Monthly Archives: March 2018

March 26, 2018

Virtual Reality Shopping has arrived

Virtual reality shopping at Ikea

In the past, online shopping has been limited to looking at a few product pictures or occasionally a video, accompanied by a description of the product. For some reasons, online vendors never quite got around to virtual reality shopping. You couldn’t take a virtual walkthrough of a store, pushing a trolley, seeing the goods on shelves and picking them and taking a look at them from all sides. Even Amazon, despite its size and deep coffers, preferred to be little more than a text and picture catalogue for online purchase.

Now, however, things are changing. And all thanks to Virtual Reality headsets. The obvious and sensible way to provide online shopping - mimic the experience of a physical shop rather than a printed catalogue - has skipped a generation. You still won’t see it on a flat 2D screen any time soon. But it is now coming to 3D. Strap on a VR headset and you can quite literally walk through an online store and make purchases. Virtual reality shopping has arrived.

Ikea leads the way in virtual Reality shopping

With the IKEA app below, you can mimic the experience of walking through an IKEA store an making purchases.

But with this one, you can even move things around, change the colors, and really see how different variations would look. This is true virtual reality shopping!

You can do the same with their kitchen app, where you can move things around and design your kitchen the way you want it. We have talked about visualizing furniture in situ in the past.

In some cases, you can even take items off the shelves and buy them. This should be de riguer for virtual reality shopping, because most stores these days are self-service. Take for example this demo (below) of ShelfZone from InVRsion, for the HTC Vive. Their virtual store app and platform can not only enable you to walk through a virtual store and pick up the items you want to buy. It has eye-tracking, voice recognition and speech simulation. This means that you can talk to it and obtain help in finding what you are looking for, just as you could with a friendly and helpful member of front line staff in a real store.

Alternatively, Santa Clara based company Cappasity is offering online shopping for Software as a Service. With their platform, even a small online retailer can be up and running very quickly with their own virtual reality shopping store. And it is scalable.

Other retail technology

But even more a conventional shopping trip can be enhanced with modern technology. Take for example, the Google Glass augmented reality app below. It flashes up product information and advice when you walk through the shop, according to what you are looking at. You can ask it questions, select recipes and ask where the ingredients are, make a video call and share what you are looking at for advice. Strictly speaking, this is not virtual reality shopping. But it is impressive nevertheless.

More conventional still is Amazon Go. This is a self-service store which cuts out the need for standing in a check-out queue. You log in with an app and cameras and sensors track you (and every other customer) what you take off the shelf and what you put back.

So far, they have only have one store - in Seattle - which opened on December 5, 2016, and to the public on January 22, 2018. It is all explained in the following video.

Again, this is not virtual reality shopping. But it is high tech shopping that will inevitable compete with its virtual counterpart, because it offers immediacy and convenience.

Finally, there is the virtual interactive mirror, that enables you to try on clothes without actually changing into them. It would mostly be located in stores - although in theory there is no reason why it cannot be located in people’s homes too, to help them make their selections and choices. Of course, it can only you tell you what the clothes look like, not whether they feel comfortable. But it’s still a useful technology for eliminating the items you don’t want.

March 22, 2018

Video game shooting – or shape-shifting, illuminati, Zionists?

Dijonae White - video game shooting victim

Passions sometimes run high when people play video games – or in this case, don’t play them – but on Sunday March 18, these emotions crossed the line into homicide when a nine-year-old boy shot and killed his 14-year-old sister (Dijonae White) when she refused to hand over a game controller in a tragic video game shooting incident.

The video game shooting took place in the Mississippi home of Dijonae White.  According to early reports, Dijonae (a pupil at Tupelo Middle School) took over playing the game and then refused to hand the controller back to her brother. He responded by going into another room, retrieving a 0.25-caliber gun from a nightstand and then shooting his sister in the back of her head. She was brought to Memphis children’s hospital Le Bonheur but died at 6.45 p.m.

Early reports claim that the gun belonged to the mother’s live-in boyfriend. At the time of the shooting, Dijonae’s mother was in the kitchen feeding three of her other three children..

