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VR Digest: Oculus Connect announcements;
Valve paves way for hardware partners

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VR Digest: A VR newsletter brought to you by Studio Transcendent
written by John Dewar (@jstarrdewar) Issue 141 – October 12, 2017

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

Hi Friends,


John and Bowdy are at Oculus Connect; get in touch if you would like to meet in person!

Best,
John, Aaron, Bowdy, and Elissa 
at Studio Transcendent

Oculus Connect 4 Heralds Standalone Headset Push

At Oculus’ annual developer conference, Mark Zuckerberg handed the keynote reins off to Facebook’s new head of Virtual Reality, Hugo Barra (who came to Facebook after performing pivotal roles in the development of Android and Xiaomi’s mobile business). Barra revealed two new standalone headsets: the Oculus Go, a $199 device that has the same capabilities as the Gear VR with controller, and the Santa Cruz developer kit which will feature full 6 degrees-of-freedom head and hand tracking.

Oculus didn’t reveal specifications for the new devices, except to say that the Oculus Go uses a 2560x1440 fast-switching LCD panel. Thanks to very high pixel fill (meaning the gaps between the pixels are as small as possible, reducing the “screen door effect”) and an all-new fresnel lens design, Barra claimed that the Go will have a superior display compared to the Rift or any Gear VR combination. The device is also much lighter than a Gear VR.

Oculus Go will go on sale in early 2018. The Santa Cruz dev kits will go out to developers sometime later in 2018.

VR Digest cofounder Ian Hamilton got to try out the prototype of Santa Cruz and loved it: “Put simply, Santa Cruz feels like it represents the way VR should be....The freedom I experienced losing that wire while enjoying hand presence is a high bar for immersion and it will be hard not to hold all future VR hardware to that standard.”

The last hardware announcement was that Rift would remain at its $399 “sale” price. We suspected as much earlier this year when Oculus seemed reluctant to end their “Summer of Rift” promotion and a price cut brought the Vive down to only a $70 premium over the official $499 price of the Rift bundle. By remaining at $399, the Rift will also undercut the just announced Samsung Odyssey by $100.

Oculus VP of Product Nate Mitchell announced changes to the Rift desktop platform. The Oculus Home we know and kinda like is being replaced by a new customizable, interactive living room. The store will be replaced with a new virtual mall but no details were revealed. Most of the existing functionality will be moving to a persistent overlay called Oculus Dash. Dash also has an all-new, very nice virtual desktop implementation that allows users to pin windows to keep open while playing an experience, bringing multitasking back to VR.

Oculus avatars get some nice upgrades too. They look more like people than ghosts now, with customizable skin, eye, and hair color and have lip sync and AI-driven eye animations. Developers now can specify experience-appropriate clothing for avatars. Most importantly of all, avatars are now cross platform and can be used in SteamVR. Last year’s avatar SDK saw little usage as developers were dissuaded from building heavily against an API that could only work on Oculus.

Some upcoming Oculus-sponsored games were teased, including an interactive experience from Pixar for Coco.

Facebook is continuing to develop Spaces with an API allowing developers to create custom toys and the ability to explore Quill illustrations. The Facebook newsfeed on mobile will get a 3D viewer that will support all kinds of 3D content, similar to Sketchfab. Users can share creations from Oculus creative apps with one click.

Overall, it looks like Oculus is doing exactly what they need to do to keep momentum up on their platform by following their stated strategy of cutting cost of entry as much as possible as soon as possible.
 

Valve Lowers Barriers to Entry for SteamVR Hardware Partners

Valve is making it easier for hardware developers to create SteamVR-compatible head mounted displays. They will be providing state-of-the-art lens designs that will work with a variety of readily available OLED and LCD screens to deliver properly-calibrated low-persistence near-eye displays. Valve is also offering “manufacturing and calibration tools” for use on the production line.

By helping HMD manufacturers jumpstart their R&D, Valve is setting a baseline for quality in their ecosystem. Also, by supporting a new breed of fast-switching LCDs with low-persistence backlights, cost of entry for SteamVR HMDs will decrease.

Valve also revealed that it will manufacture and resell its 2nd generation base station to partners for $60 per unit and that in “early 2018, we’ll expand that functionality to 4 base stations that should cover a single room play space of roughly 10 x 10 meters.” That’s a pretty hefty price, as consumers are likely to see markup on resold sensors; but quite an impressive play area --- bigger than many single-story houses in urban America.
 

Bits:

One of the most surprising announcements at the first Oculus Connect developer event was that Oculus was open sourcing all of the design documentation for the DK1 headset. The company followed that up this week on the eve of Oculus Connect 4 by open sourcing the far more sophisticated DK2.

Oculus is offering a Rift business bundle, similar to the Vive business edition. It comes with an extra sensor, three extra facial interfaces, and a warranty with extra protections.

Last week, we reported on Bigscreen, a VR screen-sharing/coworking app that just released major improvements. The team has raised $11 million in new funding, bringing their total to $14 million.

The Void and ILM X Lab announced a pre-sale of $30 tickets for their Star Wars “Hyper-Reality” experience, opening December 16 in Orlando, FL and Anaheim, CA on January 5. Teams of 4 will play as rebels infiltrating Mustafar disguised as stormtroopers with the aid of K-2SO. The trailer indicates that the experience will have hand tracking, something that was not attempted in earlier Void experiences.

Nokia killed off their Ozo 360/3D camera and laid off the engineers that were working on it. Don’t read into that too much; the Ozo had a nice industrial design and a real time preview feature but there wasn’t much else to it. Despite some substantial firmware and software improvements, the video quality lagged behind its competitors in the professional 360 video market.

Facing stiff competition from Facebook and Google, which don’t strategically need to earn money from their camera efforts yet, it’s not surprising they pulled the plug. It could be a warning sign for Jaunt’s health though, as they also are counting on what is clearly a very small camera market.

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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