This blog covers almost everything about tech startups and VR; news, reviews, and previews. VR news and information posted in layman terms, The Ghost Howls takes in consideration everyone even remotely interested in VR and report accordingly.
Damo9000. If you are into Reddit and virtual reality, for sure you know this nickname. He’s the guy creating a satirical newspaper pages on the /r/oculus subreddit. Amazing content that makes all of us laugh, like for instance this one published for the disappointing launch of the Rift S.
Typical newspaper created by Damo on the Oculus subreddit. Here he was expressing our anger for the disappointing features of the Rift S (Image by Damo9000)
Damo is a personal idol of mine, so I absolutely wanted to interview him and have fun with him with a semi-serious Q&A session. I feel so happy that I managed to actually talk with him in occasion of the launch of his “Epic Rap Battles for the History of the Future” video. What, don’t you know what I am talking about? That’s no good…
Damo is a creative guy and now has evolved from just doing memes and newspapers to also doing videos. Yesterday he has just launched on Reddit amasterpiece, that has been made in collaboration with VR_Nima. You must absolutely watch it before going on with the interview. And if you are good enough, you will also be able to find a hidden easter egg…
Epic Rap Battles For The History Of The Future! - YouTube
Have you had fun watching it? I am sure you did. Now you are ready to read the words of the great Damo9000!
Hello Damo, introduce yourself to my readers!
I’m Damo9000, the artist formerly known as Damo3000.
Why the nickname Damo 9000? How does it mean?
What does it mean to you? SkarredGhost means something to me.
How have you started publishing those amazing magazines on Reddit?
The sub was in a state of ridiculous arguing, it was peak Vive VS Rift fanboysism at its worst. Some of the comments were pretty over the top, and the idea of the “Weekly World News” came to me, so I posted it and everyone had a good laugh, and hopefully, a good look at themselves in the proverbial mirror.
Where do you take the inspiration to create them?
Usually inspiration strikes when drama has taken hold of the sub, or some interesting action takes place in the VR world.
What is the newspaper page that you are proud of the most? And why?
I’m not proud of the newspapers. Achievement is it’s own reward. I really enjoy knowing that people are laughing and letting down their guard on the receiving end. Well, most, but not all I’m sure.
Twin Peaks Major Briggs and the Log Lady - YouTube
You usually publish on /r/Oculus… are you an Oculus fan?
I’m not a fan of Oculus “the corporation” at all, though I can appreciate the hard work and technical achievements their employees contribute to. I really do not like their leadership or direction though. They have made a lot of mis-steps in search of more “control” of VR in my viewpoint. But I always have a good chuckle when I see them fall of the cliff time and time again like Wile. E. Coyote, Super Genius. Beep Beep!
Is Zuckerberg human, in the end?
If he so chooses. So far, I have my doubts. But every single soul is redeemable, I like to think. I would hate to see him smoke his own meat in the end.
GIF by Damo9000
What are the best things that have happened in answer to your magazines? Have you ever been contacted by some important people because of your magazines? (e.g. Palmer Luckey, Zuck, etc…)
Well, I’m still waiting on Marky Z and the Funky Bunch to send me a big fat check, asking me to stop making memes. That would be a lot of fun to rip into little peices. I speak with Palmer (who has a good sense of humor) from time to time on Facebook (yes, I’m on Facebook. One does not leave his fellows behind). I’ve met Brendan Iribe in person, he said he likes my newspapers as well (no sure how honest a statement that was, but I’ll take it at face value). And I have been in contact with “The Briefcase Man” as well, who is a very intriguing soul indeed.
Do you remember when Zuck cancelled the Rift 2 project of Brendan Iribe and substituted it with the Rift S? Pepperidge Farm remembers (Image by Damo9000)
Do you agree with me that sometimes in the VR ecosystem we take things a bit too seriously (see the fanboyism on the various subreddits) and we should be more relaxed sometimes?
Fanboyism is silly obviously. Most corporations couldn’t care less about you. They probably see you as hotdogs that have the gold they want. But, I admit being a fan of Valve. They do more good than bad it seems, though no company is perfect. And their games? *Chefs Kiss. At least the ones I’ve played. DOTA and Artifact aren’t up my alley, but Half-Life 2 is a masterpiece.
Valve Index rising (GIF by Damo9000)
What is the thing that makes you laugh more in these days about the VR ecosystem?
The sheer amount of “experts”, “consultants” and all around snake-oil salesman that have appeared suddenly, when investors were throwing money in the hype furnace. And all these VR-YouTubers making more money than the devs who make the games they “review”. Oh wait, you said “laugh”. Oh well, if we don‘t laugh we will cry.
What do you do during your daily life, when you do not publish magazines on Reddit?
I work in the animation industry. Painting the deserts that the Road Runner zooms about in. Hobbies are creating animations, art, music, memes, and messing about in VR development.
If you would like to give some advice to someone that wants to enter the VR ecosystem now, what would you tell to him/her?
Do not build something that you think people want. Make something that comes from your heart, the truth about YOU. Don’t be afraid to be YOU. Walk in Love and Truth. That’s what the world needs. Sure doesn’t need another Zombie VR Shooter. We all make mistakes, just need to keep getting up and carrying on.
Jon Karmack in his new rapping career (GIF by Damo9000)
Is Half–Life 3 confirmed?
Yes! And Half-Life 4! and Full-Life 7!
Can you make a magazine page for my readers of The Ghost Howls? Please…
Yay! An exclusive magazine page all for me! (Image by Damo9000)
I have had an exclusive newspaper page made by Damo9000, now I can die in peace
I really want to thank Damien for the time he has dedicated to me and for all the laughs that he gifted me. I suggest you to follow him on Reddit, Twitter and to cover him with gold on Patreon.
Ah, and if you haven’t found the hidden Easter Egg in the above video, here you are the hidden content… let’s all rap with Jon Karmack
I have some exclusive news on the Vive Cosmos, one of the most awaited headsets of 2019, that I want to share with you. Fasten your seatbelts and read this article.
As you may know if you follow me on social media, last week I spent my whole time in Taiwan, at first in Kaohsiung and then in Taipei. It has been a really interesting experience, and there I watched breathtaking landscapes, I ate delicious food (included the “Best dumplings in the world”, as Viveport’s Steve Wang says) and met fantastic VR people.
One of the most amazing moments of this trip: watching the sunset on the seaside of Kaohsiung
I will tell more in a future summary article about my experience there, but for now, just let me tell you that among the fantastic people that I met, there have been the guys and the girls at HTC’s headquarters in Taipei.
Last Thursday was a rainy day in Taipei and I dressed super elegant for the occasion: I mean, it doesn’t happen every day to visit the HQ of a major VR company. I entered the building with my Chinese assistant Miss S… and I have to say that that place is very beautiful… all white, with an enormous white hall (shared with Google!) and a big artistic Vive logo made with headsets attached to a wall. It’s very modern and clean.
Me under the Vive logo in the big hall of HTC headquarters in Taipei
After the check in, I started various meetings with some HTC’s engineers and project managers where we talked about HTC’s VR devices and SDKs. Of course we spoke in English, but sometimes I also tried to say some words in Mandarin, just to feel more local and make them more confused than ever with my terrible pronunciation. People there have been very kind with me and I have been able to feel their strong desire of improving their products: they were very interested in listening to every critic (even the harsh ones) about their devices. I really appreciated this attitude, that I think that every company should have.
In all these meetings, of course, I also tried to get some secret info about the future plans of the company. And you know, I am really excited about the mysterious Vive Cosmos, so of course, I tried to get some new info about it.
Actual photo of the Cosmos with its controllers (Image by Upload VR)
Unluckily, HTC is still not ready to disclose all the details on this device, so during our talk, its employees have been quite tightlipped about its most important features (like for instance field of view and resolution). Every question that I tried to make in this sense, got as answer always “Sorry, but I can’t tell you this”. Needless to say, I expected that: people working for corporates are always very attentive about what they can disclose and what not, because there is always a precise regulation on this side.