Dijonae While victim of the video game shooting

Dijonae While

Video game shooting victim Dijonae White and her mom

Dijonae White and her mom

The video game shooting case falls under the jurisdiction of Sheriff Cecil Cantrell, who is taking a cautious approach and not jumping to any conclusions. Cantrell stated: “I’m not too fast to say anything because there are juveniles involved. We want to do what’s right and we’re going to get it right.”

Cecil Cantrell - the sheriff in charge of the video game shooting case

Cecil Cantrell - the sheriff in charge of the case

However, the sheriff also said: “In my opinion, kids watch video games where they shoot each other and hit the reset button and they come back to life. It’s not like that in the real world. I’m not saying that’s necessarily what happened, but kids now are different than what they were when we were growing up.”

Is the problem video games or guns?

The video game shooting case will throw a spotlight on the whole issue of violent video games, that President Trump raised after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February. “I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts,” Trump said at a meeting in February.

President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump

At the White House meeting, Donald Trump raised the issue, not only of video games but the internet in general. “We have to look at the Internet, because a lot of bad things are happening to young kids and young minds and their minds are being formed, and we have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it."

NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch

NRA spokesperson and former Breitbart writer and editor Dana Loesch

However, Trump’s assertions were seen by some as an attempt to distract attention from alternative explanation of gun killings generally and not just the video game shooting. That explanation - i.e. the TRUE explanation - would throw the blame onto the widespread availability of guns in the US. Despite the power of the National Rifle Association – which spends millions of dollars supporting politicians who oppose gun control and attacking those politicians who support gun control – the tide is beginning to turn against second amendment absolutists.

Paranoid/dishonest conspiracy theorists, gun control and the illuminati

People are now coming to realize that it is the abundance of guns – not their legality per se – that is the main cause of the problem. This also explains why the gun violence problem is so hard to tackle at the state level.  States that have strict gun control laws, can (and in many cases do) refuse to recognize gun licenses from other states, but once the guns are out there, controlling their use by criminals is well nigh impossible.

On the other hand, countries that have strict gun laws (like Britain and Japan) fare much better, despite the occasional anecdotal case that throws a spanner in the works. Indeed, it is the anecdotal evidence that is widely seized upon not only by the NRA, but also by the other joker in the pack: conspiracy theorists.

The internet is full of lunatic conspiracy websites, self-published Amazon Kindle books by paranoid people and of course YouTube videos by charlatons. These websites, books and videos claim variously that gun attacks outside the US prove that gun control is ineffective or that gun attacks and mass killings are “false flags” by people seeking to ban guns or create world government. Some the wackier conspiracy theorists claim that guns are necessary to "defend ourselves" against the “illuminati” shape-shifting reptiles or other such alleged conspiracies.

This explosion of stupidity and paranoia has been created largely to be exploited by the smarter, well-heeled conspiracy theorists, who monetize their websites at the expense of the gullible. It is tolerated and even fueled by companies like Google (owners of YouTube), Amazon and Facebook who prefer to maximize profits than employ enough people to provide human vetting of user-generated content.

But ultimately the victims are not the gullible people who believe the conspiracy theorists, but the secondary victims of the policies that such gullibility shapes. Thus, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is obliged to keep records of guns sold in the US (provided by the sellers) but are not allowed to have a searchable computerized database of such guns when they need to cross-check a specific weapon.

According to anti-gun-violence organization The Trace:

To perform a search, ATF investigators must find the specific index number of a former dealer, then search records chronologically for records of the exact gun they seek. They may review thousands of images in a search before they find the weapon they are looking for. That’s because dealer records are required to be ‘non-searchable’ under federal law. Keyword searches, or sorting by date or any other field, are strictly prohibited.

This is the legacy left by corrupt politicians in the pocket of the NRA and spineless politicians who care more about being re-elected than the lives of American citizens.

March 21, 2018

New Vive tracker released – HTC confirms

New Vive tracker - 2018 tracker

In a surprise follow-up to its launch of the Vive Pro, HTC has now announced the release of the new Vive tracker for 2018. This was announced via Twitter by Shen Ye, an HTC team member.

The announcement was made without much fanfare, but has been confirmed by HTC. Unlike controllers, the trackers are designed to attach to other objects (guns, tennis rackets, etc) which then become peripherals.

