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Monthly Archives: December 2017

December 28, 2017

What is coming in 2018

Credit Shutterstock

VR predictions for 2018 - we reserve the right to be wrong

2017 was supposed to be the breakthrough year for VR and AR, according to our predictions - and in a way, it was, for VR at least.

A lot of headsets were sold: Vive, Rift, PSVR, Samsung Gear VR. The Oculus Go was at least announced as was the Microsoft Mixed Reality headset. Others like the 200-degree FoV Pimax (3840x2160) and 210-degree Star VR (5120x1440), were also announced, although they were not actually demonstrated and could yet be vaporware.

In the AR world, things were a bit different. So far all we have seen is the ability to overlay a camera view on a phone screen with a virtual supplementary image and a few high-priced headsets that are intended for developers, with no indication of when the price will down to a level that will actually attract consumers.

Credit HTC 

​More games and apps became available, and other used were pioneered like education, consumer visualization and - our pet project of the future - office applications.

Progress was also made in letting the “astronauts” walk untethered, with wireless relay closing the gap with wired connection and inside out tracking (relying on gyroscopes and accelerometers), closing the gap with external tracking that relies upon lighthouses and cameras. Some of the diehards moaned about poor latency and dropped frames. But the problem of the pigtail and the prospect of strangulation in one’s own living room, made it inevitable that cordless would elbow its way into the market.

In due course the latency and dropped frames problem will be solved. Some hardcore gamers will hang on to their ponytail headsets until that happens. Others will opt for the cheaper cordless models now. I had an argument about this a few months back, with a hardcore gamer insisting - with that characteristically adolescent sense of entitlement - that low latency and smooth motion were “basic requirements” for Virtual Reality. I pointed out to him that this was like a rich man saying: “one simply must travel by Rolls Royce or not travel at all.” Needless to say, the rich boy with his toys did not like that one bit!

Royole 3D Moon Virtual Mob

I have also pointed out that the aesthetics of VR headsets leaves a lot to be desired. At the moment they are so kludgy, Apple will not touch them with a ten-foot pole. Until they can achieve the elegance of the Royole Moon personal theatre, I can’t see Apple changing its attitude towards them.

​But where do we go from here?

According to a survey by the International Data Corporation, spending on AR and VR will almost double next year - from $9.1 billion in 2017 to $17.8 billion in 2018. And in the medium term, IDC projects that this growth rate will hold until at least 2021. But what is particularly interesting, is that IDC sees the biggest share of the market being held not by the games sector, nor by hardware or retail showcasing, but rather by what they call “others” - a somewhat vague and amorphous concept, covering pretty much everything that we don’t know about the VR and AR markets.

​One thing they are clear about is that the biggest growth area will be the public sector - infrastructure maintenance and government training.

On the subject of VR-based training, IDC estimates that market revenue in the sector will reach $2.2 billion by 2023. However, this is predicated on a fast rollout of 5G telecoms standards. These standards have not yet even been finalized, but IDC appears to believe - probably wrongly - that 5G will begin commercial deployment in 2018! The faster speeds that 5G promises will no doubt play a part in bringing VR to a wider audience - as it will then be possible to transmit and narrowcast VR to targeted users. But even the standards won’t be finalized until 2018 - and rollout won’t begin until 2022. So, the IDC prediction on VR training, might itself be out by two years.

While I am reluctant to make more predictions after some of our prophecies for 2017 fell short, I will still my neck out by saying that with the Vive releasing the Vive Focus, with the Oculus Go and with others poised to enter the market, we feel that 2018 will be the year of the standalone VR headset.

And as for Augmented Reality, to quote Dostoyevsky: that is the subject of another story...

December 19, 2017

Wrist-worn gesture detector

TENZR1

BioInteractive Technologies (Vancouver) is shaking up the gesture-based controller sector with TENZR™, a gesture detector worn on the wrist. Unlike most other detectors, it does not require a camera, lighthouse, sonic triangulation or any other external recognition to function.

The wristband controller works out of the box with no training and recognizes six hand gestures (left, right, up down, open and closed). It connects to the VR or other device via Bluetooth. This enables it to be used as simple controller device.

