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Monthly Archives: May 2018

May 15, 2018

Oculus Rift v HTC Vive v HTC Pro – quick snapshot

oculus-rift-v-htc-vive

This is brief snapshot of the key differences between the Oculus Rift v the HTC Vive and HTC Vive Pro. We offer a more detailed comparison for techies and anyone else interested.

HEADSET:

Display:

Resolution:

Refresh Rate:

Platform:

Field of View:

Tracking Area:

Audio:


Controller:



Sensors:





Connections:

OCULUS RIFT

OLED

2160 x 1200

90Hz

Oculus Home, SteamVR

110 degrees

5 x 5 feet (2 sensors)
8 x 8 feet (3 sensors)

Headstrap earphones


Oculus Touch,
Xbox One controller


Accelerometer
Gyroscope, magnetometer
Constellation tracking cam


HDMI
USB 2.0
USB 3.0

HTC VIVE

OLED

2160 x 1200

90Hz

SteamVR, VivePort

110 degrees

15 x 15 feet

Headstrap earphones


Vive controller
PC compatible gamepads


Accelerometer gyroscope
Lighthouse laser tracking
Front-facing camera


HDMI
USB 2.0
USB 3.0

HTC PRO

AMOLED

2880 x 1600

90Hz

SteamVR, VivePort

110 degrees

33 x 33 feet

Headstrap earphones w/ in-line amplifier

Original Vive controller, 
PC compatible gamepad
New Vive controller,

Accelerometer
Gyroscope
Lighthouse laser tracking Dual front-facing cameras, Support for Lighthouse 2.0


USB-C 3.0, DisplayPort 1.2, Bluetooth

As mentioned above, this is just a quick summary. We go into more detail for those who like the details..

May 15, 2018

Oculus Rift v HTC Vive v HTC Pro – the three-way face-off

Rift versus Vive

This is a three way comparison between the Oculus Rift v the HTC Vive and HTC Vive Pro. We have reviewed the products separately elsewhere on this site. Here we subject the specs to a straight comparison, side by side, so that you can really see what you're getting.

HEADSET:

Display:

Resolution:

Refresh Rate:

Platform:

Field of View:

Tracking Area:


PC Connection:

Audio:


Microphone:

Controller:



Sensors:





Connections:


Minimum computer spec:
















Price:

OCULUS RIFT

OLED

2160 x 1200

90Hz

Oculus Home, SteamVR

110 degrees

5 x 5 feet (2 sensors)
8 x 8 feet (3 sensors)

Wired

Headstrap earphones


Single

Oculus Touch,
Xbox One controller


Accelerometer
Gyroscope, magnetometer
Constellation tracking cam


HDMI
USB 2.0
USB 3.0

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 / AMD Radeon RX 470 or greater


Intel Core i3-6100 / AMD FX4350 or greater

8GB+ RAM

Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output

2x USB 3.0 ports

Windows 7 SP1 or newer

$400

HTC VIVE

OLED

2160 x 1200

90Hz

SteamVR, VivePort

110 degrees

15 x 15 feet


Wired, Wireless

Headstrap earphones


Single

Vive controller
PC compatible gamepads


Accelerometer gyroscope
Lighthouse laser tracking
Front-facing camera


HDMI
USB 2.0
USB 3.0

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 /AMD Radeon RX 480 equivalent or greater

Intel Core i5-4590 equivalent or greater

4GB+ of RAM

Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output

1x USB 2.0 port

Windows 7 SP1 or greater

$500

HTC PRO

AMOLED

2880 x 1600

90Hz

SteamVR, VivePort

110 degrees

33 x 33 feet


Wired, Wireless

Headstrap earphones w/ in-line amplifier

Dual

Original Vive controller, 
PC compatible gamepad
New Vive controller,

Accelerometer
Gyroscope
Lighthouse laser tracking Dual front-facing cameras, Support for Lighthouse 2.0


USB-C 3.0, DisplayPort 1.2, Bluetooth

Nvidia GTX 1060 / AMD Radeon RX 480 equivalent or  greater

Intel Core i5-4590 equivalent or greater


4GB+ of RAM

DisplayPort v1.2

1x USB-A 3.1 port

Windows 8.1 or Windows 10

$800

May 14, 2018

Higher screen resolution is on its way

Higher screen resolution

When Apple first launched its “Retina display”, they chose the term “retina” not because these higher screen resolution displays would sit close to the eye. Rather, it was because it was supposed to be so good that the eye couldn't distinguish the individual dots. That was at the distance people held their smart phones - about one foot.