The trackers are tracked by the Lighthouse sensors. This makes it possible to play games like tennis, cricket and baseball with the real feel of the racket or bat.

Unlike the old trackers, which only support SteamVR BS1.0, the new Vive trackerl supports SteamVR BS2.0 which offers better tracking accuracy and range. In other respects, the trackers are the same as last year’s model and are backwardly compatible.

Both the 2017 and 2018 trackers are compatible with the Vive and the Vive Pro. They also compatible with each other and can work together inside a single game without conflicts. Like the defunct 2017 model, the 2018 tracker retails for $99 (£99, AU$169).

The 2017 trackers have been withdrawn. However, third party vendors mighty still be selling the old 2017 tracker. So, to be sure you get the new Vive tracker, make sure it has the new blue label. The old (2017) trackers carry a white label.

You can even attach it to a Logitech keyboard and have your hands tracked with the forward-looking cameras. An article in November here at described how the HTC tracker could be attached to a Logitech keyboard as a means of creating a virtual office.

One of the widely recognized strengths of the HTC Vive over the Oculus Rift (now the Facebook Rift) is that the Vive trackers give it greater versatility. This is even truer of the new Vive tracker.

VERDICT: An excellent peripheral that every Vive owner should have.

March 21, 2018

HTC Vive Pro now available for pre-order

HTC Vive Pro

HTC has announced to day that their Vive Pro headset will ship on April 5th and will include six-month Viveport Subscription for those who buy before the 3rd of June. This will entitle the buyer to choose up to 5 titles per month from a range of 400. The price of the headset will be $799 in the USA and £799 in Britain.

At the same time, the price of the current Vive (full kit including 2 controllers and 2 Lighthouse base stations) will be slashed by $100 to $499. The price of the Vive Pro covers the headset only, but the controllers and lighthouses from the current Vive are the same and will work with it. 

This is a piece of exciting news that we have all been waiting for! HTC promised the headset by the end of the first quarter of 2018. So they have more or less lived up to their boast.

The launch of the Vive Pro marks a clear shift in the battle lines. Before now, the HTC Vive and the Oculus/Facebook Rift were battling it out for the high end of the market in terms of responsiveness, low-latency and price. But now the Rift has been moving down in price and aiming for standalone device that uses inside-out tracking and does need to be tethered to a PC or other external device.
This leaves the field clear for HTC in the upper end of the market, for those customers who are ready to endure being tethered and requiring base stations as the price to be paid (along with those good ol' greenbacks) for the low latency and quick response time.

Old HTC Vive link box

Old HTC Vive link box

With the best tracking on the market already, HTC is concentrating on improving the Vive in other areas. This includes improving physical comfort, increasing the resolution and minimizing the cable mess. To that end, they have redesigned the Link Box for the Pro version. Instead of having a USB Type-A port, an HDMI port and an AC power port, on the headset side, they now have a single, integrated cable. 

On the computer side, out of practical necessity, they still have a USB Type-B port, a power port for an AC adapter, and a Mini DisplayPort for the video. The old HDMI connection is gone. 

The New HTC Vive Pro Link Box

HTC have redesigned the Link Box for the Vive Pro

In the comfort area, they have completely redesigned the head strap, drawing. The viewing portion is hinged, like the Windows Mixed Reality visors, making it easier to put on and take off. Also like the WMR headsets, you can tighten or loosen it by rotating a dial at the back. But because it is somewhat heavier than the WMR headsets, it still needs - and has - an overhead strap. 

This arrangement serves to distribute the weight well, adding to user comfort. It also stays in place well, even when moving around vigorously in the course of active and intense game play! 

HTC Vive Pro from behind

HTC Vive Pro - improved headset design

As far as visual quality is concerned, the Vive Pro matches the Samsung Odyssey and beats the other Windows Mixed Reality headsets currently on the market. The AMOLED display has a resolution of 2880 x 1600. This is a 78% increase in overall pixels over the original Vive's 2160 x 1200. At 615 PPI, it is also a 37% increase in Pixels Per Inch. And like the WMR headsets, it achieves this resolution at a 90 Hz refresh rate. 

It has to be said that even this high resolution is not quite enough to completely eliminate the screen door effect. And while 110 degree FoV is great, others are talking about the more truly immersive 210 degrees, that covers the entire field of vision. 