TENZR hand gestures

However, it can be trained to recognize more discriminatory finger gestures, thus enabling it to be used to play games such as darts, with the fingers simply “holding” an imaginary dart and the hand and wrist throwing it.

The company has been developing the product for the last three years. Their aim was to herald in the next generation of controllers, making them less bulky and more natural-feeling. What they have produced is a small, comfortable device - worn on the wrist - that can be used for even more discriminating applications such as Rock, Paper, Scissors.

The current unit is a developer model to be presented as  CES 2018 at Eureka Park, Sands, Hall G - 50915 and at Cypress Booth (MP25365). It is Unity3D compatible, making it an ideal plug-and-play solution for various VR platforms.

TENZR’s™ features include:

  • Built-in capabilities to recognize gestures using BIT’s custom sensing technology
  • Infinite customization: Supports the detection of custom gestures for different applications
  • Built-in heading estimation using inertial sensor
  • Integrates with connected devices over Bluetooth Low Energy
  • Weighs 45 grams.

Could this nifty little peripheral work alongside the Logitech-HTC Bridge to create the Virtual Office, that we at bestvr.tech have long been lobbying for?

TENZR6TENZR5TENZR4TENZR3TENZER2

December 15, 2017

The Health Dangers of Virtual Reality

Credit shutterstock

An article by Sandee LaMotte, on the CNN website, is warning of what they call the “health dangers” of Virtual Reality.

The article - which tended to focus on the Vive and let the Oculus Rift off rather lightly - started rather trivially by pointing out the obvious dangers of using a VR headset in a crowded public space “without supervision.” While this warning might seem to come straight out of the “no shit Sherlock” Department, LaMotte goes onto warn of the inadequacy of the HTC Vive’s chaperone system - something that HTC itself acknowledges.

But in order to show that they are not limiting themselves to the Vive, the article quotes Marientina Gotsis, an associate professor of research at the Interactive Media and Games Division of the University of Southern California to the effect that: “"I see more falling than anything else. You can trip and hit your head or break a limb and get seriously hurt, so someone needs to watch over you when you are using VR. That's mandatory."

In other words: back to the no-shit-Sherlock school of logic.

Credit shutterstock ​

But from there - in fairness - the article takes a turn in the direction of seriousness and started discussing such issues as the effect of VR headsets on the eyes.  They quoted Martin Banks, a professor of Optometry at UCL Berkeley to the effect that "Looking at tablets, phones and the like, there's pretty good evidence that doing near work can cause lengthening of the eye and increase risk for myopia." But he qualified his apparent certainty, by adding: "We're all worried that virtual reality might make things worse."

The problem is that in real life, we look at a single image with both eyes and focus on whatever we are looking at. With VR and indeed with any immersive 3D headset each eye is served a separate image to create the illusion of 3D. In effect, the system is doing our brain’s work for us. Also, with VR we are looking at an image near the eye, that is then focussed by the hardware onto the retinas of the left and right eyes respectively. In real life the object of our attention is usually a lot farther away and the lens of our eyes does all the focussing (sometimes aided by eyeglasses or contact lenses).

Walter Greenleaf


Walter Greenleaf, a veteran behavioral neuroscientist who works with Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab admits: “We’re tricking the brain and we don’t know the long-term effect of this.”

VR Manufacturers advise taking breaks from VR immersion. But no one knows how frequently or for how long these breaks should be taken. Any specific suggestions are based on guesswork.

Another problem is that people playing video games might become so absorbed in the game that they are reluctant to break off, even if they feel eye strain. As visible eye strain is a warning mechanism, ignoring it for the sake of finishing a game could be harmful to the user.

Other problems raised include high volume to screen out ambient sounds (which conditions the brain to treat high volume as normal) and dangers of seizures in young people with no previous history, motion sickness and difficulty in re-adjusting to the real world when removing the headset.

The range of dangers is quite broad, from the physical (like spreading contagious diseases by sharing headsets) to the psychological (game addiction, mental fatigue).

virtual-reality-headset-vr-kid

The article warns that the risk is greatest for children, because they are least likely to know when there is a problem or how to communicate about it, even if they notice something. Children are also more vulnerable to latent fear and the after-effects of games they play - even if they are not frightened at the time.