Retina gave users a resolution of about 300 ppi (pixels per inch). Indeed for computers (laptops, desktops and tablets) a lower pixel density also worked. Viewers couldn't see individual pixels on Retina displays. However when it came to VR displays, that resolution fell short. Even at 300 ppi, virtual reality headsets suffered from the so-called “screen door effect.” This meant that it was as if you were standing in front of a mesh screen door.

However, this is about to change in a week’s time at the SID’s Display Week in Los Angeles, on May 22. That's because displays of 1000 ppi and even 2000 ppi will appear there. This is something of a quantum leap over what is currently available. (Back in June 2017, we reported that Samsung was working on a GearVR model with 2000 dpi density. Currently we have no further information on that effort into higher screen resolution.)

However, it is worth remembering that the Apple first introduced the Retina display for the iPhone 4 in 2010. Older readers may remember that 25 years earlier, Apple introduced 300 dots per inch resolution for their LaserWriter printer. Ironically, printers have evolved beyond that. Printer density went up to 600 dpi and then to 1200 dpi. And this despite the fact that we don’t hold printed pages any close to our eyes than we used to.

Higher screen resolution: increasing pixel density

Unfortunately, similar improvements in pixel density for video displays have been stubbornly evasive. But this is a problem. The smartphone brought the screen closer to our eyes and the VR and AR display close still. So we can now look at printed images without seeing the dots, but we aren't so lucky with the pictures on our screens.

Now obviously some progress has been made in achieving higher screen resolution. Manufacturers have managed to push the 1080p screen format (1080 pixels height x 1920 width) into smaller screens. That's why we've got smartphones. Thus Apple introduced the 458 ppi “Super Retina display” on the iPhoneX. In effect, they maintained the existing resolution but improved brightness, sharpness and color fidelity.

However we still hold smartphones a comfortable 12 inches from our eyes. Not so for VR headsets. With head mounted displays, we have the screen an inch or so from our eyes. At that distance, the image must actually be focused on the eye. But even with the lens to focus the image, 400 ppi so close to your eyes creates a screen door effect. This the motivating factor behind the push for higher screen resolution.

Virtual Reality is driving higher screen resolution

The latest HTC Vive Pro, has improved resolution by 50%, achieving a pixel density of 615 ppi. But even this doesn't completely eliminate the screen door effect. Moreover, the Field of View of the Vive Pro is still only 110°. This still falls significantly short of the holy grail of Virtual Reality: filling the user’s central and peripheral vision with an FoV of 200° or 210°. To achieve that sort of FoV, and eliminate the screen door effect, will take lots of work. Aside from the screen display technology itself, it’s going to be pretty demanding on processing power. This is especially true given that VR gamers have grown accustomed to a 90 Hz refresh rate!

With VR it is not just about proximity. The lens doesn't just focus the image, it magnifies the dots. And this causes the user to see those dots. But the stronger the lens, the greater the distortion. If we can increase lens strength without loss of sharpness, then the screen can be made smaller. This will make it possible to build smaller VR headsets.Then we can get rid of the oversized monstrosities we have at present.

In an effort to develop higher screen resolution, Sony have teamed up with Toshiba and Hitachi on a venture called Japan Display (JDI). Last year JDI was working to achieve a pixel density of 803 ppi. However, they decided that even this was not enough and so they set their sights on 1001 ppi. And they achieved it. These advances, were aided by advances in lens technology, to focus the image over shorter distances, enabling the headset to shrink.

