VR Digest: New VR cameras announced;
SpaceX explosion delays HoloLens test

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written by Ian Hamilton (@hmltn) issue 22 – July 1, 2015
VR Digest: A Virtual Reality newsletter brought to you by Studio Transcendent

SpaceX explosion destroys two HoloLens headsets

When the unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded after liftoff this week, it took two HoloLens headsets with it, delaying a plan to test the hardware aboard the International Space Station.

NASA plans to use the insert-virtual-objects-in-front-of-you headsets to eventually assist astronauts with their jobs. One HoloLens application employs Skype to enable a ground operator to see what the astronaut sees and provide remote coaching. Another standalone mode overlays 3D animated illustrations in front of the astronaut to streamline the process of accomplishing various complicated procedures.

“This capability could lessen the amount of training that future crews will require and could be an invaluable resource for missions deep into our solar system, where communication delays complicate difficult operations,” a press release said.

The headset was tested (video) aboard NASA’s C9 aircraft (which alternately climbs and dives to temporarily simulate weightlessness) to make sure HoloLens would function correctly on the station.

Two more headsets are planned to go up on the next launch. NASA planned to test and verify the functionality of the headsets with this launch while the key Skype-based remote expert functionality was to be tested after the next launch.

New VR cameras announced

Jaunt, a 360-degree video startup last funded with $27.8 million in August 2014, revealed renderings of a new camera system it plans to debut with partners in August. “Custom optics specifically designed for 3D light-field capture” is among the promised features, but no demonstration videos of the new capabilities are yet available. The camera will not be sold to end users, but instead will be leased to Jaunt’s content partners.

Meanwhile, a Kickstarter has been launched for an intriguing new panoramic camera. The Sphericam 2 promises a low-cost, hassle-free way to produce high quality 4K video at 60 frames-per-second with minimal compression, as well as the ability to broadcast a seamless panorama in real time over both Ethernet and Wifi.

According to the Kickstarter page, “There just aren't many people who want to go through the months of training required to operate 6 sports cameras stuck together, and the tremendous amount of tricky post processing that is needed to make such footage watchable.”

On that note, VR Digest editor John Dewar this week published an article on ZapChain about the challenges of stereo panoramic capture using GoPros, and why they are still the best currently-available solution.


Graphics chip company NVIDIA posted on RoadToVR a deep dive into its Gameworks VR technologies. Included in the technical rundown are clear explanations of some key VR technologies, like direct-mode:

“The display driver recognizes a headset when it’s plugged in and hides it from the operating system, preventing all those user-experience problems while still allowing VR apps to render to the headset,” Nathan Reed wrote.

Daniel Church launched a Kickstarter to add Oculus Rift DK2 support to Microsoft Flight Simulator. FlyInside FSX is an extension to the Steam Edition of the game and includes a virtual desktop feature so that pilots can read aircraft manuals and study approach plates without removing the headset. An alpha preview is available to test as well.

Britain-based video game development company Facepunch Studios has been playing with a Vive developer kit from Valve and using “Minecraft”-style voxels as the playground. Facepunch programmer James King tweeted out a couple videos. You can paint blocks with your hands and erase them just as easily.

“[It] feels a lot like playing with Lego as a kid, but with fewer restrictions,” King wrote on Twitter. “You also realize how awkward non-VR first person is.”

Valve is supporting upcoming Vive game jams at Playhubs in London on July 11 and 12 and another in Vancouver on July 18 and 19.

Oculus' John Carmack gave a few technical tips on his Facebook page as the July 3 deadline for month two of the “Render The Metaverse” contest draws near. “There are objective comfort hazards that should be carefully considered.”

A TechRepublic report looked at the steps companies and developers are taking to hook more than hardcore gamers and enthusiasts into VR.

“It'll die on the vine if it's not something that's accessible, if it's not providing value to a much wider audience, or at least many types of value to potentially many different segments,” said Altimeter analyst Jessica Groopman.

Conan O'Brian is launching a Google Cardboard experience as he takes his show to Comic Con this year.

In a Q&A session, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he sees an evolution in sharing from text to photos to videos to immersive experiences. What’s interesting, however, is what he thinks comes after.

“We'll have the power to share our full sensory and emotional experience with people whenever we'd like,” Zuckerberg said.

A Facebook product designer wrote a behind-the-scenes look at his “hack-a-month” working with an Oculus design team, with some technical insights into what was learned.

“While you’re in VR, you are completely divorced from reality, but it could be useful to get notifications and quickly respond,” Julius Tarng said.

Using the Gear VR, the Natural History Museum in London recently featured David Attenborough's “First Life a Virtual Reality Experience” (video).

“This enhances the experience and brings alive say an object you've seen as a fossil in a glass case and then you suddenly see it alive in virtual reality,” said Ed Vaizey, Minister of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

A post on Gamasutra offers some useful VR development lessons.

“Consider 60 fps your new absolute acceptable minimum. 90fps or more should be your goal. Yes, I know this is hard,” Jesse Schell wrote.

We’ve linked reports in previous weeks of the possible benefits VR therapies could have treating phobias and posttraumatic stress disorder. Now, a Consumer Affairs article says VR may help treat alcohol dependence as well. “It puts patients in realistic situations and makes them actively participate in the process. The researchers hope that being exposed to triggers in sessions will help patients better manage situations that may occur in real life.”

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