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.
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.