So, I tried to ask directly what are the information they could disclose to me apart from what has already been revealed during the CES, and all the speculations that have been made on it starting from the Qualcomm’s reference design presented there (if you want to read everything we officially know about the Cosmos until now, please read this article). I explained that we people of the VR communities are really excited about the device and so we crave to know everything about it, and at the same time we are also a bit worried by all these months of silence. I told them that every new info can make us feel a bit better . And it seems that these reasonings have convinced them to tell me something new to share with you all (yay!).
Qualcomm new reference design headset plugged into a Snapdragon 855 phone. According to some rumors, this is the reference design the Cosmos is based on. (Image by Road To VR)
One of the most important missing pieces of the Cosmos puzzle is knowing when we can expect it to be released, since we all thought that it should have already been launched. One HTC spokeperson told me that he couldn’t reveal a release date, but they should release the device around Q3 2019. He explained that yes, they are a bit on a different schedule than the one announced at CES and the reason is that they are continuously improving the device. He told me that they want to really surprise us all, they want the Cosmos to be really a top-quality headset that we all could love. I admit that I was a bit hyped by this sentence, but at the same time, I am a very difficult person to surprise, so I was at the same time even more curious to try it to see if this claim was real.
There was some fear in the VR communities that the project was abandoned and a source of mine also hypothesized that the Cosmos were just a fake shell that HTC was using to hype the community (this would have explained why no one has been able to try it). No one of these claims is true: the Cosmos is going to be launched soon, most probably in Q3. The man I talked to also disclosed me some non-public details that made me understand that there is already a working version of the device, so the rumor of the “fake shell” is confirmed to be false.
Then I started talking about the connectivity of the device. HTC has teased that it will be able to connect with a PC and also with a phone through a USB-C connector. I asked so if the Cosmos will support VirtualLink and the answer has been positive. Regarding connection to the PC, the protocol will be DisplayPort, exactly as happens with all the newest high-resolution headsets. I had no further details on how the device will be able to connect in these different ways (will there be an adapter? Or the cable can be changed?), but at least now I know that HDMI ports will be useless.
I also asked about support for Mac: HTC Vive and Vive Pro are the only headsets on the market that can work with a Mac, through an external box. I wondered if the Cosmos would have the same superpower. The answer has been: “probably, but we can’t confirm it now”.
The HTC wireless adapter, positioned over the Vive Pro headset. It is one of the reasons people stick with the Vive Pro, according to some redditors. (Image by The Verge)
If there is a feature that everyone loves about the Vive Pro is its wireless adapter: I’ve tried it myself in Beijing and I can tell you that having a super-high-quality headset on your head, with the computational power of the PC and no cables is a fantastic experience. It works incredibly well. HTC has told me that the Cosmos will have a wireless adapter as well. This means that it will be possible to enjoy wireless virtual reality with amazing graphics with the Cosmos as well. I haven’t got if it will be a new wireless accessory or if it can be the same of the Vive Pro, though.
Then I asked one of the big questions: HTC is abandoning Valve’s amazing outside-in tracking technology to use its proprietary inside-out one. This makes the setup easier, but at the same time reduces the possibilities of what can be done with the headset. Vive is a device that all makers love because it is an open platform and thanks to the Vive Trackers it is possible to make the VR player interact with the physical world around him. But the Cosmos uses a new tracking technology that doesn’t allow the use of Trackers, and this means “game over” for all people that want to create crazy stuff in VR. This could also limit the use of the Cosmos in enterprise applications. I so asked HTC what was its take on this issue. I imagined at this point the usual Oculus-style talk about the usability and the compromises that a company has to do to make a VR headset more affordable.
HTC instead answered that they have a solution for the Cosmos that can somewhat substitute Trackers. I was in awe: “Oh what? Really? How is it? How does it work? Tell me everything about it!”. Unluckily, apart from these few words that have hyped me, I got no more info about it. The guy I was talking to had promised me that the Cosmos would have surprised me and it already managed to do this. If HTC really manages in the mission of creating something that can somewhat substitute the trackers (maybe using some light-based trackers that the headset can “see” with the cameras), the device will preserve all the hackability that has made the Vive so great. Add to this the Mixed Reality features that have already been teased, (probably with color RGB front cameras, as a source of mine says). Add the fact that all of this may work in full portability, with the headset connected to your Snapdragon 855 phone (still to be confirmed). What you obtain is a device that is really a Vive 2 on steroids, that is easier to use, preserves all its best features… and adds some new exciting ones! Imagine creating a mixed reality app in a warehouse that works with the headset connected to your phone in the pocket and that lets you wander in the whole environment and also interact with real objects… according to the info I got, it would be possible!
Vive Cosmos Teaser Video at CES 2019 - YouTube
I insisted to know more, but with no luck. I just got again the answer that the device will be launched soon and that it will be full of features (like this one) that I will love.
At that point, I had to leave the building, even more intrigued than before: the Cosmos is an alive project and it will probably be the first inside-out headset to track external objects! :O
I can’t wait for Q3 to discover more about it… and you?
The Cyberith Virtualizer. One of the products that generated most hype in the VR communities some years ago… do you remember it? I’m sure you do, and if not, well, this video my refresh your memories:
World of Warcraft in VR with the Cyberith Virtualizer and the Oculus Rift - YouTube
It was a VR treadmill that promised the possibility of playing cool games in VR by running in place, dodging, crouching and firing all from your home. After a very successful Kickstarter campaign in 2014, the project entered in a confused phase after the funding and then ended up with the device being just a B2B product (exactly as all the other treadmills, like for instance the Virtuix Omni). This created a lot of anger from all its backers that have never seen the device they preordered. After that, I admit that I have never heard about the device that much.
This until one/two months ago, when Cyberith has announced a very cool update to the Virtualizer, that now reaches its second generation. The new device, called Virtualizer Elite 2, adds a motion platform that makes walking in VR more natural and effortless. These are very welcome improvements and show how the company is still alive and it is still caring about improving its current solution, until it will manage in obtaining a perfect solution for walking in VR… maybe also for consumers.
I had the pleasure of sit down with Holger Hager, the CEO of Cyberith and talk with him about this new project of his. It was a very interesting talk… and of course I also took the occasion to ask him about the Kickstarter affair that happened some years ago…
Hello Holger, introduce yourself to my readers!
Hello Tony, I am Holger, I am one of the two founders of Cyberith. My personal background is a technical-scientific one and I’ve been working in VR full time since more than five years now.
You are the CEO of Cyberith. For the few people that don’t know this name… what does your company do?
A person walking in VR using the Cyberith Virtualizer (Image by Cyberith)
The core products of my company are the Virtualizer products, that allow for locomotion in virtual environments. These products, that are also called “VR Treadmills” keep a user safely in place while he’s able to walk through large sized VR environments.
Our first generation products have been introduced to the market for B2B clients in 2016 and have been mainly used in the sectors of R&D, Training & Simulation as well as Commercial Entertainment. Three years after our initial product launch, in March 2019, we launched our second generation VR Treadmill, the Virtualizer ELITE 2.
Alongside our core
products, we also offer related services, such as Application Development, to
clients who request full solutions.
You have just announced an improvement of your Virtualizer treadmill, called ELITE 2. Can you talk us about it?
Sure, we have released the Virtualizer ELITE 2, which is our second generation Virtualizer VR Treadmill. The main difference in between our first generation Virtualizer ELITE and the new Virtualizer ELITE 2 is the implemented Motion Platform. This Motion Platform, that is powered by two electric motors, actively supports the user in walking and makes it easier to move through VR environments for anyone.
Why is in your opinion important having a 2-DOF moving platform? What are the advantages?
After launching the first generation of our products and receiving customer feedback, we found out that there are two major points, that we needed to keep working on: learning to correctly walk inside the Virtualizer took some time for many novice users. While some users were extremely quick in getting it, some others required significant training. The second point is related to physical effort. Walking in our first generation products requires more physical effort compared to walking on a street in reality. The goal is to match the physical effort of real-world walking with walking in the Virtualizer.
The implemented 2 DoF Motion Platform directly addresses both of these points. When walking forwards, the platform is elevated in front of the user, which allows for an easy gliding and thus dramatically reduces both the physical effort as well as the required learning phase. With the right angle chosen, it is no longer required to push your hips forwards in order to initiate walking in the Virtualizer. This makes using the product a lot simpler and more intuitive.