Some manufacturers give advice and even propose parentally-enforced age limits. For Playstation VR, Sony advises that it shouldn’t be use by those under 12. HTC warns that the Vive isn’t “designed to be used by children.”

Ultimately it is up to parents to decide for their children and adults to decide for themselves. The problem is that there is not currently enough information upon which to base one’s decision.

December 6, 2017

Best VR Cameras for 2018

Samsung Gear 350

What is life without a 360-deg camera? In this multi-product review, we review & compare some of the best panoramic VR Cameras choices available in 2018.

Funbot 360 Degree Camera 


The Funbot is at the lower price range for 360 degree panoramic cameras. With a 210° fisheye lens, it’s quite impressive, considering that it shoots full HD (1080p) video at 30 fps and 720p at 60 fps. It also shoots 4MP spherical images.

There are three video modes, in fact: panoramic, flat and VR. Video can be uploaded to VR headset for a true 3D effect. It also has the option of timer shooting.

Funbot VR Camera

Funbot VR Camera


Battery life is good. The makers say “up to” 1.5 hours. We found it in the region of 75 minutes. The battery is 1400 mAh. But the device doesn’t come with a memory card. You have to buy one as well obviously. The good news is that it supports up to 128 GB (Micro SD Type 6 or higher).

It is compatible with both Android and iOS operating systems and has built-in WiFi and sharing using SNS. It also features a noise-cancelling microphone. On the front, in addition to the camera is a shutter button and light for the shutter, WiFi, photo and video - so you know the state of play at all times.

The camera can be mounted onto a selfie stick via a ¼ inch screw hole. Connectivity is achieved through a Mini HDMI or Wifi, while charging is done through a micro USB. It comes with a charger and carry case.

VERDICT: Good piece of kit and excellent value for money. 

Samsung Gear 360

Samsung Gear 350

Samsung Gear 350

Although designed for use with the Samsung Gear, this 360 degree video camera is compatible with iOS. It shoots 4K 360° video. Content can be live-streamed with Gear 360  and can be converted to standard video or photo format (five different viewing modes).

The kit comes with a Type C USB cable, strap, pouch, quick start guide and of course the camera itself. Battery capacity is 1160 mAh. As mentioned above, it is compatible with Android 5 or higher and iOS 10.0 or later. It works with a variety of memory cards.

The video and audio quality are good, and it is easy to use, a very shallow and short learning curve. It can even be used for night-time photography, using the time-lapse feature.

VERDICT: Very versatile, a big brand name 

Richoh Theta V 360 Degree Spherical Camera

Ricoh Theta

Ricoh Theta

This 360° camera has similar specs to the Samsung Gear 360: e.g. 4K and live streaming. It also has both bluetooth and wireless LAN communication. Equipped with Three axis gyro sensors and three axis acceleration sensors, it can track its position on motion with ease. It also has "360°spatial audio" for greater audio realism.

Those familiar with the THETA S, will notice a marked improvement in the specs. Transfer speed is 2½ times faster for video and 3.2 times faster for still images.

Several things make this product stand out from the crowd somewhat. One is a remote playback function. Another is the 12-megapixel resolution. A third is its ability to record images in low lighting conditions. And yet another is the fact that the lenses are close together, ensuring that the “dead zone” is kept small. It’s ability to sense its own motion and orientation is another strength. And when using the time-lapse facility, it takes a picture every four seconds instead of the more usual seven. It comes with a carry case

The battery is charged by USB and can handle high-amp as well as low-amp connections without overheating. On the down side, it can only record for 25 minutes and you can’t add an SD card. Also, it has no image stabilization, despite having gyro and motion sensors. At this price it really ought to.

VERDICT: Left us wanting for more especially at the price it comes at. 

