Category Archives for "News"

January 5, 2018

Royole Moon review – the lowdown

I had the opportunity to try out the Royole Moon briefly while on my travels in the USA. But now we have been loaned the latest version for a more detailed review. To get an overall perspective on the product, we recommend that you read both reviews. This will give you the full picture.

What is the Royole Moon

The Royole Moon is a personal cinema or movie theater. You can use it to watch movies, television, videos, internet content and even a monitor for computer games. It can receive content from any device with an HDMI, USB or WiFi output and it can store 32 GB of data on the smartphone-sized box that powers it. In other words, the box does double duty as the power source and the data source.

It can also receive data via WiFi – and in fact is WiFi -ready. Indeed, when we first started using it, the first thing we did was go to settings and set it up for WiFi. It showed a list of WiFi accounts within range, we selected ours, entered the password and that was it. We were set up and ready to go.

From there we went to YouTube and proceeded to feast our eyes – and ears – on content to suit our eclectic taste. Music, comedy and live news from various sources.

But let’s break it down into elements.

Moon_White_Angle

Navigation

The Royole Moon uses touch controls for navigation. After pressing the round button on the box to switch it on the headset, you control the unit almost entirely from the right headphone with swipes or slides of the fingers on the surface. The outer rim controls the volume and the inner circle controls the rest. Slide clockwise or anticlockwise round the outer rim to make it louder or quieter respectively. Swipe left, right up and down on the inner circle of the right headphone to move between icons on the screen. To start/stop the current content, you simply single tap on the inner circle. Double tap to go back to the previous screen or operation

Also, slide (rather than swipe) your finger along the inner circle when you are in browser mode on the internet. This moves the cursor, in much the same way as you would on a trackpad. But When you have to enter data on the virtual keyboard for the browser (or the mini-keyboard for YouTube) you must use the more awkward swiping method to move one letter at a time, whether sideways, up or down.

All of this is pretty much intuitive, and I more or less figured it out without reading the instruction manual, or even the quick start guide.

Well I say intuitive, but it was not all plain sailing. Because the swiping method (as distinct from the sliding method with a cursor) is actually quite awkward and easy to get wrong. This made it rather hard to enter letters when it came to making a specific selection on YouTube.

When you have to move a cursor one step at a time and then tap once (and only once) to select a letter, it is very easy to make a mistake and enter the wrong letter. And then, having to go to the back button to delete the erroneous letter, adds to the frustration. Then if you want to select the same letter twice and tap twice without pausing, the system thinks you have selected the go-back option and takes you to the previous screen or menu level!

In fact, it is fair to say that the single most frustrating experience with the Royole Moon is trying to correct entry errors and selection choices

Now obviously, you couldn’t have an actual touch keypad because you are cocooned inside a headset. However, they could have used the cursor and the sliding method, to enable the user to home in quickly on the relevant letter on a virtual keyboard, followed by a tap to select that letter. Hopefully. Royole will change it to this method in the future.

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Eyepiece diopters

Now this is one of the cleverest features of the Royole Moon. Not everyone has the same sized head. Consequently, not everyone’s eyes are spaced equally apart. The Royole Moon makes allowance for this by enabling the eye pieces to be moved to the left or right, varying the distance between the pupils from 58 – 70 mm. You just press the button-dials gently in and slide them to the right positions for your eyes. I noticed that the one on the left was slightly stiffer to the touch than the one on the right. I don’t know if this is true of every model.

Ignoring the stiffness, however, I noticed a slight problem. If I had the eyepieces pushed close together, I could see the “screen” perfectly with no visible “division” between the two eye-views, but the corners of the screen (especially the lower corners) were truncated. This probably means I had the eyepieces too close together.

However, when I pushed the eyepieces further apart, while I could then see all four corners of the screen, I could also see two faint curved lines in the middle, separating the views, suggesting that the eyepieces were now too far apart. The best way to describe this is when you try to focus on something very close to your eyes and see the sides of your nose. A slightly better analogy might be when you are looking through binoculars, but do not press the eyepiece close to your eyes.

Royole Moon-Video+Audio in one-2

This leads to another point, that the headset doesn’t feel like it is close enough to the face. This is partly because of the weight. At times it tends to feel like it is slipping and one has to tighten it around the head to keep it in place.