Also, it still uses the same old Fresnel lenses. This means that those occasional, annoying circular bands of light, still appear every now and then. And of course, to get these benefits you need a high-spec PC on your desk.

However, the new headset is better blocking out of ambient light from external sources, thanks to a redesigned nose pad which is also more comfortable than before. 

HTC Vive Pro frontal view

HTC Vive Pro - the real deal

Another area, where HTC have pushed ahead is in audio quality. The Vive Pro comes with built-in, noise cancelling audio its own headphones attached. On the left earpiece is a two button volume control.

HTC Vive Pro from the side

HTC Vive Pro from the side

But maybe the most interesting feature of all is that the headset will also have a pair of forward facing cameras. It is not yet clear what these are for. It could be for use with the VR Chaperone system, to prevent you from bumping into walls or other obstacles when you play highly active games. But it may be that HTC have other uses in mind. Watch this space... 

The HTC Vive Pro arrives

The HTC Vive Pro has arrived!

VERDICT: Major improvement on the Vive, could be improved more in the resolution and FoV areas.  And the price is WAY too high! 

March 20, 2018

Avegant scales down AR project

Avegant AR light-field technology headset

A year ago, Bay area company Avegant (maker of a personal cinema system) announced that they were developing an Augmented Reality headset using their light field technology. But in February they replaced CEO Joerg Tewes with company founder Ed Tang. And now they have laid off 30 of their 50 workers.

Tang has said that despite the downsizing, the company remains committed to developing an AR headset. Avergant’s AR division is in direct competition with Microsoft’s HoloLens and Magic Leap. In some respects, the parallels to Magic Leap are stronger, because Magic Leap claims to have developed light field technology. But whilst Avegant has already demonstrated their technology in the Glyph – aiming light directly into the eye – Magic Leap continues to play its cards close to its chest.

Avegant demoed the technology to The Verge over a year ago and it was deemed superior to the HoloLens, despite the fact that HoloLens was a standalone wireless device, whereas the Avegant required the processing power of a high-spec PC. The main strengths of the Avegant headset were its superior field of view and the sharpness and clarity of its image display.

Avegant Glyph with light field technology

Avegant Glyph

The demo – in a conference room at Avegant’s corporate offices - included views of the solar system and the ocean floor. In the solar system view which one could see Jupiter’s red spot and a satellite orbiting earth. What was so impressive about this demo was that objects of different focal length could be shown in a fixed environment. The Verge writer gave the example of squinting until the sun went out of focus and then seeing the virtual Saturn in sharp focus, including its rings.

There was also a sea view that showed a sea turtle and small, aquatic creatures in sharp definition. The reporter was able to stick his hand into the images, but because the prototype didn’t yet have an advanced tracking system, it was not possible to interact with it. In the HoloLens demo, in contrast, one can tap on one’s coffee table to trigger a display of virtual molten lava.

The demo in fact used the public asset library of the Unity game engine for the images and off-the-shelf cameras for the tracking to identify real objects in the room. Avegant’s long-term strategy calls for inside-out tracking to avoid the need for external cameras or trackers.

Ongoing Mysteries

To some extent, Avegant is also somewhat secretive about its technology. While refusing to reveal precisely how the company implements light field technology, Founder and new CEO Tang hinted that the HoloLens is based on conventional 3D stereoscopy. Microsoft’s own secrecy policy has prevented them from revealing details of their “light engine”.

Similarly, Rony Abovitz, the CEO of Magic Leap, has criticized Microsoft’s image creation technology and claimed that Magic Leap’s is superior. However, given the absence of evidence that anyone outside Microsoft knows what technology they are using – and given Magic Leap’s own secrecy, there is no way of knowing who has the best technology. All we know for sure is that Avegant has had practical market experience of light field technology, while Magic Leap has had $1.3 million in funding and backing from Google parent Alphabet, while Microsoft has huge size and a range of experience.

Man wearing an Avegant headset

Man wearing an Avegant headset

It might be the financial disadvantage that has forced Avegant to scale back its efforts in AR. It is worth noting that despite Microsoft’s size – or maybe because of it – they released what was essentially a far from finished product and then charged $3000 for it. In contrast, Avegant’s personal cinema retailed for $799 – the price point for many high-end VR and AR products.