Very importantly, the angle of inclination can be adjusted easily according to the user‘s preferences. This allows us to make walking in VR easy for anyone, independently of height, size, weight, age, etc.
Render of the Virtualizer ELITE 2 in use, with a highlight on the moving platform (Image by Cyberith)
What are the difficulties of creating a good VR threadmill?
I think there are two main components that need to work very well in order to create a good VR Treadmill.
Physically walking and running inside the system must work well and easily. This is the basis for any VR locomotion product. Especially walking must be intuitive and ideally also easy to learn. Depending on the application, having a learning phase can be acceptable, but in general the easier it is to learn it, the better it is.
The second component I think of is the Tracking System and the Software Interface. Your real movements need to be translated into the VR application reliably, precisely and with very low latency. In case you don’t have a good motion tracking system, you will encounter many issues that can include motion sickness and will lead to a bad experience.
Treadmills and room-scale are two solutions that exclude each other. What are in your opinion the advantages of using one over the other?
The obvious advantage of a VR locomotion device like the Virtualizer is that such a product allows you to walk around large sized environments. Whenever you want to be able to access virtual spaces larger than the space you actually have available in the real world, you will need to find a solution for VR locomotion. Of course it is possible to virtually move by pressing a Joystick/Trackpad or to avoid the movement by teleporting to the place you want to be, but we don’t consider any of these options to be ideal. Whenever you want or need to access virtual environments larger than the real world space you have available, our products are the best solution for this case.
There are also other advantages of using our products, but the one I mentioned first is the most significant one for most of our customers. Other advantages include safety, as the user is safely secured inside a Virtualizer, and also the ability of incorporating physical effort and physical stress into the VR Simulation or Game. There is a difference in between actively running on a battleground and pressing a Joystick!
About the advantages of Room Scale Systems... Well, whenever you don’t need to access large virtual environments or in case you have enough space available in reality and a Tracking System to match the size of your VR world, you are fine and very well off with Room Scale Systems. Today, Room Scale Systems with typical dimensions of 3×3 meters or even more, are available very affordably. This systems are also easy to use and the perfect solution for any virtual environment that can be small. That’s not the niche we are focusing on.
Real photo of the Virtualizer Elite 2 (Image by Cyberith)
There are people in the community saying that your company has started by “stealing” the money of the Kickstarter campaign. What do you answer to them? Can you tell us the story of your Kickstarter campaign from your point of view?
Sure. When my business partner and me first started developing the Virtualizer, we thought of bringing the Virtualizer to a mass market audience, so basically we hoped to bring our product to VR enthusiasts, gamers and consumers.
During that time, there was a huge hype around VR and we believed too much in various forecasts and predictions. In fact, the reality turned out to be different than our expectations, which forced us to focus on B2B and professional markets rather than the consumer market first. Bringing a consumer product to market requires production rates of many thousands of units to work out economically. Thus, it was not possible to complete this Kickstarter campaign as of today. It is an ongoing project, which is terribly delayed.
We continue to be fully dedicated in bringing Virtualizer products to all of our backers as soon as this is reasonably possible. At the same time, I want to insist on the fact, that supporting a Kickstarter campaign, which is a crowdfunding platform allowing to support projects, must not be mistaken with ordering a product. Thus, our position in that case has been confirmed by the independent judiciary.
So, threadmills are now a B2B product. Who are your customers?
Yes, they are B2B products. And if I recall correctly, there was never a VR Treadmill that was really launched and sold as a consumer product so far. I am aware of crowdfunding, pre-orders and similar activities, but I’ve never seen any VR Treadmill being available to consumers for regular purchase.
In my opinion, the obvious reason for this fact is the limited size of the VR market for home users. Any treadmill is a sizable and rather expensive product by concept, which makes it rather difficult to bring them to the user’s living rooms. If you combine that fact with the fact that the potentially reachable audience is limited to people who actively use an HMD, it starts where it becomes difficult.
Most of our customers can be grouped into three different sectors: Research & Development, where many of our customers are universities, research institutions and similar organizations, Training & Simulation, which was a lot about emergency forces so far, and Out-of-Home Entertainment with VR Arcades and Entertainment Centers being our customers.
A Virtualizer v1 in action, with highlight on the parts of the body used in VR (Image by Cyberith)
Will them ever become a consumer product?
It is very hard to predict the future, but I think that VR Treadmills might become consumer products in the future. I just don’t see that happening immediately, because in order to make these products to go mainstream in the consumer market, VR Headsets need to be in used in most homes before.
Is the market profitable?
Our company is entirely financed by revenues since years and the market is definitely growing, as many companies and corporations start to more seriously incorporate VR into their businesses and processes.
However, as a small company in the technology sector, we are fully focusing on constantly improving our products and solutions in order to not only keep, but to expand our technological advance. Thus, we are heavily investing into our products and into the future. I honestly think that this is what every VR company should do, as this is what the technology and the market needs.
How do you envision the future of VR?
I think we are talking about a very long future in this case. VR solutions have been existing since decades and the whole topic of VR was coming to the people’s attention in waves. However, the technology constantly advanced, leading us to where we are today. Compared to previous decades, the technology is really advanced today. But, I think we might look at today’s VR products in a similar way in ten or twenty years, as we now look at VR from the nineties.
In my opinion, what is most important for the future of VR is not the often discussed “lack of content” or that VR would be too expensive for a mass market audience. I think the VR industry needs to continue to improve the quality of VR!
All of us must not stop working on improving the products in order to convince a growing number of people of Virtual Reality. VR experienced amazing achievements and has undergone dramatic improvements during the recent years. But, I am concerned about a reduced speed of development, in case some mayor players in the field continue to focus on “accessibility” only, while not investing in pushing the boundaries at the same time.
Over all, I think the technology will change and improve dramatically over a decade or two. There is mayor topics to work on and I hope things like focal surface displays and foveated rendering with high-res screens become available sooner than later.
What is the biggest lesson (or lessons) that you’ve learned in these years when you have been a VR startupper?
Puh, I am not sure where to start at
Founding a new company, that developed a totally new product in the fast moving VR sector tought me lot for live! I think any honest person would admit that.
An image of the Virtualizer dev kit 1. As you can see, the company has made huge steps forward since then (Image by Cyberith)
So, let’s say the biggest lesson is to truly understand how much effort is involved in creating a totally new product, that needs to work both technically and economically. Running a Start-Up company active in a dramatically changing and fast moving sector as VR, is hard enough. Directly starting with a totally new product, that no one really has created before, that involves both Hardware and Software components, doesn’t make things easier.
I had the amazing pleasure of interviewing Helena McGill and Anna Wozniewicz of Noctvrnal, a startup focused in audio and music production, with special attention to immersive experiences.
Helena and Anna from Noctvrnal (Image by Noctvrnal)
When I develop a VR experience, I usually give a lot of attention to the visual aspect, while I often leave the sound and music always as the last thing to care about. After having talked with Helena and Anna, I realized that I’ve always made a huge error, since spatial high-quality audio is fundamental to improve the retention and the appreciation of the users.
In this interview, you will discover why audio is so important and you will get also various insights on audio in immersive experiences and on the problems of being a woman working in XR. Have a nice reading!
What does your company Noctvrnal do? What are you currently working on?
Noctvrnal is an audio post-production studio based in Los Angeles. Co-founders Helena McGill and Anna Wozniewicz are visual storytellers with a background in sound design for narrative film. After noticing a lack of female entrepreneurs in audio and music production, the duo decided to launch Noctvrnal in January 2017 and have since expanded into the XR and immersive tech space. Noctvrnal is bringing immersive sound design to the forefront of virtual and augmented reality by pushing the boundaries of current techniques to create a more visceral experience. The team is passionate about creating new worlds through sound, and their work has been featured at MIT, USC, and VRLA.
Currently, we are working on a number of VR experiences, a permanent public works installation in Denver, some experimental immersive theater pieces, a series of audio pod-plays, and a sensor-activated audio-reactive installation.
You are an audio designer… why do you think that audio design in an AR/VR application is important?