Insta360 Nano Compact Mini Panoramic Camera

Insta 360 panorama

Insta 360 panorama


This 360 VR camera has one-touch sharing and live-streaming. There’s no need for separate export or manual stitching of images. The whole process is automatic

It is compatible with iPhone 6 up and clips neatly onto your iPhone (connecting via the lightning connector) to turn it into a 360-degree VR camera. When it is running the Insta 360 App while attached to the iPhone it shows you a preview of the live image and gives you total control of settings and modes.

However, it doesn’t have to be connected to the iPhone. It can be used as a standalone camera. When used in standalone mode, everything is controlled by a single button. A single press of the button switches it on. Pressing again (after two seconds) takes a still photo. If you want to record a video you press twice in rapid succession. And to stop the video recording, you just press again. Finally, if you want to take a picture with a 10 second timer, you press the button three times without pausing in between.

The resolution is impressive: 3040 x 1520 both for still images and for video at 30 fps. It has a MicroSD expansion slot that can take up to a 64GB memory card.

VERDICT: Very versatile, very impressive. A good buy. 

December 6, 2017

Royole Moon 3D Virtual Mobile Theatre

A young woman wearing the Royole Moon on an airline flight

Although this product is a video viewing headset and not a VR headset (that is to say, it does not have any head-tracking), we have reviewed other such products before - notably the Avegant Glyph. The manufacturers themselves call this product a 3D Mobile Theatre. And that’s exactly what it is. But an extremely good one!

We have in fact given some advance information about the Royole Moon, on August 16 and August 31. Now, as Christmas approaches, we would like to give you our impressions of it. First of all, what we said in our multi-product review about the Sony PlayStationVR resembling something out of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, is even more true of the Royole Moon.

Royole 3D Moon Virtual Mob

The stylish design is not only pleasing to the eye, but also highly functional. It folds up with the viewing section over the user’s head. This is similar to the Avegant Glyph, except that the Glyph doesn’t have a separate headband. When you wear the glyph as an audio headset, the viewer doubles as the headband. When you use the Glyph as a viewer, there is no overhead band.

With the Royole Moon, the headband and viewer are separate - and we prefer this. It means that you can easily push the viewer up over your head when you need to interact with the real world, or you can pull it down and it covers your eyes and cut yourself off from the world, when you want to immerse yourself in the content of the video. All in all, we just have to say, that when it comes to design aesthetics, the Royole Moon sets the bar extremely high. Competitors - both old and new - will have to put in a lot of effort to catch up.

It comes in a custom-made box, with a controller box, various custom-branded adapter cables and a carrying bag. The control box has inputs micro-HDMI, micro-USB, the headset itself and a power cable. The adapter cables enable you to connect full-size USB and HDMI to their micro siblings.

The headset itself is a highly sophisticated affair. In addition to a 2D/3D switch button above the eye display, it also has a volume control around the right ear. This is a capacitation touch control - meaning you just slide your finger round the ring in one direction or the other and it gets louder or quieter. You can also tap the middle part of the right ear to start, stop or pause what you are watching.

As the Royole Moon is designed to be work without glasses, it has to make provision for user vision issues. It does this with diopter adjusters for each eye which can be varied from -7 to +2. This is a good enough range to cover most users. If you press the eyepieces you can move them to accommodate different distances between the eyes (58mm - 70mm), but the scope of this feature was just slightly more limited than we felt it ought to be. Maybe that's just because this reviewer is a bit of a Big 'ead (in more ways than one), but we would have preferred a larger range.

Moon_White_Adjustments

When it comes to content, the device can be connected to any HDMI source. It also has its own basic operating system, with some neat features including its own browser. It also WiFi and Bluetooth connection. And it has 32GB of internal storage, so you can actually upload content. This is very useful if you are going on, say, an airplane journey and want to use it as a standalone system.

The fact that the device has no headset tracking does not mean it cannot be used for gaming. Like other video headsets, it can be used with game-controllers. You just don’t get that added dimension that head-tracking offers. But then again, this probably matters only to hardcore gamers.