Higher screen resolution means Crossing the 1000 ppi barrier

JDI has also reduced the response time from 4.5 milliseconds to 2.2 and increased the refresh rate to 120 Hz. In effect, JDI has decided to bypass its own 803 ppi breakthrough and go straight to 1001 ppi. But while they will be showcasing the technology next week, commercial products with this resolution will not be available until March 2019. However JDI promises that even more advanced products will follow rapidly.

However, the Sony-Toshiba-Hitachi alliance isn’t the only player in the running. INT, a Taiwanese company claims to have developed 2228 ppi displays for Virtual Reality, under a team headed by David Chu, using “ultra high pixel density” AMOLED technology. However, whilst Chu’s team have announced the pixel density, they haven’t revealed the overall resolution, colour contrast, brightness, refresh rate or FoV. One thing is for sure: such resolution will not only reduce screen door effect, it will also alleviate vergence-accommodation conflict (VAC).

Meanwhile a partnership between LG and Alphabet (Google’s parent) has developed a 4.3 inch OLED display, built around 18 megapixels, with a density of 1443 ppi. That’s more than JDI, but less than INT.

We need processing power to match the graphics

In a week’s time, these displays will be unveiled to the public for the first time. All such technologies offer the prospect of sharper images and higher, more all-encompassing, FoV.

However, such resolutions - especially at the high refresh rate and low-latency required by VR gamers - will make heavy demands on computing power. Even high-end desktops struggle to deliver consistent and good performance at present-day, VR resolution, latency and refresh specs. And the trend - or at least the aspiration - is that VR will be liberated from the constraints of physical connectivity or even wireless connectivity to an external box. To bring these graphics advances to fruition on VR platforms, will require similar progress in graphics processing technology.

And it remains to be be seen how quickly that can be accomplished.

May 2, 2018

Oculus Go – it’s here

Oculus Go

The Oculus Go, that we previewed last December, has finally arrived. And make no mistake, it's a game changer! Because it comes into a market that is currently divided between high-end systems that need base stations and high-processor computers on the one hand, or headsets that simply serve as housing for smart phones. The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift lead the former category, while Google Daydream and Samsung GearVR lead the the latter.

However, you must pay a king's ransom for the former - and that's just the headset. Add to that the cost of a high-end computer, and you're spending tops two grand!  If you buy a smart phone VR headset you save money but get limited graphics and tracking. Having said that, tracking is limited with the Oculus Go too.

Of course, you could get a cheap alternative to the high-end Vive or Rift buy purchasing one the new range of Windows Mixed Reality products that we reviewed in February. You don't need a base station for WMR. But to use a WMR headset you still have to plug it into a computer.


Oculus Go

Light in every sense: the Oculus Go

Versatile, flexible and affordable

Now you can buy a true standalone VR headset: the Oculus Go. And at under $200 for the 32GB version, it's going to be a serious competitor. Because, the fact that it is a standalone product, and doesn't need any other hardware, makes it intensely competitive. (There is a companion app for Android and iPhones, but this is only used for the initial setup. There is also a 64GB version that comes in just under $250. (In the UK, you pay more unfortunately.)

The first sign of change was Facebook's acquisition of Oculus. Just that act signaled a clear goal to bring virtual reality to the masses. That is why Mark Zuckerberg stated in a keynote speech that "we have to make sure virtual reality is accessible to everyone and we have to work both on affordability and quality.”

Oculus Go - Mark Zuckerberg keynote speech

Mark Zuckerberg keynote speech

Oculus Go specs

Inside the books is the Oculus Go headset, a wireless controller with a trigger button and two other buttons (attached to a lanyard that loops round the wrist), a power adapter and USB cable, the battery, a cloth to wipe the lenses and a "glasses spacer".

As we predicted in our earlier article, the display is a single panel Quad High Definition, 16:9, LCD display with a 2560 x 1440 resolution. This is better than the Rift’s 2160 x 1200 OLED display that was, split between two panels. The pixel density is also better than its high-end rivals, at 538 PPI compared to 455.63 for the Rift and HTC Vive. However, it is less than the Vive Pro's impressive 615 PPI.