Audio in AR/VR is 51% of the experience. As in real life, when you look around, your field of view is limited, but you’re still hearing the full 360 degrees sound field around you, so it needs to be realistic and not pull you out of the experience.
In an AR experience, we usually focus on visuals and interactions. Actually, audio is of paramount importance, both for consumer and enterprise applications.
Is it also important for enterprise applications or only for games and movies? Why?
Spatial audio is important for all AR/VR experiences. Research has shown that spatial audio keeps users in an experience for 40% longer. You want the sounds to mimic real life and add realism/immersion to the experience, whether it’s for entertainment or enterprise applications.
We pull a lot from our research background in psychoacoustics in order to design effective auditory UX/UI for enterprise. This is especially important in the military, training, and therapy realms, and we draw from our background in psychoacoustics in order to design these systems.
So, how the audio for an AR/VR training experience should be designed? What pieces of advice can you give to us?
For any AR/VR experience, you want to keep psychoacoustics in mind – placing sounds in a way that will draw viewers’ attention, or making sure the sound effect’s duration is enough to hold their attention and allow them to locate the source. For example, sound sources are more easily located along a horizontal axis, but our brains have a harder time perceiving variations in height. Use each experience as R&D for the next one – every experience is different, so figure out what worked (and why), what didn’t, and how you can improve for the next one.
DIY 360° Audio Hacks On A Budget - YouTube
And what are the differences of designing the audio for an AR experience from designing it for a VR one?
Depends on the experience itself. The main difference in workflow, whether AR or VR, is if the experience is interactive and being built in a game engine, or has a more linear/cinematic timeline. Also, within a game engine, you can simulate room reflections and occlusion more accurately for VR, because the objects are all virtual. For AR, most experiences exist as mobile AR and the audio is an afterthought, because people don’t always carry headphones around with them. We’re really excited about BoseAR and its potential to bring more attention to hands-free, spatial audio.
Are you excited about the HoloLens 2? Why?
Very excited! We work a lot with enterprise and training, so the Hololens 2 is going to open up a lot of opportunities and potential for advancement in that sector.
Helena playing around with Magic Leap One. This device also features Tonandi, an experience all focused on audio (Image by Noctvrnal)
How do you perform your work?
We like to be involved as early as possible in the script development process. That way, we can include audio triggers as part of the story and use them to direct the viewer’s attention. We capture audio on set for cinematic VR, create sound objects for game engine-based experiences, and work with ambisonics (sound fields). Our primary tools are DAWs, spatial audio plugins and SDKs, as well as traditional and ambisonic microphones.
What in your opinion still lacks from current AR/VR technology to make the audio fully realistic?
Biggest issue: many experiences are still not using spatial audio; it’s just in stereo. We’ve also found that spatial audio isn’t fully understood by the creative teams, or isn’t utilized to its fullest potential, i.e. to engage the user with the full 360-degree space.
Spatial audio SDKs are rapidly improving in terms of realism. However, the next step will be headsets that measure HRTFs in real time.
What is your opinion on the recent audio AR glasses like the ones by Bose?
They’re a great start and a huge step forward for spatial audio applications. They’re making spatial audio more accessible to everyone, and putting an emphasis on the audio side of things, rather than focusing on visuals first.
What is in your opinion the best AR and VR headset for what concerns the audio quality?
It really depends on the headphones you’re using with that headset. Standalone headsets, like the Oculus Go, have decent speakers built in, but oftentimes for demo purposes at crowded events, the noise floor isn’t taken into account.
Audio visual installation created by Noctvrnal (Image by Noctvrnal)
There is a lot of buzz about diversity in augmented and virtual reality. You are a woman in XR. What do you want to say about the topic?
Being on the crossroads between three male-dominated industries (tech, entertainment, and audio) definitely isn’t easy.
We’ve had to expend a lot of energy on simply proving our worth before we’re taken seriously as audio engineers and treated as equals and collaborators. One of the biggest problems for women in XR, too, is access – most of the funding comes from men, so fewer women are getting funded than men, which creates a vicious cycle. We’ve found that our biggest projects and repeat clients come from fellow women in the XR space. Whether intentionally or not, women supporting women has been the biggest support system in immersive tech.
How do you envision the future for audio in XR?
The future of immersive tech and spatial audio lies in location–based experiences and experiential marketing events. Headsets are isolating, so the more we can bring people together and use tech to create social experiences, the more engaging the experiences will be. Some of the best experiences currently are audio reactive, or concerts in VR, or music-oriented games liked Beat Saber (the #1 game on Steam).
BEATREALITY 0.99 α \ OUT NOW on VIVEPORT M - YouTube
What about your future instead?
We’d like to continue pushing the boundaries of spatial audio and finding new ways to incorporate audio into experiences, whether they’re AR/VR, location-based, or completely experimental content. We are storytellers at heart, so we’re always looking for ways to challenge current techniques and use sound to convey stories in new, engaging ways.
I hope that you have loved this interview and that it has helped you in getting more insights on audio in Augmented and Virtual Reality experiences. And if you want to get to know better the fantastic girls at Noctvrnal, have a look at their website or ask me for an introduction!
Google I/O 2019 has just finished and has all been about new augmented reality features. One of them, that comes together with ARCore 1.9, is the possibility of embedding 3D models inside your website, so that they can be seen in augmented reality by your users by just tapping on the screen of their smartphones. Isn’t it cool? It is and it is also fairly simple to implement.
Do you want to discover how? Well, you are in the right place…
Just a quick rewind for everyone: ARCore is Google’s answer to Apple ARKit, a framework that lets people enjoy augmented reality from their smartphones without using external hardware or markers. It works quite well, but it can be used only by the most recent phones that have been certified by Google for ARCore (all the other ones, can try this hack).
Usually, people develop augmented reality applications using Unity or Android Studio and this means that the user has to download an external app to enjoy AR. However, recently, Web AR is gaining always more interest because it lets people play with AR by just following a link and avoiding installing anything. This is very powerful and will probably lead on the long run to the spatial Web 3.0, where all the world will be painted with data. Of course, Google itself is very interested in this.
ARCore Scene Viewer
A chair seen in augmented reality through ARCore Scene Viewer
At Google I/O 2019, Google has announced Scene Viewer, a web element that lets you see 3D elements in augmented reality from an Android browser.
In the Android browser, if you see a web page with a Scene Viewer, you just see a rectangle with a 3D model that rotates slowly. Using your fingers, you can swipe to rotate it (it works also on desktop PCs using the mouse). On the phone, you will see a little button with a cube inside next to it. If you click on it, you will see the model going full screen, so that you can preview it better and still rotate it with your fingers (this only happens on smartphones).
That circular button with a cube inside is what lets you preview the 3D model in full screen or in AR (Image by Google)
At this stage, a new button may ask you to view the 3D model inside your space. If you click it, the system will show your back camera feed, asking you to move your phone and map your surroundings. Once the ARCore system will have found the floor, it will show you that 3D model in augmented reality in your room!
By pressing this button, you can see this 3D model in Augmented Reality (Image by Google)
Using your fingers, you can move it (by moving your index finger in the region close to the base of the model), rotate it (moving your finger elsewhere) or scale it (by pinching). There is also a button to take a picture! And all of this without requiring the user to install anything, just by going to a web page…
What if you don’t see the “View in your space” button?
Most probably your phone has not ARCore 1.9 installed. This means that:
Your phone has ARCore installed, but it doesn’t feature ARCore 1.9 yet. At the time of writing, ARCore 1.9 has not been deployed to Android phones, so you have to get it from GitHub and install it via ADB.
How can you implement ARCore 3D model view in your website?
Google claims that adding such an amazing feature, requires just three lines of code. After having tried it, I can confirm that this is amazingly true. Google does all the heavy lifting for you and you have just to add a Scene Viewer element in your webpage to have the AR view out of the box.
So, first of all you have to load the required dependencies adding these two lines
Then, every time you have to show a 3D model, you have to insert a scene viewer in your page with a line similar to this one
<model-viewer ar src="https://cdn.glitch.com/162a6be2-293d-4554-8610-6011a9f71fef%2FChairExp.glb?1557485499409" auto-rotate camera-controls alt="Chair" background-color="#455A64"></model-viewer>
In this example, src specifies a link to a 3D model that is around in the web, alt is the alternate name of the model and background-color is used to choose the background color of the component.