Avegant still in the AR race

The sudden downsizing and replacement of the CEO suggests that Avegant is having trouble matching its larger competitors when it comes to funding. Ed Tang himself has said that the company is in the process of closing a $10 million funding round that would bring their total capital raised to $60 million since the company’s inception in 2012.

Avegant AR light-field technology headset

Avegant AR headset

However, there are several more serious omens that bode ill for the company. It has noticeably lowered its public profile on Facebook and Twitter in the last few months, despite a very active and vigorous presence before that. And the last time it posted a new video on its YouTube channel was half a year ago.

This can suggest one of two things: either it is going through some kind of malaise that threatens its very existence, or it is legally obliged to go quiet because it is planning to announce an initial public offering and doesn’t want to be seen as hyping a product still in development, that is nowhere near market ready. The downsizing suggests the former. However, it could also be a strategy to ensure that the company is optimized for efficiency when it launches on the stock market.

March 16, 2018

VR Shakespeare gets new dimension

Virtual Reality Shakespeare

According to a report by Jo Bowman in Research Live, The Royal Shakespeare Company has been doing research into audience viewing experiences, comparing live stage theater, cinema broadcast and viewing the performances through a VR headset, using a group of 107 test subjects. But what are the results of this VR Shakespeare?

The play they selected for their VR Shakespeare experiment was Titus Andronicus, a play co-written by William Shakespeare and George Peele. Reputedly, Shakespeare’s most bloodthirsty play, Titus tells the story of bloodthirsty feuding in ancient Rome and the kingdom of the Goths.

Becky Loftus, who heads the RSC’s “Audience Insight” section explained that the audience was initially divided to see the play either in the cinema or via a VR headset and that their heart rates were monitored by a wrist-worn device. Interviews were also conducted with the subjects afterwards. The choice of Titus Andronicus might have been because of its high levels of violence and gore, commonly attributed to Peele rather than Shakespeare.

The live audience saw the play at Stratford-upon-Avon, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Assisted by MORI and their formidable experience in statistical research, the two groups were matched demographically, taking into account such factors as age, gender and previous theater experience.

The research was subsequently expanded to include a further group who watched the play through a VR headset. For the VR Shakespeare aspect of the experiment, the performance was filmed in 360-degree VR by Gorilla In The Room and shown to the VR group of subjects via the HTV Vive headset.

Titus Andronicus - VR Shakespeare

Titus Andronicus

The results showed that watching Titus Andronicus was the equivalent of a 5-minute cardio workout, across all viewing platforms: live theater, cinema and Virtual Reality headset. This took the form of elevated heart-rates at various times during the play’s performance. The effect was more pronounced in men than in women. However, at the start of the performance, the heart-rates were higher in the live theater than in either of the other groups. Although the reason has not been established, the researchers theorized that this was due to elevated levels of anticipation.

According to Pippa Bailey of Ipsos MORI, 91% of the VR Shakespeare group experienced “moments” when they felt as if they in the theater. In contrast, only 64% of the cinema group had similar experiences. According to cognitive scientist Dr Alistair Goode of Gorilla in the Room, “It showed the potential virtual reality has for use within research – its uncanny ability to replicate real experiences, and respondents’ tolerance for being in VR, opens up an entirely new world for us as researchers.”

Becky Loftus added: “This unique study has allowed us to understand the parallels and differences that theater, cinema and a 360 filmed VR can bring. Specifically, this research will allow us to understand the potential that VR can bring to truly replicate reality and understand how people respond, what they attend to and how they react. The potential applications in the research industry to better understand responses to different experiences, environments and stimuli are significant.”

In the post-performance interviews with the subjects, the theater audience expressed the greatest sense of interaction with the actors. But those watching via VR indicated a higher level of engagement than those who view the performance in the cinema. On the other hand, the cinema audience found the performance more “moving”. The researchers attribute this to the use of close-ups, directing the audience to specific details, such as facial expressions showing the emotional pain of some of the characters. In contrast, the theater and VR Shakespeare audiences could move their heads freely to see such details as they wanted, with no close-ups or external direction.