Royole Moon_2

The video quality is excellent, although a very slight second to the Avegant Glyph, if not better. Each eye sees a 1920 x 1080 image. The refresh rate is 60Hz. That is less than the 90Hz that is par for the course in true VR game-oriented headsets. But it is perfectly fine for video,  matching US television and exceeding the 50Hz of British TV. Furthermore, while the video sharpness falls very slightly short of the Glyph, the overall immersive experience is much better, free of the light leakage that plagues the Glyph.

This immersive experience is further enhanced by the audio quality, which beats the competition any day of the week. The Royole Moon has built-in, over the ear headphones with active noise cancelling. The sound quality is superlative in all area of the audio spectrum: high, low and mid-range.

In the portability department it again comes second to the Glyph, both because of its larger size and the need to carry the additional control box (albeit a box that is about the size of a mobile phone). However, this is to some extent offset by the Royole Moon’s storage capacity (or that of its control box), which means you don’t have to carry a second device storing your movies or other content.

Another advantage of the Royale Moon is that it is extremely comfortable for a device of its size. This was quite surprising, considering that it probably looks somewhat suffocating. But looks and feel are two different things and this device is actually more comfortable than the Glyph.

Woman using Royole Moon on a plan

On the other hand, it is somewhat more expensive than the Glyph and this might count against it, depending on how price conscious you are. One thing you can be sure of is that notwithstanding the Glyph’s unique video technology, it is the Royole Moon that is the most advanced product in terms of its overall use of technology. It is excellent for discreet viewing and it gives you a wonderful feeling of privacy in a public place. 

VERDICT: The best video viewing headset in the market though it comes at a steep price. 

December 6, 2017

Oculus Go – A Sneak Preview

Oculus Go

The team behind the Oculus Rift are not resting on their laurels by any means. Not content to merely rely on price cuts to fight for market share, they are also busily at work in the labs making new products.

On October 11th, they unveiled Oculus Go, a standalone VR headset that fills the gap between attached headsets like the Rift, Vive and PSVR on the one hand and standalone phone housing headsets like the GearVR, Google Daydream View and Google Cardboard. The Go does not need a phone.

Oculus has said that the Go can run GearVR games on the standalone device. This implies that the Oculus Go is an Android device. However, according to the official data being released, it will run Windows and Oculus Home. It comes with a small, hand-held controller that has a trigger button and a touch area. The controller also has two other buttons and a wrist loop.

Although some details have been unveiled, the Oculus Go will not be officially on sale in the UK until the first quarter of 2018 at a price of $199 in the US and probably a similar amount in sterling in Britain.

The display is a single panel Quad High Definition, 16:9, LCD display with a 2560 x 1440 resolution. This as compares favorably to the Rift’s 2160 x 1200 OLED display that was, split between two panels. The pixel density has yet to be announced. The Go has better lenses than the Rift, designed to eliminate the screen door effect in which the fine lines between the pixels become visible.

It has no built-in microphone but it does have built-in speakers. A 3.5 mm din jack is provided in case you prefer to use your own headphones.

Much information has yet to be released. For example, nothing has been revealed about the chipset - although industry insiders believe that it will be the Snapdragon 821.

When it comes to look-and-feel and design features, Oculus seem to have taken a leaf out of Google’s book by making the headset out of breathable cloth, like the Daydream View.



In addition to the announcement of the Go, Oculus also issued updated news on their Santa Cruz Standalone headset. Just as the Go occupies a place between the GearVr or Google Daydream and the Rift/HTC heavyweights, so the Santa Cruz occupies the spot between the Go and the Rift. Oculus have added to trackable hand motion controllers, similar to the Touch controllers of the Rift.

With three products covering a wide price and spec range in the VR spectrum, it will be interesting to see how much market share they can take from the lower end, currently dominated by Google and Samsung.

December 5, 2017

“Game over for VR” says the Economist in convoluted prophecy of doom

HTC Vive

A recent article in The Economist (1st December) has suggested that Virtual Reality may be heading for the knacker’s yard before it’s even over the second fence. They go on to suggest that consumers are opting for Augmented Reality as an alternative to VR!

They start off by pointing out that prices for VR hardware are falling since the items were first introduced - as if this phenomenon were something entirely new, rather than par for the course. They portray this not as a normal process for a slowly maturing technology, but rather as a sign of desperation in the industry.