In addition to being movable, the eyepieces have diopter dials that can be rotated to change the focus of each eyepiece separately between -7.0 (near-sighted) and +2.0 (far-sighted). This means most people can wear the RM without glasses! (And this is very important for maintaining a tight seal to keep out the ambient environment and make sure that the experience is truly immersive.)

I found that by shutting each eye and rotating the other, I could get the settings right. I have a slight problem related to my vision that made this a little harder. My left eye is slightly “lazy” in that it takes longer to change focus. So, when tried to set the focus right for left eye it was a little trickier as the eye took longer to settle down on what I was focusing on. Once I had it approximately right, I had to spend a few more seconds fine-tuning it to get it just right – and even then, I’m not entirely sure that I did.

But as I said, that’s a problem with my eyesight. I have exactly the same problem at the optometrist, when they narrow down the left-eye lens selection to a choice of two and then ask me which is sharper. I say, “can I try the other one again… okay, now the first… okay now the second one again…” You get the picture!

Viewing experience

Apart from the above problem of the truncated corners, the viewing experience was an absolute pleasure. The Royole Corporation describes the view as a virtual 800-inch screen. However, that is only meaningful in relation to your notional distance from that screen. And Royole doesn’t say what that notional distance is to justify the 800-inch screen size. I myself cannot put a figure on it either. But it felt a bit like sitting two-thirds of the way forward in the stalls of a large cinema with a wide, curved screen – plus the added “pleasure” of being in the middle of the row and, better still, of being the only customer!

In terms of numbers, we are talking about a 110° field of view – comparable to the best VR headsets currently on the market, but soon to be eclipsed (rumor has it) by a couple of VR headsets breaking the 200° FoV barrier. We’ll see if Royole rises to the challenge.

As mentioned, in order to be able to show 3D, the Moon has separate displays for each eye. Each display has a full 1080p resolution (i.e. 1920 x 1080). The contrast range is 10,000:1, the color is 24-bit RGB and the refresh rate is 60 Hz. This is easy on the eyes.

There is a button for switching the images between 2D and 3D button. However, the device can automatically detect whether the content is 2D or 3D. If you press the button to override the system’s choice you end up feeling like Clarence the cross-eyed lion. (Readers of a certain age will know what I’m talking about.)

Moon_White_Top

Listening experience

The unit includes noise-cancelling headphones that offer very good and faithful sound reproduction. While they did not completely cancel out ambient noise, they did such a good job that within a short time there was a feeling of being completely secluded in the world of whatever content we were watching and/or listening to. And of course, adjusting the volume was dead easy, with a simple slide of the finger clockwise or counterclockwise around the outer rim of the right headphone.

Royole 3D Moon Virtual Mobile Theater-4

Content

There is a big range of content available for the Royole Moon. Any device with an HDMI or USB output can supply content. You can upload videos from a computer to the device. And that means you can watch DVDs and Blu-ray disks via your computer. You can even upload them onto the box and take them with you. The box stores 32 GB, so you can load it with content and take it with you on an airline flight. (The promo video actually shows a passenger putting on the headset and secluding herself from the other passengers in this way.)

And you’ve also got the internet. For that you don’t have to connect via your computer, as the device has very good WiFi. Apart from a couple of occasions when the sound went a bit wobbly, we found it to have a very good connection and to run smoothly. And this was for YouTube, which sometimes has its own bandwidth problems. Also, there are many internet sources of content, including the many TV channels that also offer internet services, especially news channels. Plus of course, that vast world of content on YouTube.

As we reported on August 16, Royole Corporation has signed a deal with Sony to supply movies for the Royole Moon via an app called Royole Lounge. But in fact, any movie that is available on a disk or as a download can be relayed to the headset or transferred to the 32GB box, via HDMI, USB or Wifi. More generally, the Royole Moon has its own operating system (Moon OS)

I tried it out with news, music, sport and even some relaxation videos with quiet music, rivers and waterfalls. It was truly relaxing and the only thing I didn’t like was having to come out of it and back into the real world!

This leads to…

Woman using Royole Moon on a plan

Physical comfort

This is a highly subjective issue. The headset is nicely padded and contoured to fit the round shape of a human head. But it feels a bit heavy and at times there is a sense that it is “pulling downwards”. In order to ensure that it doesn’t admit any ambient light, it is important to make sure that it is fitted tightly. Both the headband that covers the top of the head and the viewing part of the unit can be expanded and contracted (like better quality headphones) to accommodate different size heads.