There were also some other technical differences in the way the different groups saw the performances. For example, the VR Shakespeare group saw the play in five acts - which is how Shakespeare actually wrote it - rather than the normal two-act structure of modern theater. However, individual subjects could choose whether to watch the play with breaks or not. The 360° method of filming also meant that viewers could turn their heads around and see other audience members.

Sarah Ellis, Director of Digital Development at the RSC observed that: “The results have shown us that even after 400 years, Shakespeare’s work packs an emotional punch to today’s audiences wherever and however it is experienced.

March 15, 2018

New HTC Vive Pro

HTC Vive Pro

HTC have promised that the new HTC Vive Pro would be available by the end of Q1 2018 - and that’s barely two weeks away! But we’ve got a sneak preview of it today.

First of all, the HTC Vive Pro Link Box has been redesigned to avoid having three connections. The old link box (see below) had a USB Type-A port, an HDMI port and an AC power port on the headset side. On the computer side, it had a USB Type-B port, a power port for an AC adapter, an HDMI port and an alternative Mini DisplayPort as an alternative to HDMI.

Old HTC Vive link box

Old HTC Vive link box

The new Link Box, revealed by Cloudgate co-founder Steve Bowler, shows that on the headset side, providing power, data and video. On the computer side it has a power connection, a USB data connection and a DisplayPort for the video. This time, there is no HDMI alternative.

The New HTC Vive Pro Link Box

The New HTC Vive Pro Link Box

So what do we know about it? In design terms, it has a hinged headband to make it easy to put on or take off. This is not continuous or smooth. It snaps into two fixed positions: angled up 90 degrees and down in the normal worn position. And it can be worn over glasses - always a good thing. But what else? When you want to tighten or loosen it to fit right, you just turn a dial at the back, HTC, it would seem, have learned from others.

The result is a headset that is comfortable to wear and seems to have really good weight distribution. I say “seems to have” because you can only tell for sure if you wear it for a long time. I can say, that once you put it on and tighten it, you can count on it to stay in place, even as you play games that involve vigorous movement.

HTC Vive Pro from behind

HTC Vive Pro from behind - the dial is to tighten the headstrap

There is also better blocking out of ambient light from external sources, because the nose pad has also been redesigned.

Resolution is 2880 x 1600 (AMOLED) - up from 2160 x 1200 on the original HTC Vive. This is a 78% increase in overall pixels. And at 615 PPI, it is also a 37% increase in Pixels Per Inch. This means, in practice, that the Vive Pro (or Vive 2.0) matches the resolution of the Samsung Odyssey and beats the other Windows Mixed Reality headsets currently on the market. This is not enough to completely eliminate the screen door effect. Also, it still has the same old Fresnel lenses. This means that those occasional, annoying circular bands of light, still appear every now and then.

HTC Vive Pro frontal view

HTC Vive Pro frontal view

The resolution is also not enough to make text completely sharp. But it is a lot sharper than before and so this is a marked improvement on the first generation Vive. And the visual quality of the graphics as a whole was also a big improvement. But remember that you’ll need some pretty high spec processor power at the computer end to exploit this resolution at 90 Hz, without dropped frames or latency problems.

The headset also comes with its own headphones attached. Made of plastic, they have a volume control in the left ear. The control takes the form of two buttons. This is quite common for audio headsets in general, but not so common for Virtual Reality headsets. It is probably more useful in VR than in passive audio listening. After all, who wants to break off while in the middle of a game. That said, it is quite difficult to hit the right button when wielding a wand, but you get the hang of it eventually.

HTC Vive Pro from the side

HTC Vive Pro from the side

The sound quality itself was good, with no noticeable distortion. HTC have said that the market version will have noise-cancelling properties in the headphones.

The headset will also have a pair of forward facing cameras. This is presumably for a VR Chaperone system, to prevent you from bumping into walls or other obstacles when you play highly active games.

HTC Vive Pro looking up

HTC Vive Pro looking up

​​​As things stand, then, ​this headset matches the Samsung Odyssey on spec but it remains to be seen what the price point will be. But at least we’ll only have to wait two weeks and a bit to find out.

