Monthly Archives: July 2017
Monthly Archives: July 2017
Newsfeed - July 18, 2017
Pasadena-based technology company ObEN has announced that they have raised $5 million strategic investment capital from Chinese telecom giant Tencent, Fengshion Capital and Li Ruigang (Chairman of CMC) to finance the development of interactive 3D avatars resembling celebrities.
Previous investment rounds have raised $8 million from the likes of Softbank and Vive, from whose virtual reality accelerator they recently emerged. ObEN’s early work involved helping gamers make realistic avatars of themselves based on selfies and brief recordings. But they have now shifted their emphasis to create avatars of celebrities that can “interact” with fans.
Their method involves using photographs and short audio samples to create a virtual celebrity using the AI techniques that they have developed in-house.
The ObEN approach differs from other companies in that ObEN is focussing on the faces of celebrities rather than creating full body scans. This simplifies the task immensely whilst at the same time serving the principal needs of the fans.
The battle of the VR headsets is heating up. Earlier this year the Facebook owned Oculus announced that in 2018 they plan to release a standalone VR headset codenamed Pacific for $200 (about £150). This would place it in the sweet spot between the high price units that depend on external computing power – like a powerful PC – and the low end devices that require a smartphone to be slotted into a holder.
This price point is actually better than it looks because it’s $200 for a device that requires no additional hardware. This is in addition to the company’s other standalone offering, the Santa Cruz. The difference between the two is that Santa Cruz is set to offer head-tracking and room-scale virtual reality without needing any hookup – wired or wireless – to a computer.
This already gave rise to rumours that Oculus was planning to release two standalone headsets. However, it turns out that two may be an underestimate. A new report by Ars Technica suggests that Oculus and its parent Facebook is actually considering the possibility of launching a whole spectrum of standalone VR headsets.
The Pacific is to be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon chip. However, the low price for a standalone product – together with s recent price cut for the Oculus Rift from $499.00 to $399.00 suggests that Pacific may in fact be a loss leader. The forthcoming Daydream headset from an alliance of Google and HTC will provide the same level of performance (standalone but no head-tracking) for a significantly lower price.
It could also be a sign that despite much publicity long before it ever launched a product, Oculus is struggling to compete. According to Stephanie Llamas, VP of Research and Strategy at SuperData research: “Oculus is losing the high-end race to HTC Vive.” She also observed that Oculus’ parent company Facebook “is not a company for the niche consumer – their selling point is how accessible their services are to anyone, anywhere. So finding something with the potential for mass penetration is a priority, especially with Rift’s bumpy past.”
An alternative opinion was presented by Karol Severin of MIDI Research, pointing out that the price reduction was temporary.
“Instead of devaluing its own product, it’s smart for Facebook to introduce a mid-range device, with the hope of maintaining higher price points of top tier VR devices in the future, when more and better content becomes available for them.”
“More justifiable price points and an increasing volume of content (not only in terms of the number of titles, but also in terms of the genre and entertainment format scope) will make VR more appealing to the masses over time.”
However, Llamas maintains that the reduction indicated that oculus was suffering from “a lack of confidence.”
The question is how much will Santa Cruz and Pacific do to restore that confidence? We’ll know next year.
Newsfeed - July 06, 2017
When Palmer Freeman Luckey (what a name!) was ousted from Oculus by Facebook (who had bought the company), they might have thought that he would go quietly. The reason they ousted him was because he admitted funding an anti Hillary Clinton advertisement that showed a picture of the Democratic candidate and the caption “Too big to jail.” He later denied funding the ad, but by then the chain of events was set in motion and - in the face of threats from major developers to boycott the Oculus (threats that were themselves later withdrawn), Luckey was ousted from the company.
However, whilst Luckey appeared to go quietly - so quietly that his departure is still not mentioned on his Wikipedia page at the time of this writing - that did not mean that was indifferent to the way he was treated by the company that he effectively founded in his parents’ garage. And now it appears that he is putting money into a program that by-passes the Oculus Rift monopoly on certain games.
Specifically, Luckey has pledged $2000 per month to the Patreon campaign of Revive - a software tool that enables users of the HTC Vive headset to play games that were designed exclusively for the Rift. Even in the days when he was CEO of Oculus, Luckey was against hardware/software lock-ins. “If customers buy a game from us, I don’t care if they mod it to run on whatever they want.”
That was clearly the libertarian in him speaking. Not surprising, considering his middle name. Could it be that he was ousted for this belief in openness?
Revive was created by Jules Blok shortly after Oculus started making games that could only be played on the Oculus. A project rather than a company, Revive was basically a proof-of-concept workaround for the Oculus wall. It worked by bypassing code checks on the games so as to let them be run on other platforms, but did not permit pirate copies of the games to run. The games still had to be legally purchased from the Oculus Home Storefront.