The padding around the eyes (together with appropriate fitting adjustments) ensures that ambient light is kept out and the experience is truly immersive. However, the bulk of the padding can also create a somewhat claustrophobic feeling. I wouldn’t call it a feeling of suffocation, but my breathing was heavy in the first few minutes of putting it on. This may have been due to the after-effects of a winter cold.

At any rate, once I got used to it, I felt fine. In fact, as I mentioned above, taking it off and coming back into the real-world was also a bit of a psychological adjustment after that wonderful feeling of immersion that I got while wearing it and watching videos.

Some people have complained of feeling sweaty. I didn’t notice that, although the lenses did eventually steam up a bit. But Royole have thought of that and provided a cleaning cloth for those occasions. I only had to use the lens cloth a couple of times and it did the job fine.

Battery Life and Charging

The device charges in a couple of hours and can run for about five hours on a single charge. This is practical in most situations. Even if you were using it on a long-haul flight, you probably wouldn’t be using it continuously. And on long-haul flights, you might even be able to plug it in to recharge it.

 

Royole 3D Moon Virtual Mobile Theater-1

Physical durability

This is not a heavy-duty appliance – and probably not designed to take the kind of knocks and bruises that a gaming headset might be subjected to. However, as the unit that we received for test purposes was on loan, we couldn’t really test its durability. It felt like it could get through normal, everyday usage unscathed.

But a device like this is not always subject to “normal” usage. It is intended to be used not only at home but also “on the road” and for airline trips. In those conditions, it’s bound to take a few knocks. And because it is not really a rugged item, that could be a problem. Royole thoughtfully provides a soft bag for carrying the headset and control box. But I would have preferred a harder case for transit and travel.

But even a hard case couldn’t protect it from the hard knocks that it might take within the home environment. Let’s face it, it will sometimes be used as a pacifier for children and teenagers. As such, one would expect it to get some rough treatment over its normal lifespan.

But it’s not clear if it even could be ruggedized. To so, it would inevitably lose one of its most compelling features…

Royole 3D Moon Virtual Mob

Aesthetics and design

The Royole Moon is one of the most beautifully designed products I have ever seen. When we first unboxed it, we noted that it had the kind of design features we might have expected form a product by Apple. I also noted that it looks like the kind of thing that could have been a prop in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

There is little more we can – or need to – say on this subject, as the pictures speak for themselves.

A young woman wearing the Royole Moon on an airline flight

Value for money

This is a rather difficult question, because there is no getting away from one painful fact: the Royole Moon is expensive.

At $799.00 in the USA and £718.60 in the UK, it is a high price to pay for what is admittedly a wonderful viewing experience. Unlike an expensive, widescreen, high definition television that can be viewed by the whole family at the same time, this headset can only be viewed by one person at a time. Even the benefits of 3D are to a large extent outweighed by the fact that once again (as in the fifties and thirties) 3D hasn’t really caught on. This may be due to the dizzying effects of active viewing glasses or the fact that we only really perceive 3D up to a distance of about 50 feet anyway. Sweeping panoramic views and long shots are not really enhanced by stereoscopic vision. High resolution, contrast and a high refresh rate are far more important.

But that is perhaps a point in the Royole Moon’s favour. It has all these qualities and 3D. Indeed, maybe as more products like this arrive on the market, there will be yet another resurgence of 3D and maybe this time it will catch on. But at this stage, that is pure speculation.

So, I suppose the question should be: would you buy the Royole Moon if you had the money? I don’t mean scraping the money together and forgoing other pleasures. I mean if you were a man or woman of means, and could afford the best, would this be on your shopping list? As I am not a man of means, perhaps I am not the best man to answer this question. I appreciate the beauty of a Rolls Royce, but would I instead buy a  Lamborghini? Or a Tesla? In fact a Tesla is probably the closest analogy, because – like Tesla cars – the Royole Moon is on the cutting edge of technology and its appeal is based on advanced functionality, not snob-appeal. For this reason, my gut feeling is that if you’re the kind of person who can afford the latest “boy’s toys”, this would be on your list of must have items.

I know that I’d buy it!

January 2, 2018

Will 2018 be the Magic Leap year?

Florida-based Magic Leap is a very mysterious company, by any standard. Founded in 2010 by Rony Abowitz. it has raised between $1.4 billion and $2 billion (depending on who you believe) in several rounds of financing. And all this without releasing a product. But in 2017 they did finally announce the forthcoming release a developer’s model and SDK, along with documentation and “learning resources” in 2018. Could this be one more to be added to our best VR list.