March 12, 2018

Irish VR education company gets London & Irish IPO

Apollo 11 Moon landing

VR Education Holdings has just launched an IPO on the Irish and London alternative stock exchanges. 

In an earlier newsfeed, we covered VR making an appearance in the classroom in America. Now an Irish startup is due to produce a similar disruption in the British educational environment. Now VR Education Holdings has just started trading on ESM - the Enterprise Securities Market of the Irish Stock Exchange as well as the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) in London.

The Waterford based company, which specializes in delivering digital education in a virtual environment, is the first Irish technology company to launch on ESM since the market was created in 2005.

The formalities of the admission protocols required that they raise £6 million (€6.7million). In the event the initial public offering of 60 million 10p shares was oversubscribed more than three times, giving the company an implied market value of £19.3 million (€21.6 million).

The deal was brokered by Shard Capital Partners LLP and the Davy Group, with the Davy Group also acting as ESM advisor and Cairn Financial Advisers LLP as Nominated advisor. Shares in the VR Education Holdings are currently trading at 11.75p - 12% higher than their launch price.

Deirdre Somers, the CEO of the Irish Stock Exchange said that it was “fantastic to see VR Education Holdings at a relatively stage of their development, utilise the ESM to access international pools of capital to deliver the finance they need to fuel their growth.” She added that “VR Education’s IPO success demonstrates that listing on an exchange is an option for SMEs with a great business, ambition and plans to scale.”

Before the stock market launch, the company had already raised €1.3 million in venture capital from Enterprise Ireland, Kernel Capital Venture Funds, Suir Valley Ventures.

The company currently employs 21 full-time employees as graphic artists, animators, developers, researchers and marketers. Early products of the company, from its pre-IPO period, include Apollo 11 Experience and its Engage platform.

The award-winning Apollo 11 VR was a recreation of the 1969 moon landing that sold over 100,000 and brought in €1 million in revenue. It was available for the Sony Playstation and the Oculus Rift. Since then they have released Titanic VR, a virtual exploration of the wreck of the Titanic.

In a recent interview, Dave Whelan, the CEO of VR Education said he wanted to turn “educators into rock stars.” However, on a more serious note, one of the company’s main objectives is to bring down the cost of education. Although by no means a new concept - Coursera got their first, and Britain’s Open University even before that - bringing virtual reality into the process adds another dimension - literally!

The company is planning on releasing a series of 10 free lectures with Oxford University. They will also be creating content for paid access and some content exclusively for particular institutions. Online learning has something of a mixed reputation as only about 15% of students finish online courses that they start, according to VR Education. However, the company believes that its virtual reality approach will be more engaging: hence the name of their platform.

VR Education CEO Dave Whelan

VR Education CEO Dave Whelan

The education market is growing rapidly. It stood at $187 million in 2016, but is expected to grow to $2 billion by 2021, while the VR market is expected to quintuple to $35 billion by that year. Despite their recent cash infusion, VR Education may not be in a position to dominate that market, in the face of potential competition from bigger players. But they will certainly be able to carve a large chunk of it with their head start.

The Engage platform has the flexibility to be used both academic and corporate education. It can be used for lectures, seminars, conferences and presentations in both secure (closed) and open environments. Content can be live, prerecorded or a mixture of the two.

March 12, 2018

Sony’s Xperia Touch Wow’s the public at SXSW

Sony's Xperia Touch

Sony’s Xperia Touch combines projection with sensor technology to turn any table top, wall or other surface into a touch screen.

Sony first appeared above the horizon in the west during the nineteen sixties, as a maker of good quality, portable (transistor) radios. Since then, they have given us the walkman, Betamax and many fine audio and video products. They have also ventured into computers, the music business and the movie business.

They are known for being innovative. So, it is only natural that they should be out there in the virtual reality and augmented reality industries. And it should come as no surprise that their “Wow “Studio” at SXSW (South by South West) in Austin, Texas should have made such an impact this year, as indeed it did last year.

One of the products on display this time around was a product called Xperia Touch, a projector that turns any flat surface into not merely a screen, but a 23-inch touch screen. That is, it projects an image onto a flat surface which can be horizontal (e.g. a table top) or vertical (a wall) and it used infrared to track your finger as it touches areas of the screen, which can be hotspots in the same as you can have hotspots on a web page.