Done, that’s it. 2 pre-requisites lines and 1 line for each time that you want to show a 3D model and let users have the possibility to take AR photos with them!
Max fighting with an AR Gundam Zaku. The possibility to snap pictures directly from the web component is a plus that opens new funny possibilities
3D Model format
The model that the model viewer can visualize must be in GLTF 2.0 format and respect various rules that are enumerated in the documentation. Just to quote some: Max 30,000 vertices, max 10 materials, max 10MB total dimension.
I tried getting some models in GLTF format directly from Google Poly or Sketchfab, but no one of these worked. In the end, I found a way to add all the Google Poly models:
Find a Google Poly model that you like;
Hit the “Download” button, if available. If there is no download button, you can’t use that model;
Select OBJ format;
Open the downloaded archive and unzip it. You should find there an OBJ file, usually together with an MTL file and some textures;
Drag all the downloaded files inside this converter (if there are textures, they have to be dragged inside it after the MTL and OBJ files have been uploaded);
Convert the files and then get the resulting GLB file.
Have fun using your GLB file with Google APIs!
Previewing the addition of a new chair in the office in AR. This photo has been shot using my sample app. Notice how Google also takes care of adding the shadows
Do you want to experiment a bit with it? Well, it is very easy if you use an online coding tool called Glitch. It lets you create simple web pages for free and lets then others take your code and remix it in new projects. Think about it as a GitHub on steroids for simple web projects.
There I have created a simple project called SkarredShop where I imagine a shop of the future where you can preview items in AR in your room before buying them. I think that it can be one of the possible amazing uses of this new AR feature! See it in action here:
You can find it at this link. Have fun visualizing the 3D elements in AR in your room and shooting pictures with them! And if you use the menu in the top right corner of the page, you can access the source code and remix it to create your own.
Create web pages with fast preview of 3D models on Android phones has become super easy. It can be incredibly handy to create the next gen e-commerce websites, to do some original marketing for your AR/VR game or just to make your websites a bit more original. And remember that Google is now starting also to index the 3D models that you will add to your webpages, so if you are among the first to add 3D models this way, you may also rank better
Some days ago, I found an article on Futurism talking about a university in France able to create the “first smart contact lens”. The article also talked about Augmented Reality and the interest of the DARPA for using this product. I got immediately hyped about this: we are all dreaming about AR glasses like Magic Leap or HoloLens 2, but what if the future was made of AR contact lenses?
Me doing a duck face with a pair of Magic Leap on
It’s an intriguing possibility, that seems taken directly from sci-fi movies. It is also something a bit scary… what happens if there is a fault in the device and it shortcircuits while it is on your eyes?
To know more about this, I decided to contact one of the main actors of this interesting project, Jean-Louis de Bougrenet de la Tocnaye, and asked him some questions about his work on smart contact lenses…
Hello Mr. De Bougrenet de la Tocnaye, introduce yourself to my readers
Hello Tony. I am a Professor and head of Optics Department at IMT-Atlantique. I am a liquid crystal, diffractive optics and their application in optics and ophthalmology specialist.
I’ve read that your team has just developed an AR contact lens! Can you tell me more about this project and the team behind it?
Not exactly, it is a wireless contact lens with an eye tracker embedded in it, to be used in an AR helmet to: analyze the cognitive load, control the centre of fixation and command devices or apparatus activation. The contact lens itself does not provide any display, it measures the blink, the eye motions, and directions.
What is this smart contact lens composed of?
The contact lens eye tracker is made up of several building blocks: one optical is devoted to the direction of sight extraction, one to the RF communication and harvesting, one to the battery and the ASIC (integrated circuit, AN) that monitors all these functions.
Can it be connected to a phone or PC? And can the connection be via Wi-fi or via 4G?
Yes, it could be done via a Wi-Fi relay. For the moment the contact lens communicates with a headgear (AR helmet or eyewear, being itself connected to the external world). The transmission protocol is, at this stage, very basic and the data rate exchanged between the contact lens and the head gear does not justify a 4G or 5G format at all.
How can so much electronic run in a so little space? :O
This is one of the main challenges we had to face (volume and power consumption guaranteeing sufficient autonomy, as well as controlling the heating with respect to biocompatibility constraints). This is why we developed a very powerful stretchable self-healing Li-ion micro battery with our colleagues from the Ecole des Mines de Saint Etienne (Gardanne) to be easily encapsulated into a contact lens.
The little battery embedded into the contact lens, able to power a LED for hours (Image by IMT Atlantique)
What is the current status of the project? What can I see if I wear one of them?
We are currently integrating all the constitutive building blocks. Of course, you can look through. The circuits are implemented over the iris area only for the moment, in a scleral contact lens which is very confortable and very steady (a critical point for measuring the direction of sight).
Is there a display inside your contact lens?
No, we are not making an AR in a contact lens but an eyetracker in a contact lens for an AR helmet.
When are you going to implement a display inside the lens to make it an AR lens?
We do not have this project in mind for the moment. I just know that Samsung has patented some contact lenses incorporating displays but nothing has been done to my knowledge.
What are the future evolutions?
This first release will demonstrate the technological ability of integrating complex computing functions directly into an autonomous contact lens, offering the capability for implementing other various functions (biosensors, displays, refractive corrections, etc.) in the future.
How many years we will need to have smart contact lenses that we can wear in our everyday life?
We expect to get the first prototypes by the end of 2020, to be tested in real use case conditions (in particular for surgical assistance and military uses).
The prototype of contact lens created by the team. So much components in such a little space… (Image by IMT Atlantique)
Playing a prediction game, when will we have contact-lenses with super-realistic resolution displays and fast 5G connection embedded inside? I mean, like in a sci-fi movie…
I do not know, but considering the current technological advances, I will say, nowadays it is plausible and no longer a science fiction.
I am a bit scared by AR contact lenses because I am afraid that in case of glitches, they could burn my eyes. Is this risk concrete?
All our devices are compliant with ocular safety norms (e.g. EN62471-2008). We have a long experience in optical acceptability of AR/VR/3Dglasses, including biocompatibility and citoxicity in the case of a contact lens.
Is it true that DARPA wants to use it for military purposes?
No, it is tipically fake news propagated by journalists. I have just mentioned that Microsoft suggested us that the DARPA could be interested in such kind of devices… what we knew from the DGA (French DARPA) already. Hence, I suppose they are, but I have never been contacted by them right now.
HoloLens 2 are already used by the military in the US (Image by Microsoft)
How is the AR/VR ecosystem in France?
Not particularly different from elsewhere. It concerns mainly the professional uses for the moment, but the real target is the teenager consumers, well-known nowadays to be an efficient vector for the diffusion of new connected technologies and objects in our society.
Can people help you in this amazing research? Who? How?
Industrialists that suggest the use cases and help us to test them, but, over all, big companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft which are visionary and invest a lot in such disruptive technologies, exacerbating our addiction to the net.
Is there anything else that you want to add to this interview?
The future generation of AR helmets will replace our current smartphones in the near future, by making free our hands, therefore, increasing our mobility simultaneously as our link to the cloud and the cybersphere. In this frame, eyes will play a major role in the future user interfaces, replacing standards like cursors, crosshair and touch interactions. It is why the development of eye trackers is closely linked to the development of AR systems and head up displays more generally.
Thanks a lot for your time, professor, and compliments for your project!
What his team has done is quite amazing. The real novelty is that finally, we are having the basis to create a smart contact lens: the crucial part has been the one of creating the battery that can give energy to this device. A battery that lives inside a contact lens, that must so be small and flexible, and that can’t overheat so to avoid burning your eyes… just… wow. According to the press release, this battery made it possible to continuously supply a light source such as a light-emitting diode (LED) for several hours. A partnership with the contact lens manufacturer LCS has enabled the first elements of this new type of intelligent contact lens to be encapsulated (the LED can be easily integrated into the contact lens if necessary).
