VR Digest: AltspaceVR shutting down;

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written by John Dewar (@jstarrdewar) Issue 131 – August 3, 2017

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

AltspaceVR Shutting Down

In a shocking development, VR social app AltspaceVR is closing its doors after running out of funds. They will be hosting one last VR party tonight (August 3) and then shutting the service down permanently at 7PM PST. The company had been recently attacked by a patent troll, but said that was not to blame, pointing instead to a failed fundraising effort and “general slowness of VR market growth”. The news was surprising to the community because Altspace seemed to be quite successful given the overall size of the market, with 35,000 monthly active users.

Oculus cofounder Palmer Luckey took to Twitter to ask if he should use his Facebook millions to save Altspace, but said he didn’t know if it would be possible.


The annual SIGGRAPH conference often showcases exciting technologies long before they appear in consumer products, if ever. This year, the emerging tech section of the conference was dominated by VR. Digest cofounder Ian Hamilton was busy covering the conference for UploadVR and saw a lot of interesting things:

A Shapeshifting Controller
A Doctor Strange-Inspired Weather Simulator
A Mind Control System Integrated Into A Vive (He said it worked really well)
A Dockable Backpack PC from Hewlett Packard for Arcade Use
A Conversion System for the Oculus Rift from Optitrack (To replace Constellation tracking with their Arcade-scale tracking system)
Varifocal Displays from NVIDIA Research
A Live Giraffe


Oculus’ Quill painting app is back from the dead with a new feature update. Oculus had previously stated the app would not receive further updates after shuttering Story Studio, which developed the app. That disappointed many artists who felt it was far more powerful than its more well-known counterpart, Google’s Tilt Brush.

Matt Miesnieks posted a great blog post about how ARKit works and why Apple’s solution seems to work so much better than other similar technologies. The short answer? As usual with Apple, it’s their unique ability to tightly tie in their software with their hardware because they are the only vertically-integrated phone maker—they’ve been able to tune the software to know exactly what to expect from the sensors in the limited range of iPhones they are supporting.

In related news, Apple announced terrific quarterly results with unexpected iPad sales growth, pushing their stock to an all time high. In his prepared remarks during the investor call, CEO Tim Cook said, “We believe AR has broad mainstream applicability, across education, entertainment, interactive gaming, enterprise, and categories we probably haven't even thought of.” Later in the Q&A session he added: “I think AR is big and profound. This is one of those huge things that we'll look back at and marvel on the start of it. I think that customers are going to see it in a variety of ways. Enterprise takes a little longer sometimes to get going, but I can tell you there's a lot of excitement already in there. I think we'll start to see some applications there as well. It feels great to get this thing going at a level that can sort of get all the developers behind it. I couldn't be more excited about it. ”

Finally, Mixed Reality Design---the folks behind the Made With ARKit feed---posted a hilarious little video about the AR landscape on Twitter.

OTOY released an alpha of their Octane Render Unity integration, which allows Unity creators to fairly seamlessly convert their scenes into photorealistic renders. While Octane will automatically convert standard shader based materials, more specific shaders like water have to be recreated in Octane’s shader graph, so it won’t be a one-button process in many cases.

This could help create higher-quality VR video exports from Unity and will eventually enable light field captures of Unity scenes. Likely, the most exciting use case will be using Unity’s scripting to create animations that are largely driven by code. While this has long been possible in other 3D software, Unity is easier to use, thanks to the reams of documentation created by its large user base, so the barrier to entry is much lower for artists.

[Getting Started Video] [Installation Guide]

Microsoft started selling the Acer MR Headset Developer Edition, but it quickly sold out. Meanwhile, a few examples of the HP version found their way into the wild as well. Shachar Weis wrote a detailed blog post unboxing his newly-delivered Acer headset. If you haven’t had an opportunity to try one yet, it’s worth a read. Microsoft also published a strange animation showing a use-case for MR: enjoying the digital presence of your long-dead family dog and a younger, handsomer version of your husband.

Gravity Sketch is now available in Early Access on Steam. Although it shares similar features with Blocks and Medium, Gravity Sketch has more precision-focused tools, making it suited for product design use-cases. [UploadVR]

Second Life creator Linden Lab announced the beta release of Sansar, a social VR platform that allows users to create 3D experiences for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Windows PCs. The business model is based on users paying Linden Lab to host the experiences they create with the Sansar toolset. Users can charge admission to offset the hosting cost. Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Linden Lab, says, "Sansar democratizes social VR. Until now, complexity and cost has limited who could create and publish in this medium, and Sansar dramatically changes that.”

Epic VR Channel tweeted a cool video from Disney Research showcasing a technique that generates a 3D avatar automatically with a single photograph (albeit using 3 cameras to capture the image). One can easily see how this could be used to make multiplayer out-of-home VR experiences, such as might be found in a theme park, more compelling.

Oculus is testing a “parties” feature for Oculus Home, wherein users can join a group of up to four to talk while playing in VR.

One more ARKit story for you: Duncan Walker tweeted a video he made showing how ARKit could be used to generate complex VFX shots completely in-camera; in this case, a Chappie-esque robot walking through city streets. This could be one of the best early use-cases, even in the form of a novelty app for home movie auteurs.

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