without computing that works like we do — computing that’s environmentally aware, that displays information to us in context, and that looks, feels, and behaves like the real world.”

More Announcements from Google I/O

Google announced their own light field rendering solution dubbed “Seurat” after the famous painter and draftsman Georges-Pierre Seurat. Unfortunately, they offered very little detail about how it actually works aside from a fourteen-second animation. A demo ginned up by ILMxLab shows a star wars docking bay being rendered with real time position tracking on a phone, showing off raytraced reflections glancing realistically off 50 million polygons as the perspective shifts. The scene takes an hour per frame to render traditionally on a workstation. No word on how long it takes to bake the lightfield.

Google claims that Seurat’s light fields can be compressed to just a few megabytes, which would seem to be a pretty amazing achievement. The tech is being marketed as a way to close the gap between PC graphics and mobile graphics, but it should be noted that there is nothing standing in the way of light field technology being used to increase fidelity in desktop based experiences.

Samsung is bringing Daydream support to the Galaxy S8 and S8+ this summer. Google expects “tens of millions” of Daydream-ready phones to reach the market this year. [Road to VR]

Daydream’s upcoming “Euphrates” update will add a feature that allows users to mirror their view in VR to a television via Chromecast. [Upload VR]

YouTube will add 360 video support to its smart tv apps. [Engadget]

Google released an app called Audio Factory on the Play Store, meant to provide a compelling showcase for spatial audio in VR, presenting a variety of interactive environments that highlight “evocative sound design”.


Steam is working on replacing their decidedly boring VR dashboard with something a lot more spiffy. Now available as a beta, Steam VR Home mashes the dashboard functionality together with the Destinations app allowing users to inhabit and decorate a fully 3D space including drawing and customizing an avatar with which to visit their friends’ Steam VR Home spaces. [Road to VR]

Unity Technologies has raised yet another round of financing, $400 million from private equity firm Silver Lake. That brings their valuation to $2.6 Billion with over $600 million in capital raised so far. [Bloomberg]

A recent post on the Oculus Developer Blog discusses research into VR movement. In partnership with the development team at Crytek, Oculus says they will be sharing over 40 videos in the coming weeks, “each of which looks at different movements and actions in a VR space. ...[They will] talk about what works, what doesn’t, and how certain experiments could be applied.”

Oculus released Rift update 1.15. Alongside improved tracking and various notifications, Settings > General offers a video about Rift and Touch safety and finally gives users the option to disable the annoying health and safety reminders.

Palmer Luckey gave his first post-Oculus interviews to Japanese publication MoguraVR. Road to VR has translated the interview in three parts. Palmer talked about his Cosplay hobby (Part 1), followed by a discussion of virtual relationships, an obsession with Pokemon Go, and his future plans (Part 2). Part 3 covers the “far future of VR with neural links & brain-computer interfaces, recorded memories, and [Luckey’s] aim to revolutionize VR once again.”

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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