As you can see, we are not talking about an augmented reality contact lens, but about a smart contact lens that can work together with AR glasses to provide them accurate data about the eyes of the users and this can be used e.g. for surgical assistance. And I dream about the future: if the battery can power a LED now, maybe it will be able to power some very low-res display in some years…
Reading the words of the professor, that is for sure one of the top specialists of the field, it seems anyway that perfect AR contact lenses are something quite far away in the future (if he can’t make a reasonable estimate on when they will be available, it is because the technology is too far behind). So let’s just not dream too fast about this technology. What makes me excited is that anyway he says that it will be something feasible… I can’t wait to test them when they will become available! What a time to be alive…
The Valve Index is for sure the big surprise for virtual reality in this 2019. After having only been behind the curtains for what concerns creating Virtual Reality headsets, Valve has finally decided to create its own device, and as you may imagine, it is a very special one.
In this article, I am going to summarize all the info that we know about this headset… so that if you are unsure about buying it or not, you can make your decision in a better way.
What is the Valve Index?
The Valve Index (Image by Valve)
The Valve Index is the first PC VR headset completely produced by Valve, from the design to the manufacturing stage.
Is the Index the Vive 2?
More or less, yes. But this time, Valve has made it without the collaboration of HTC. We can say that it is an improved Vive Pro.
Is the Index a next-gen device? Is this VR 2.0?
Not completely. Maybe with eye tracking and some more screen resolution, it may have been. But it introduces some amazing innovations, so we can say that it is VR 1.5 .
Who is this device for?
The Valve Index is a device for people wanting to buy a headset that is:
So comfortable that can be used for long VR sessions;
Hackable and moddable;
Able to offer great visuals and sounds;
Able to feature controllers that let you use all your 5 fingers;
Able to offer the computational power of a PC.
Instead, it is not for people wanting:
An affordable device (Rift S is much better in this sense);
A super-big screen resolution (Varjo VR-1 or HP Reverb are better in this sense);
An easy-to-use headset (again, Rift S or WMR devices like the Samsung Odyssey are better).
If you need to use Mac, probably you have still to stick to the Vive Pro, since there is no news on the compatibility of the Index with Mac at the moment.
It is a device for prosumers, developers and hard gamers that want to experiment Virtual Reality with a high-degree of polish and visual fidelity. It is not a headset for the masses. If the Rift S is a Sedan and the Varjo is a Ferrari, this is like a BMW.
Side view of the headset (image from Ars Technica)
The Valve Index is like an evolution of the Vive Pro and so it can be useful for the same category of customers that are currently buying the Vive Pro and this of course includes enterprise customers.
We don’t have any details on the possible business licensing of the Valve Index, but I guess that sooner or later Valve will release further info.
The Index can serve enterprise customers that need:
A highly customizable headset. The Index is a highly-moddable device and this can be useful for companies that have to use it in combination with custom accessories;
Very good visuals. The Index sets a new bar in clarity of VR content and this may be useful for companies that need that (e.g. to design new products). Keep in mind that this visual quality is not the best available on the market, so companies that really need high resolution may prefer other devices like HP Reverb or Varjo VR-1.
Valve Index and its controllers (Image by Valve)
Required PC specs
Minimum PC specs for Valve Index
Graphics Card: NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD Radeon RX 480 or greater CPU: Dual-core with hyperthreading or greater Memory: 8GB+ RAM Video Output: DisplayPort 1.2 (there is also an adapter for VirtualLink) USB Ports: 1x USB 2.0 port if you don’t need to use passthrough cameras, otherwise 1x USB 3.0 OS: Windows 10, Linux, SteamOS
Recommended PC specs for Valve Index
Graphics Card: NVIDIA GTX 1070 / AMD Vega 56 (?) or greater CPU: Quad-core with hyperthreading or greater Memory: 8GB+ RAM Video Output: DisplayPort 1.2 (there is also an adapter for VirtualLink) USB Ports: 1x USB 3.0 port OS: Windows 10, Linux, SteamOS
The specs list is very similar to the one of the HTC Vive Pro. It is funny because the GTX 970 was the same minimum requirement of the Oculus CV1, that is a headset that is far less demanding than the Index.
Oculus Rift CV1 Headset. How can this be as demanding as the Index?? (Image by Oculus)
The native frequency of the Valve Index is 120 Hz… to run at that frequency, the PC has to render 553 million pixels per second. For the Rift CV1, the required pixels to render were 233 million. A PC attached to the Index has to render more than double of the pixels of one attached to the CV1! How the hell are the required and recommended PC specs the same? And to make things even funnier: Oculus has updated the minimum PC specs for the Rift and now it has the GTX 1050Ti as minimum required graphics card. And the Rift S, that runs at a much lower frequency than the Index requires a 1050Ti as well. What the hell?
I think that someone is fooling us with specifications: of course, if I have to render the standard Unity cube at 120 Hz, maybe also a Raspberry can be enough… but this can’t count as a minimum specification. Of course, if I let the Index run at 90Hz, the number of rendered pixels lowers, but this way I lose one of the biggest advantages of this headset. Of course, there are ATW, ASW, the possibility to change render scale, and all these tricks. But in my opinion, we have to wait for the first benchmarks to understand the real requirement of this headset on real games for the native resolution and framerate of the Index. My bet is that to have a good experience, you have to own at least a GTX 1080, but this is just my impression.
And if you want a confirmation of what I am saying, go reading the review of Ars Technica when it talks about the motion blur of the display:
My rapid movement within the event’s demos always included some slight blurring—perhaps due to the fact that LCD technology, even at its most refined, doesn’t enjoy the total pixel blackout of a pure OLED panel. This wasn’t helped by some of the demos struggling to maintain a 120Hz refresh rate.
Even Valve’s PCs weren’t able to mantain such a framerate for all real VR games. On Beat Saber, a GTX 980 was enough according to TESTED, but it is not a game with rich graphics. This headset is really demanding and requires a powerful PC. Keep that in mind.
Visuals The special screens used by Valve in the Index, on a test bench (Image by Valve)
Reading the specs of the Valve Index, I was like “oh, they are just a bit better than the ones of the Vive Pro“. But it seems that just reading some numbers is deceptive. Everyone trying the Valve Index has just got in total awe after having tried the display. Norm of TESTED is a veteran reviewer of VR hardware and he describes what it has seen with so much excitement that you really understand that there is some special stuff going on there.
There are some reasons for that and I am going to explain them to you now.
The first one is that that being the display an LCD one, the fill-factor is bigger than the Vive Pro, that features an OLED display. Ars Technica highlights how Valve has said that this display has “50% higher subpixel resolution, 50% higher ‘pixel fill factor’, and 5x less motion blur than ‘a typical OLED panel.'”. This means that the Valve Index has a very little screen door effect. It is still there, but it is reduced a lot.
We are talking about a very special high-quality LCD display, that features an incredibly low persistence: 0.330ms to be exact, when the display is running at 144 Hz. Persistence is a measure of how long each image sent to a display stays on that display. In short, lower persistence leads to better motion clarity (cit. of this blog). It is a problem of LCD screens and if it is high, it means that the pixels retain their previous frame values for too much time and this results in blurred images. With this display, persistence is very low and this means that even if you rotate your head very fast while enjoying your VR experience, you should experience almost non-existent little motion blur and black smearing. According to reviewers, this is almost true: the images are great while you rotate your head, and this enhances the sense of immersion. Even if, always according to Ars Technica, some blurring with very fast head movements is still present.
The framerate of 120 Hz (with an experimental mode at 144 Hz) is another game changer. When I read those values, I thought it was useless: I can’t spot the difference between a 72Hz and 90Hz display… why should I care of 120 Hz… or even beyond, that is beyond what is needed by the human eye? Well, it seems that we all should care. This high framerate lets you see the virtual reality in a more fluid and realistic way. It is a sensation that has been confirmed by every reviewer that has tried the Index, something that has almost blown their mind. Norm of TESTED describes it as being under the effect of a lot of caffeine that lets you perceive everything more clearly, if your brain was more aware of what it is seeing. It is not more visual clarity, it is better “tracking” quality. It seems to me that it makes you perceive the VR world as Fry of Futurama after 100 cups of coffee.