However, a month later, Oculus released app update 1.4 that added an additional layer of security, requiring that an actual Oculus Rift be present before the app or game launched. Oculus justified the measure by condemning the the workaround.
“This is a hack, and we don’t condone it. Users should expect that hacked games won’t work indefinitely, as regular software updates to games, apps, and our platform are likely to break hacked software”
The public reaction to the Oculus counter-measure was uniformly hostile, especially as this was after Luckey had already made his statement about not objecting to people running Rift software on other platforms.
But Oculus responded defensively saying that the countermeasures were a “security upgrade,” and an “entitlement check” to “curb piracy and protect games and apps that developers have worked so hard to make.”
However, a developer at Revive who goes by the handle Libre VR told Motherboard that: “While this helps prevent piracy from people who didn’t buy an Oculus Rift, it doesn’t do anything to prevent piracy from those who did buy an Oculus Rift.”
He went on to say that “this clearly excludes anyone who bought the game, but didn’t buy an Oculus Rift. Even if Revive wasn’t targeted, they were probably more than aware of the collateral damage.”
In response to public discontent, however, Oculus has since reversed its decision, essentially allowing Revive to continue and proving that some rifts can be healed.
Whether this will have an impact on sales of the Rift, is another matter. It is unlikely that people are buying the Rift because of the software and therefore unlikely that the ability to run the software on other platforms would hurt sales. And if people can run the software on other platforms, then that gives Oculus a route to both additional sales and added profits.
And if Palmer Luckey still holds shares in Facebook, then it’s money in his pocket too. So everyone’s a winner baby!
Rendering an image is a highly processor-intensive task, requiring a lot of fast, parallel processing power. But the conventional way has been to render the entire image that is in the user’s field of view. This means that even though parts of the image that are behind the user or far to the side may go unrendered, everything that is within the user’s broad field of view is rendered.
But in practice, our eyes are not focussed on everything before our eyes, but only the central part of it. This is the portion of the field of vision that is brought into focus by a part of the eye called the fovea centralis - or central pit. This is the most central area of the retina and it contains the highest concentration of cones.
Adding eye-tracking technology into VR headsets allows developers to implement a new technology called foveated rendering. This technique involves high-resolution rendering of only the portion of the image that is reaching the user’s fovea (i.e. the part of the image that the user is actually seeing in highly focuses vision) while rendering in reduced resolution the rest of the image. The rest of the image is still in the user’s field of view, but the user doesn’t notice that it is in low-resolution, because their eyes are not focused on it.
This reduction in processing, maximizes efficiency in the use of processor resources, lengthens component life and saves energy. This has the knock-on effect of reducing heat build up in the processor and the hardware that houses it. This latter point is very important because a number of companies in the VR industry are starting to develop so-called “all-in-one” solutions, in which all the hardware is contained in the VR headset itself. Miniaturization has now made such solutions possible. But in order for it to be comfortable to the user, heat build-up must be kept down to a minimum.
A number of companies are now working on such all-in-one solutions. One of these is Samsung, that is trying to develop an all-in-one headset around the Exynos 3 processor. Samsung are collaborating with Visual Camp - a leader in the field of eye-tracking technology - to incorporate this technology into the new headset.
But Samsung are not stopping there. At the Mobile World Congress in Shanghair (MWCS), Samsung revealed that they will also be incorporating speech recognition, hand tracking and even facial recognition technology into the headset.
The CEO of Visual Camp (that were also exhibiting there) said “By collaborating with Samsung Electronics, our technology was internationally recognized at MWCS 2017, enabling us to secure a bridgehead for future global marketing efforts. Now, we will continue promoting the high quality of Korean startup technologies and products overseas.”
BestVR.tech will bring you further news.
Newsfeed - July 03, 2017
Apple computers has just scored a bull’s-eye by buying SensoMotoric Instruments a German maker of eye-tracking technology. Eye tracking is a very useful technology for both Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.
Apple issued a statement to Fortune magazine stating that “Apple buys smaller companies from time to time and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.
The purchase was not widely publicized and only came to light through the efforts of MacRumours, a blog that is often first with the unofficial news about Apple. They discovered that Gene Levoff, Apple’s Vice President of Corporate Law, had signed a legal document referring to the acquisition of SensoMotoric Instruments.
However, the story only gained traction when it was also reported by Axios, a new media company specializing in news and analysis of business, media, politics and tech.
It is not yet known what plans Apple has to integrate eye tracking technology into its products. But such technology has applications in advertising, control and user experience. SensoMotoric Instruments has in the past worked with the Oculus Rift VR kit.
The company has developed a wide range of hardware and software for use in research, training, linguistics, neuroscience, biomechanics, psychology and vision science, besides virtual and augmented reality.