But Facebook have given the Oculus Go better lenses than the Rift. These lenses are designed to eliminate the screen door effect in which the fine lines between the pixels become visible. Also, contrary to our original report, Oculus have built a microphone into the Oculus Go. They also very thoughtfully provided a 3.5 mm din jack for those who wish to use their own headphones instead of the built-in speakers.

The Oculus Go controller

The Oculus Go controller

It has Cons as well as Pros

The Oculus Go powers up fast, at the press of the button. When the battery is fully charged it runs between 2 and 2.5 hours of passive watching video or between 1.5 and two hours of gaming. The problem is that the charging time is longer. You can wait for up to three hours. That's a serious negative - excuse the pun!

Both the Oculus Go headset and the controller have only three degrees of freedom instead of six. That's pitch, roll and yaw, but no positional tracking. But then again, you could call that a safety feature. If you don't have a play area, protected by lighthouses and chaperone mode, you might run into a wall. This way, there's no incentive for the player to move about. Of course, you might think that's a waste the Go's main feature - the fact that it is not tethered. But Facebook decided to make compromise for space and cost as well as safety.

The Oculus Go in action

The Oculus Go in action

Fortunately, the designers have also paid attention, and not merely lip-service, to comfort. Thus, like the Google Daydream, the Oculus Go is made with breathable fabrics. The elastic straps are soft and make the Go adjustable. You can wear it with your glasses and Oculus will soon be selling accessories to make it even more customizable, including prescription lenses and an alternative facial interface, to accommodate wider faces.

Content is King

And the good news is that it comes with a lot of content already available. There are over 1000 items currently available, a mixture of games, movies and other apps. Some of these are old. But about 100 of them are new or major updates of older content.

There are also several new, exciting things scheduled, or maybe I should say planned. These include Oculus TV and Oculus Venues. The former is in some ways like what is already on offer from the Royole Moon. You will be able to use it to watch content from Netflix, Showtime and Hulu, Redbull, Pluto TV, ESPN and of course content from Facebook itself. Oculus Venues is an app designed to bring the user live concerts and sports events from all over the glove.

VERDICT: A good mid-range product, marred by the long charge time and only 3DoF. Still, a good buy at this price!

May 1, 2018

VR Theme Park in China

Robot in China's new VR theme Park

If anyone doubts China’s capacity to lead rather than follow, this report should come as a rude awakening. China’s new VR theme park is unlike any other in the world. Instead of physical rides like roller coasters and shootout games, it has 35 Virtual Reality rides. These include VR equivalents of roller coasters and shoot-em-up games, as well as spaceships, castles and outsize robots.

China's VR theme park


Castles in the air? Well, almost

Welcome to Oriental Science Fiction Valley, a 330 acre VR theme park in Guizhou province in south west China. Initial reports erroneously stated the cost of the theme park as $1.5 billion. This would have rather made a mockery of one of the principal benefits of VR: lower cost. However, the cost was actually $470 million.

VR theme park roller coaster

A VR roller coaster ride

Chen Jianli, the theme park’s CEO explained:

There’s fierce competition in the theme park market right now. We are trying to give customers a new experience by combining modern technologies such as VR and [augmented reality] with traditional recreational facilities. The sci-fi part of it is important for the feeling it creates.

VR theme park novelty

Virtual reality has been used in other theme parks in the past, but always in addition to conventional rides, never as a complete replacement. For example, In the USA, Samsung collaborated with the Texas based Six Flags Entertainment Corporation to create virtual reality rides.  Similarly, the Florida-based Legoland combined a real roller coaster with VR to create the Great Lego Race VR Coaster. That's obviously not the same as a true VR theme park.

The Oriental Science Fiction Valley theme park, however, relies largely, almost entirely on VR on all its rides. The Chinese authorities took a conscious decision to locate this VR theme park in one of the poorest provinces in China, in the hope of generating a tourist boom that could benefit the local economy. Apple computers has a data centre in the province.

VR is seen as a new growth area for China, and this latest investment shows that they are more than just dipping their toes into the water.