Fry drinks 100 cups of coffee - YouTube
The high-frequency display should also reduce the strain of the eyes while enjoying VR, allowing longer virtual sessions.
The headset also allows for a 90Hz mode for backwards compatibility (everything is back-compatible with this device).
Notwithstanding it is an LCD, I have heard no complaints about the black colors on the Index, but I think that more accurate tests have to be made in this sense.
But it’s not only the display… it is all the visual system that works together in offering a great experience. The lenses are high-quality next-gen ones and they are made with a special dual-element optics. They allow for a bigger FOV and sweet spot, and also reduce glares and god rays. According to my review hero Ben Lang, in some scenes, the god rays are still present, too, so they are not completely eliminated.
Yesterday I detailed you what is the Oculus Rift S, while today I want to write you a recap about what is the Oculus Quest, the most awaited virtual reality headset of 2019. I will briefly go towards its features, specifications, pros and cons, so that you will be able to decide if it is the headset for you.
What Is the Oculus Quest?
Oculus Quest: Under the Hood - YouTube
Oculus Quest is the first standalone 6 DOF virtual reality headset by Oculus. “Standalone” means that it is an all-in-one headset that doesn’t require you to buy a companion PC or smartphone. 6 DOF means that wearing it on your head, you will be able to move freely in your virtual space and also use your hands in virtual reality.
It is probably the first true consumer-ready virtual reality headset.
What is its difference between the Oculus Quest and the Oculus Go? And with the Oculus Rift?
The Oculus Rift is a device that you attach to your PC, and so exploits all the power of your graphics card. The Quest is an all-in-one headset: you don’t need a PC to use it, and this also means that it is less powerful. The Rift is more for playing graphically-intense games, the Quest more for casual gaming.
Oculus Go (Image by Oculus)
The Oculus Go is a 3 DOF standalone, and this means that while using it, you can only rotate your head and point at objects. With Quest you can also move in space and use your hands in VR. The Go is mostly to watch 360 photos/videos and play simple games, the Quest is a more complete gaming machine.
Who is the device for?
The Oculus Quest is a device for people wanting to buy a headset that is:
easy to be installed and used;
so easy to put on and start that allows short casual gaming experiences;
convenient to be carried everywhere in a little bag;
able to offer the curated content library of the Oculus Store.
It is not for people wanting:
The best virtual reality experience ever (in this case, it is better to choose a tethered headset like the Rift S, the Valve Index, etc…);
An open ecosystem (the Oculus Quest ecosystem is very similar to the one of consoles);
A super-cheap headset just to watch 360 videos (pick a good cardboard, Gear VR, or Oculus Go).
The target of Oculus Quest is the casual gamer that has an attention to innovation. It is not a device for hard gamers (that would prefer tethered headsets) or for the real average consumer (that may still not understand the value of VR). But for the first time, we have a 6 DOF headset that is not for techies only, but can be interesting also for people that do not have a deep technical knowledge and are not in the VR ecosystem.
Person wearing the Oculus Quest (Image by Adi Robertson / The Verge)
What about using Oculus Quest for enterprise?
As I have detailed in this other article, Oculus has just launched a new Oculus For Business program that offers various interesting enterprise offerings: dedicated support, 2 years warranty, kiosk-mode, and some tools to configure and control multiple headsets at once from a simple web panel.
The services offered by the new Oculus For Business program (Image by Oculus)
The Quest can be useful for enterprises looking for a headset that is quite affordable, easy to be moved across departments and that offers a good experience. I think that for training applications, that usually require simplified models, it can be great. Since it can be carried on easily, it can be used also by commercial agents or freelance professionals to go to the customers and showcase their VR portfolios. Architects also would find this amazing, to let people navigate inside the simplified model of a house before having it approved by the client. Then it could be cool also for psychologists and for rehabilitation (someone already asked me about the possible therapeutic uses of HitMotion: Reloaded, the game that we made for the other 6 DOF standalone headset, the Vive Focus Plus).
HitMotion: Reloaded teaser trailer - YouTube
It is instead not the right choice for businesses looking for a headset offering great visuals: all the design of a product (e.g. a car, or a yacht), IMHO, should be made with a high-quality high-resolution tethered headset, like Varjo or the Vive Pro. It is not even suited for training scenarios where the user should feel exactly as in reality. Architects that wants to show a realistic model of a house, with perfect lighting will have the same problem. In any case where the visuals are fundamental, this is not the right headset for your business. If your application has to do some complicated stuff (e.g. some AI, CV or data-analysis algorithm that must run locally), then you should go for a tethered headset as well.
FOV: more or less like Rift CV 1 (circa 100° diagonal)
IPD Adjustment: hardware
RAM: 4 FB
Storage: 64 GB / 128 GB (depending on the version that you buy)
Tracking: inside-out with 4 cameras
Mixed Reality: the cameras allow for some kind of black and white passthrough
Audio: integrated speakers and microphone. 2 x 3.5mm audio jacks
Connectivity: USB, Wi-fi, bluetooth connection. USB should have OTG enabled.
Oculus Quest and controllers (Image by Oculus)
Oculus Quest features very great visuals:
The compound 3,200 x 1,440 resolution is an improvement above Rift CV1 and Rift S;
OLED make colors crystal clear;
Lenses are next-gen Fresnels with a good sweet-spot and reduced god-rays (but some are still present).
The downsides are:
The framerate is quite low: only 72Hz. Most people won’t notice that, though… it will affect only very sensible people;
To spare computational power, the headset uses the so-called fixed foveated rendering... that is the experience will run at full resolution only in the center of the screen, while the more you will go towards the edges, the more it will become blurred. According to Upload VR, this kind of blurring is noticeable in some games and may ruin a bit the magic of the experience.
The overall impression is that the visuals provided by the Quest are highly satisfactory.
Comparison between the fitting headband of the Quest (left) and Rift (right). (Image by Road To VR)
The Quest is a very comfortable device. People claim having used it for 2-hours sessions without issues. It is a bit heavier than the Rift, weighing 571g against the 470g of the previous flagship headset, but this is hardly noticeable when you wear it.
You can fit the headset in a way very similar to the Oculus Rift CV1: there is a rubber band that goes around your head, with three straps (two on the sides and one on the top) that you can regulate to make it fit it to your head. While I don’t love this solution because I find regulating three straps unintuitive for newbies, it is easy to be used and also very effective to make the headset suit well on all types of heads. The overall fitting solution is a slight upgrade over the one for the CV1 and the fact that there are no more headphones means that wearing it, especially for people with long hair, is easier.
When I was a wizard with long beard and hair, my hair often stuck in the joint of the headphone of my Rift CV1. This won’t happen with Quest… also because I cut my hair!
There is hardware IPD adjustment: every person with an IPD between 56mm and 74mm should feel fine inside it.
The controllers of the Quest are very ergonomic and feature a thumbstick, two buttons, two triggers and a system menu for each controller.
They are slightly different from the ones of the Oculus Rift CV1. The biggest difference is that now they have an upwards ring and not a downwards one, since it has to be seen from the inside-out tracking system. Also, the ergonomics are slightly different and the buttons have a different arrangement.
The good news is that now the controllers have a better grip on the hand of the user. The bad news is that they are a bit less comfortable than the ones of the CV1 and sometimes when playing some fast game, it is easier to press accidentally the system buttons or to slide the battery compartment.
Today I start a short series of post that talk about the three headsets of the moment: Oculus Rift S, Oculus Quest and Valve Index. In this series, I will talk about the main characteristics of these devices, so that you can decide if you are interested in buying them or not.
In this first episode, I will detail the Rift S. What it is, what are its features, who is destined to and its comparison to the Rift CV1. I will try to keep the various points clear and concise, to give you a better idea on this headset without making you read too much.
What is the Rift S?
Introducing Oculus Rift S - YouTube
The Oculus Rift S is the new PC VR headset by Oculus. It has been made in collaboration with Lenovo, and it represents a refresh of the Oculus CV1, that is better and easier to be used.
Is the Rift S the Oculus Rift 2?
NO. Oculus did not want to make an overhaul of the device, because it currently aims at keeping the prices low and offering a consistent experience between PC and mobile. So, it has created a device that offers a similar interaction to Rift CV1 and Quest and this makes sure that all the games work in a similar way across all the devices. From a business side, this is an advantage for Oculus, that is not fragmenting its ecosystem too much.
