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VR Digest: Google ARCore;
Microsoft details “Mixed Reality” effort

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VR Digest: A VR newsletter brought to you by Studio Transcendent
written by John Dewar (@jstarrdewar) Issue 135 – August 31, 2017

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

Google Announces ARCore to Compete with ARKit

Google, this week announced ARCore, a direct response to Apple’s new ARKit technology that launches publicly in two weeks or so with iOS 11 (Apple’s iPhone 8 event is scheduled for September 12). ARCore is based on Google’s Tango technology, which in turn shares its core tracking technology with Apple’s ARKit, as explained in this article we linked to a few weeks back. According to the article, Apple’s major advantage in the fight is its tight control of the hardware; the OS must have detailed knowledge of how the phone’s internal IMU sensors are calibrated in order to provide accurate tracking. As a result, Google is limiting the rollout of ARCore to the Pixel and Samsung Galaxy S8, which are also the flagship Daydream-ready phones.

Google claims that, come Christmas, ARCore will support about 100 million devices with the help of additional major manufacturers like Huawei, LG, and Asus (ARKit will support iPhone 6S and newer Apple devices, which will be approaching 500 million in number by year’s end, assuming a blockbuster iPhone 7S+8 release cycle).

Support for ARCore has already been announced for Unity and Unreal Engine, which should enable developers to port experiences between ARKit and ARCore relatively easily. The two platforms have an almost identical feature list, including flat-surface detection and light estimation, so it will be up to developers to tease out the more subtle differences between them (early reports are ARKit may be a bit better at keeping track of the phone’s position when it is moved long distances, which would be the expected effect of superior calibration).

To keep track of developers’ progress with ARCore, you can follow @BuiltWithARCore on Twitter, and to check out all the awesome work that’s been done with ARKit so far you should definitely be following @MadeWithARKit.
 

Microsoft Details “Mixed Reality” Effort

In a blog post and accompanying video, Microsoft’s Alex Kipman shared some new details about their forthcoming virtual reality headset initiative:

  • Bundles of headsets and controllers will start at $399, (which will undercut Oculus by only $100, assuming Oculus follows through on raising their prices).

  • Microsoft will be labeling Windows VR ready PCs as “Windows Mixed Reality PCs” and “Windows Mixed Reality Ultra PCs”. The former will have integrated graphics and are expected to maintain 60fps while the latter will have discrete graphics and are expected to maintain 90fps. However, more details are needed, as some of Microsoft’s launch content, like Obduction is unlikely to work at all on integrated graphics (a disclaimer in the video says “PC requirements may vary for available apps and content”).

  • A graphic in the blog post shows a variety of launch content and partnerships, including Superhot VR and Arizona Sunshine. Microsoft is working with 343 Industries on some sort of Halo franchise content as well.

  • Most importantly, the headsets will work with SteamVR.

UploadVR got some hands-on time with Dell’s virtual reality headset for Microsoft’s platform. The device is nicer looking than HP & Acer’s attempts, but at $349 it’s $50 more than the Acer model.

Asus is aiming for the high end of the Windows Mixed Reality market with its €449 virtual reality headset. That’s quite expensive, and would exceed the cost of an Oculus+Touch bundle.

Sean Ong, who previously posted an unboxing video of Microsoft’s motion controller devkit, is back with a hands-on video showing how they operate. At least in this early stage, the controllers don’t attempt to estimate their position when they are out of view, so to get full functionality they must be held in front of the user’s body, where the headset’s position tracking cameras can see them. However, you can still point at things with them when they are out of view, and developers can certainly try to use inverse kinematics to make them behave better in that situation. UploadVR also posted a hands-on article about the controllers.

Overall, it seems like Microsoft is headed for a bit of trouble in two ways: the low end integrated graphics PCs won’t be able to run much content and may end up mostly limited to ports from mobile platforms like Daydream. Pricing is a bit high as well, given that the headsets feel considerably less premium, with LCD rather than OLED screens; and giving users the option of purchasing HMDs without motion controllers seems like a step backward at this point.
 

Bits

Sony applied a modest price drop to the PSVR, bundling a camera with the a la carte headset (essentially a $60 discount if you didn’t already own the camera) and knocking $50 off the price of the bundle that includes the PS Move controllers and PlayStation VR Worlds. That helps keep the price competitive with the reductions from Oculus and HTC, although in our estimation it’s getting harder to recommend PSVR as its price advantage erodes against the PC based systems, given the extremely slow arrival of new content on the platform, the frustrating limitations of the Move controllers, and the tracking camera’s limited field of view.

Studio Transcendent has partnered several times with AppliedVR to create VR experiences for anxiety and pain management. AppliedVR recently shared a patient story which shows how effective VR can be:  After an accident left him partially paralyzed, the patient found himself dependent on pain medication. He used VR as an important part of his tool set to wean himself completely off of opioids.

UPS is using VR to simulate the experience of driving on city streets, teaching student delivery drivers to spot and identify road hazards.

Samsung has developed Relúmĭno, an affordable app that helps the visually impaired. While it does not provide support for someone who is completely blind, people with low vision can use Relúmĭno to see images more clearly by employing various tools including magnification, contrast, color enhancement and reversal. “For those suffering from a blind spot in vision or the Tunnel Vision...Relúmĭno aids by remapping unseen images to place in visible parts of the eye. Specifically, when users set the sizes of a blind spot or tunnel vision for the first use, the application automatically places the blind point in the visible surrounding parts and puts images within the ‘tunnel’ or visible range, helping users who have a visual field defect to see things better.”

Conde Nast created Virtually Dating, a show that follows a blind date that happens entirely in VR. Aired on Facebook’s Watch platform, the two people are actually in the same room, but can’t see each other because they’re wearing headsets. [UploadVR]

CCP Games’ Sparc has launched as a timed exclusive on PSVR.

OTOY announced RenderToken, a blockchain-based distributed rendering system. It’s actually a lot more complicated than that simple description; even the brief slideshow on the site is mind-bending. Essentially, it is attempting to address the environmental issue of bitcoin: vast amounts of electricity are used to “mine” bitcoin by running specialized servers to crunch the mathematical formulas that guarantee bitcoin’s scarcity, which helps create its value. However, all of those computing resources are essentially wasted; the only useful product is the bitcoin itself.

At the same time, traditional render farms and even cloud-based render farms are difficult to scale and expensive. And most of the powerful GPUs that have been sold are sitting mostly idle in gaming PCs and workstations. A decentralized solution is necessary, and blockchain technology at its core is an organizational principle for decentralized computation. RenderToken will generate high resolution imagery as its byproduct, but can still be exchanged via the blockchain and have intrinsic value. A blog post and video by Jules Urbach provide some additional clarity.

The Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise “confirmed through metabolic testing that many VR titles are better calorie burners than a traditional treadmill or elliptical.”  Researchers at the institute state that VR is especially effective because users feel compelled to play and end up burning a lot of calories without realizing it. The website provides rankings of the exercise potential of different games. For example, one of our very favorites, Knockout League, can be as strenuous as rowing. [Road to VR]

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

 
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