You can swipe, select, or even move pieces on a board game - anyone for backgammon? What’s more, it can detect your presence when you approach and switch itself on, along with a greeting message on the surface that it is aimed at.

The full specs are:

Weight: 932 g

Dimensions: 69 x 134 x 143 mm

Battery: 1300 mAh (1-hour continuous video playback) - 1000 cycles

Sensors: Microphone, Accelerator*2, e-Compass, GPS, Gyro, ambient light detector, barometer, thermometer, humidity detector, human proximity detector, infrared sensor.

Connectivity: WiFi 11 a/b/g/n/ac (SISO), Microcast sink, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC.

Connectors: USB Type-C, HDMI Type-D

Display: SXRD laser diode projector with 3 x primary colors and LCD shutter, 1366 x 768, autofocus, 23 - 80-inch projection area, 100 lumens, 4000 - 1 contrast.

Main Camera: 13 megapixels.

Indicators: LED

Controls: 10-point multi-touch using IR sensor.

Sound: Two-way stereo speakers.

Power: USB 15 volts.

Xperia Tough from Sony

Xperia Touch from Sony

It is pricey - $1699 at the time of writing - but that is in the nature of nearly all new tech products. As time goes by, the Xperia Touch will come down in price and better versions will come out. But for now, it is out there for those who have the money and want it.

But Sony hasn’t stopped there. They have also showcased a whole swathe of products, pushing the limits of innovation and creativity. They are demonstrating this technology in an interactive exhibit combining images from multiple projectors, sensors and 3D-printed models and props. The whole thing is controlled by custom software. It is not intended as an actual product, more a proof of concept.

The exhibit has attracted praise form the Verge, if only for proving that “something like this is both more accessible and can be experienced collectively, without requiring everybody wear a pair of smart glasses, a VR-style helmet, or even a compatible smartphone with the requisite software."

VERDICT: The product that we'd all LOVE to have - if only we could afford it!

March 2, 2018

Rift overtakes Vive in Steam Hardware survey

Rift versus Vive

Back in October of last year, we covered a report on the Steam hardware survey that showed the Rift catching up with the Vive. Now it seems that the Rift has overtaken the Vive - and that’s official!

In our previous article, we speculated that it might have already been the case. Participation in the survey is optional so there might have been an element of self-selection in favor of the Vive. A further complicating factor was that Rift’s main content platform was the Oculus Home Platform. To Oculus/Facebook, Steam was merely a supplementary content supplier, to expand and enlarge upon their repertoire. In contrast, Steam was the unofficial content platform for the Vive, notwithstanding the fact that HTC ran the Viveport Appstore in tandem, in addition to the Viveport subscription service.


Oculus Rift v Vive

Thus it was never entirely clear who had the lead in the battle for hardware installed base. However, the strong suspicion was that Rift was already in the lead. Now the survey confirms this. After the catching up period between October and December 2017, the Vive and Rift were tied in January.  A photo finish at that stage would have shown only 0.9% between them - a nose in equine racing terms.

However that all changed in February, when the Rift (excuse the pun) opened up. The survey showed the Rift holding 47.31% of the hardware market and Vive a close second with 45.38. Although the gap is small, it’s the first time that Rift has held the lead at all and as such is significant.

Vive Rift

Vive Rift

Also, the Oculus DK2 has a further 1.95% of the market and Windows Mixed Reality has 5.36% - up from 5.17% last month. This past point is important, because WMR has only been around for a few months, compared to over two years for the Vive and Rift. When you consider that the survey looks at customer base rather than current sales, this could be ominous. Add to this the fact that WMR can also run Windows apps and Rift apps with Revive and that self-selection element kicks in with a vengeance. The customer base for the WMR range is probably bigger than the survey implies.

As for the head to head between the Vive and the Rift, these figures are all very unofficial. Neither Facebook (owners of Oculus) nor HTC (owners of the Vive) have given out any official sales figures. But the trend is consistent with other data. Rift was also voted the “Most Popular Headset” for the second time.

However none of the competitors are standing still. HTC are about to release the Vive Pro- a high-end headset that will probably have a very high resolution and FoV spec, but will almost certainly command a premium price.