The Rift S is just a refresh of the Rift CV1.
Who is this device for?
The Rift S is a device for people wanting to buy a headset that is:
easy to be installed and used;
able to offer the computational power of a PC;
able to offer the great content library of the Oculus Store.
It is not for people wanting:
the best technical features (there are other headsets for this, like Vive Pro, Valve Index, Pimax, etc…);
an open ecosystem (Vive and Index are more open);
a very cheap experience (WMR are usually cheaper).
It is a device that can make some newbies that want to play VR games happy, but that is delusional for VR enthusiasts and veterans like me.
Oculus Rift S and its Touch controllers (Image by Road To VR)
Rift S specs
The main specifications of the Rift S are:
Display resolution: 1,280 × 1,440 per eye
Display type: LCD
Refresh-rate: 80 Hz
FOV: slightly larger than Rift CV 1
IPD Adjustment: only via software
Tracking: inside-out with 5 cameras
Connection: 1x USB 3.0, 1x DisplayPort 1.2
Mixed Reality: the cameras allow for black and white passthrough
Audio: integrated speakers and microphone
Required PC specs
Minimum PC specs for Oculus Rift S
Graphics Card: NVIDIA GTX 1050Ti / AMD Radeon RX 470 or greater Alternative Graphics Card: NVIDIA GTX 960 / AMD Radeon R9 290 or greater CPU: Intel i3-6100 / AMD Ryzen 3 1200, FX4350 or greater Memory: 8GB+ RAM Video Output: DisplayPortTM 1.2 / Mini DisplayPort (with adapter included in the box) USB Ports: 1x USB 3.0 port OS: Windows 10
Recommended PC specs for Oculus Rift S
Graphics Card: NVIDIA GTX 1060 / AMD Radeon RX 480 or greater Alternative Graphics Card: NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD Radeon R9 290 or greater CPU: Intel i5-4590 / AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or greater Memory: 8GB+ RAM Video Output: DisplayPortTM 1.2 / Mini DisplayPort (with adapter included in the box) USB Ports: 1x USB 3.0 port OS: Windows 10
The visuals of the Rift S are a decent improvement over the ones of the Rift CV1:
The resolution is a bit better (1,280 × 1,440 per eye vs 1,080 x 1,200 of the Rift CV1);
The display is an LCD one, so it has a better fill factor than the previous OLED one. This, together with the increased resolution, makes the perceived screen door effect of the Rift S much better than the one of the Rift CV1;
The lenses are next-gen, so the god-rays are much less than the ones that you could see in the CV1. There are still some, though.
There are also some downsides:
Using LCD means that the colors of the display are less vivid;
The refresh-rate is lower: 80Hz for the Rift S, 90Hz for the CV1. Almost no one will notice the difference, though.
Having only this slight improvement after three years from the previous device is really disappointing… and this is what made us VR enthusiasts angry.
Internal view of the Rift S: here you can see its next-gen lenses (Image by Road To VR)
Oculus has partnered with Lenovo also because thanks to a previous agreement, Lenovo can exploit some patents that Sony has used in the PSVR. This has let Lenovo use in the Rift S a new halo-design for the headband, that makes it similar to headsets like PSVR or the Lenovo Mirage Solo.
The Rift S has so a rigid halo band that you should fit to your head by tightening or loosening a knob that there is behind it. Then you can fit it to your face (e.g. to accommodate glasses) by pressing a button on the headset and making it slide so that to move it closer or farther from your face.
Some reviewers (like David Heaney) report it to be comfortable, while other (like Benjamin Lang) claim it is hard to fit it well to your head and face so that to make it feel comfortable and at the same time hit the sweet spot of the lenses. I guess that all depends on the particular shape of your head.
Side view of the Rift S. Here you can see the rigid strap that you should fit to your head (Image by Road To VR)
One of the main critics for the Rift S is that it lacks physical IPD adjustment (it uses one single display). There is only a software IPD adjustment mechanism, that you trigger in the settings of your headset. This means that the experience is optimal only for people with an IPD in the range between 61.5 and 65.5mm and may vary for people outside this interval. According to Ian Hamilton of Upload VR, changing IPD via software has far less effect than changing it via hardware.
This, together with the rigid strap design that may keep the screen not perfectly adherent to your face, may make some people enjoy a sub-optimal experience (e.g. see the visuals that are very slightly blurred).
Oculus Rift S controllers (Image by Upload VR)
The controllers of the Rift S are the same Touch controllers of the Oculus Quest. They are very ergonomic and feature a thumbstick, two buttons, two triggers and a system menu for each controller.
They are slightly different from the ones of the Oculus Rift CV1. The biggest difference is that now they have an upwards ring and not a downwards one, since it has to be seen from the inside-out tracking system. Also, the ergonomics are slightly different and the buttons have a different arrangement.
The result is that the controllers are very good, but are a bit less comfortable than the ones of the CV1 and sometimes when playing it is easier to press accidentally the system buttons.
Oculus Rift S Controller Tracking Stress Test - YouTube
Rift S track its position in space and the pose of the controllers thanks to the 5 cameras that it has onboard: 2 on the front, 1 on the left, 1 on the right and 1 on the top.
The position of the cameras makes sure that the tracking is stable and is able to track the controllers even when they are on the side of the head. Anyway, with some poses, like when you have your hands behind your head, the tracking of the controllers gets lost. For most of the time, this shouldn’t happen and your gaming experience should be fine. But in some games that require particular hands poses, like for instance Echo VR, this may be a handicap for players using the Rift S.
According to some reviews, the tracking of the controllers is better than the one of WMR headsets, but it is not as good as the one of outside-in tracked headsets like the Oculus Rift CV1: Ben Lang, for instance, reports a very slight jitter.
Positional tracking works very well, but of course, it needs some light in the room to work, because the cameras are not infrared ones.
Oculus Rift S - The Tracking Test! How good are the 5 cameras? - YouTube
The Rift S has an integrated mic like the Rift CV1.
For what concerns speakers, it has two integrated ones hidden in the headband… a solution similar to the ones of Oculus Go and Oculus Quest. Unluckily, this is reported to work only in a discrete manner: all the reviews highlight how the integrated audio is not satisfying at all. The high-quality headphones of the Rift CV1 that were close to the ear of the user were able to provide a far better audio experience. Luckily there is a 3.5mm jack for external headphones that audiophiles wanting a great audio experience will for sure use.
The two frontal cameras of the Rift S are more or less in the position of the eyes, so it is possible for the Rift S to show you your surroundings inside the headset. According to Oculus, this passthrough feature is very fast and with no distortions, so it is the best passthrough among all the headsets, hence the name Passthrough+.
The passthrough will be used for:
Letting you configure your play area: instead of drawing some lines with your controllers while looking at your screen as you do now, you will be able to actually see your surroundings and draw your play area with your controllers all around you. This is incredibly handy;
Improving the Guardian: when you will go out your play area, the Passthrough+ will activate, letting you see your surroundings and avoiding you stumbling over your furniture.
How you configure your play area in AR inside the Oculus Rift S (Image from Upload VR)
Thanks to inside-out tracking, the setup of the Rift S is incredibly easy and just requires you to plug the USB and DisplayPort cables inside your PC, running the setup utility and bam, you’re done! No need to setup cameras, fill all the USB ports of your PC and so on.
This is really the greatest advantage of the Rift S over the CV1. It is super-easy to be installed: everyone is able to install and configure it. It is easy to be used and this makes it suitable for the vast majority of people and not only the techies as the Rift CV1 was.
Content of the box with which the Rift S gets shipped (Image by Oculus)
Price and availability
The Oculus Rift S is available for preorders on Oculus websiteand on the website of selected partners (like Amazon). The shipping will start from May, 21st 2019. The final price is $399 (€449).
Is it worth the price?
Well, yes and no. If we look at the polished experience that Oculus always offer, and at its rich content library, then it is worth it. If we look at some competing devices, like some WMR headsets, that have greater resolutions and are often discounted at $200-$300, then no.