What they have developed is a display that projects light into the user’s eyes. This display is something between a full Head Mounted Display, of the kind that one sees with Virtual Reality, and a pair of glasses with attachments of the kind one sees on Augmented Reality hardware.

The company has raised $1.9 billion dollars in several funding rounds based on its R&D, the track record of its personnel and whatever technology it has demonstrated in private to its investors. And while we’re on the subject of investors, they include Google parent Alphabet, Alibaba and Qualcomm. And although not yet out there in the market with a product, they have been busy on several other fronts.

For example, on February 11, 2016, they joined the Entertainment Software Association and a week later they acquired the 3D division of Dacuda, a Swiss computer vision company. Then, in April of that year, they acquired Israeli cybersecurity company Northbit. Two months later, they announced a partnership with the R&D unit of Lucasfilm (a Disney subsidiary).

Although a highly secretive company, some of their known activities suggest that they are also a highly enterprising venture. For example, as far back as December 2014, they had appointed science fiction author Neal Stephenson as “Chief Futurist”. (How many companies have one of those.)

The company’s history is also quite unusual, if their Wikipedia entry is anything to go by:

According to past versions of its website, the startup evolved from a company named “Magic Leap Studios” which around 2010 was working on a graphic novel and a feature film series, and in 2011 became a corporation, releasing an augmented reality app at Comic-Con that year.

However, by late 2014, their publicly available patent and trademark applications suggested that they were aiming to create, not content but actual hardware – specifically augmented reality glasses. Moreover, the design of the product they have now released, suggests that they are aiming for a product that can superimpose a virtual image over a real-world view (i.e. augmented reality) whilst being able to block out the outside world when desired (i.e. virtual reality).

Magic Leap remains highly secretive about the technology, but analysts who have examined their patents have concluded that they use stacked silicon waveguides to project an image directly onto the retinas of the user’s eyes.

Early videos showing not the hardware but input through the device, suggested that it required further development. Overlaid “reflections” were not always where they were supposed to be and overlaid objects did not appear to be fully opaque and were therefore incapable of blocking out light from the real-world objects that they were in front of. This would prevent the Magic Leap from being fully immersive or even as versatile as augmented reality glasses ought to be.

But that was two years ago, and a lot of R&D has gone into this hardware since then.

Unfortunately, Magic Leap has still not given out any information on the price or release date. We know that it will need to be connected not to a computer, but to a dedicated device called a Lightpack. But we know very little else. The company says that the hardware will have sensors, but just what type and what they will “sense” remains a mystery. Visual sensors? Real-space location? Motion?

Magic Leap has hinted that the device will actually be able to “remember” an environment and recreate it later, or at least know how the environment is laid out. They also claim that the full caboodle will respond to voice and gestures and be able to track head and even eye positions. They also say it will have a handheld remote – although why it would need one if it can track gestures is not clear.

Evidently, then, this is a company that prefers to “get it right” behind closed-doors rather than release a kludgy, unfinished product. They have spent a lot of time getting it right and managed to raise a lot of money from companies that understand technology. If I were placing a bet on the breakthrough consumer technology company of 2018, Magic Leap would be a good candidate for my money.

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 (3840×2160) and 210-degree Star VR (5120×1440), 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

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

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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?

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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

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 GreenleafWalter 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).

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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 12, 2017

Airbnb planning to use virtual (and augmented) reality

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Airbnb has just announced that they are going to start integrating virtual and augmented and reality into their business model.

The company – having started off using the internet as an aggregator to link property owners and short-term tenants and tourists, is now adding AR and VR as an extra layer to enhance the user experience. The company has divided the use of these technologies into two areas of application: Before the trip and During the trip.

Before the trip, Airbnb explained on their website, potential travellers could use VR to enable potential customers to view properties that they were considering renting and explore them in more detail than pictures alone can facilitate.The idea is that hosts would be able to scan the apartments and houses creating 360 degree images that could then be viewed either flat (on computer monitors and phone screens) or in VR head-mounted displays. They explain:

Virtual reality gives us an opportunity to reshape where inspiration is drawn from, and take travel planning to the next level. It can also allow people to connect with their destination, host, and co-travelers. Capabilities like 360 photos and 3D scans allow a person to step inside a home or city and understand what to expect and how to orient themselves before they leave the comfort of their own home.