“Virtual reality has failed to live up to its hype,” the article declares imperiously, “and mainstream consumers never really bought into the technology. Even ardent gaming fans have been slow to embrace VR.”

Logitech-HTC-Vive-Virtual-Re

The Virtual Office?

At bestvr.tech we have always maintained that the reason VR has been slow to catch on is precisely because it has been targeted to heavily at gamers and not enough on users. That is why we have been campaigning for so long for the virtual office.

But that is not the central thrust of the Economist’s argument. Nor have they taken the “cup is half full” approach and held out the hope that the slow uptake of VR will eventually be overcome by a breach of the floodgates. Instead, they predicted that Virtual Reality would go the way of 3D TV.

Shark attack

Shark attack

But part of the problem is surely that the bar was set too high for VR and too low for 3D TV. In the case of VR, it was decided, by the business powers-that-be, that it is not enough just to let people watch a video passively in immersive 3D. Instead, it must let them interact with the view as gamers, not only sitting on an armchair, but even on their feet! It must have head tracking, change the POV accordingly and even let them dance around the living room - instead of letting them do the sensible thing and go out of doors to play their sports out in the open with real people.

On the other hand, with TV, it was decided that it was too much for people to watch a 3D movie on a personal headset. No, they had to share the experience by watching it on a big screen. But to do that, they still needed special viewing glasses. These could either be “active”, opening and closing alternate eye-views (causing dizziness), or “passive”, based on vertically or horizontally polarized light.

Avegant Glyph-1

Avegant Glyph-1

December 4, 2017

HTC about to offer TPCast wireless adapter for the Vive – available for pre-order

Vive with TPCast RX receiver

One of the problems with all the high-end VR headsets is that they don’t merely need the processing power of a high-spec computer, they have to be tethered to the computer. Whether it was concerns over latency or just plain bad forward planning, the purveyors of VR thought we’d be happy running around and flying our arms, while tethered to a machine.

Just try spinning round to shoot an enemy who’s creeping up behind you, to realize how awkward (and stupid) that is! Can you imagine if soldiers on the battlefield had a rope running off the back of their head tethering them to their field HQ? That wouldn’t make for a very mobile war would it? If anything, it would turn them into sitting ducks for the enemy to pick off at will. That’s assuming they managed to avoid tripping over the cables like they were booby-traps and landmines!

TPcast receiver

But in the case of the HTC Vive, that’s all about to change, thanks to the TPCast adapter. The adapter - or rather this iteration of it - has been specially designed for the HTC Vive will be available in the Unites States and Canada from 24 November. However, it is already available for pre-order.

Instead of using a so-called "cable management system" to suspend your cables and wires to the ceiling - which merely changes the risk from tripping to strangulation - you can now have the signals sent from the computer to the headset via a wireless system connected to the computer and a wireless receive attached to the headset.

It has been available in China since December 2016 and was available for pre-order in europe since September of this year. But now it is available in North America.

The kit consists of an HMD receiver that is mounted on top of the headset, where the cables plug in, a powerbox that user’s put in their pocket (this powers both the RX receiver and the Vive itself), and a PC Transmitter that plugs into the PCs HDMI port. (Note: the PC Transmitter must also be connected to an electrical outlet for power.)

However, while that deals with transmitting the audio and visual information, the player's movement and positional information also needs to be transmitted to the headset. This is done by a pre-configured wireless router that is also included in the kit. Simply connect an Ethernet cable from a LAN port on your current router to the WAN port on TPCast’s router, and then connect the parent PC via Ethernet to a LAN port on the TPCast router. The PC must then be configured to automatically obtain an IP address and DNS server address from the TPCast router. It sounds complicated, but it isn’t. Not for a serious games enthusiast anyway!

This delivers 2K resolution with a latency of 2 milliseconds. This ensures smooth image rendering and position tracking, without frame dropping.

And free of the constraints of the cables, the player will have additional freedom of movement without any cost in smoothness of the viewing experience!

The powerbox lasts 5-6 hours. The one downside is that it takes 9-12 hours to fully recharge!