But the company doesn’t stop there. They are also considering ways in which augmented reality could be used to assist travellers in making use of the facilities in the house or apartment. For example, the system could also allow for customers/tenants with AR glasses to see instruction notes overlaid on specific areas of the property or even instructions for specific appliances.

…it can also be stressful when someone doesn’t know how to unlock the door or turn on the hot water for a shower, or when they’re hopelessly lost and everything is in a foreign language.

Augmented reality and related technologies let us recognize surroundings and provide contextual, timely information to navigate these pain points. Just think how welcome, pulling up  directions to the coffee mugs on a mobile device will be first thing in the morning. Or, instant translations on how to work that German thermostat.

However, Airbnb is going further in its ideas of how to enrich the customer experience:

Augmented reality can also breathe life into a space and tell the story behind the personal items to connect a traveler with their host and a new city in richer, more immersive ways.This last idea might seem less practical and more a way of stretching the concept. But it shows that Airbnb are really using their creating imagination to extract maximum value from these emerging technologies.

December 6, 2017

Oculus Go – A Sneak Preview

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.”

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.

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

Avegant Glyph

If instead, the decision-makers had simply opted for the middle ground of passive viewing of 3D content via a personal headset, we’d be there already. Both the Royole Moon and the Avegant Glyph cater to this market.

Having said that, I would have to add the caveat that these products are wildly expensive – the Royole Moon especially – considering that they have no head-tracking, no body tracking and only limited interactivity. While this lack of excess features may give them broader market appeal, it should certainly not add to their prices. One does not pay more for fewer features!

Royole 3D Moon Virtual Mobile Theater-2

Royole 3D Moon Virtual Mobile Theater

But even in its own terms, the Economist article is clearly wrong. They say of VR that “the content has been underwhelming.” Yet there are over 1700 games and apps available for the HTC Vive and 2000+ for the Facebook (formerly Oculus) Rift. That doesn’t sound “underwhelming” to me!

The article also bitches about the expensive and voluminous hardware needed. But where is it written that great technology starts out in miniature? Great technology always starts off bulky and then slims down. Computers that once filled a room can now be balanced on the tip of your finger. Maybe it is just that expectations have grown faster than electronic components have shrunk!

Osmose Virtual Reality Headset -9

Surprisingly, the article that is so heavily “down” on Virtual Reality is surprisingly upbeat on Augmented Reality. Thus, they praise “last year’s overnight success of Pokémon Go” without considering that the “overnight success” was more like an overnight fad – a classic example of Peter Thiel’s dictum “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters” writ large across the business-scape.

The fact that the Economist goes on to praise Pokémon Go for bringing “people closer together” and “promoting a powerful sense of community” says it all. George Orwell’s “two minutes hate” and the populist rallies that inspired it, also brought people together. That doesn’t make it useful in any positive way, let alone marketable in the long run.

They also haven’t considered how useless and impractical it is to hold up a small phone and stare at a small screen. As a passing fad it worked, but like the hoola-hoop, the pogo-stick and the space-hopper, that stimulating bounce – both the market and the physical variety – is soon dampened.

10-VR NEWSFEED - June 21 2017 - Applie iPhone 8 and VR Speculation

Of course, you don’t need a tiny phone screen for AR, notwithstanding Apple’s much hyped ARkit. There are AR glasses too. But their prices dwarf those of the VR headsets – and for even less utility and added value than current VR.

Of course, we need more content. And more will surely come. And of course, we need better hardware: smaller, lighter, higher resolution, bigger field of view, inside-out tracking with lower latency. And, most important: cheaper! But it is very much a chicken and egg question. Both more software and better hardware depend on the prospects of greater uptake. And greater uptake depends on lower prices, more titles and better user experience.

1_Vufine+ - 1

But don’t write VR off just yet. And don’t write off 3D TV either. Maybe the two technologies will converge. Not everyone wants to play. But most people – like Chance the gardener – like to watch. All we need is a high-resolution 3D video headset.

And the Royole Moon and Avegant Glyph are lighting the way. Now, about that price issue…

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!

November 24, 2017

Williams-Sonoma buys AR startup in hundred-million-dollar deal

Laura Alber

San Jose based Augmented Reality startup Outward is being bought up by furniture and kitchenware retailer Williams-Sonoma (WSI). The cash-only deal – worth $112 million – will give WSI access to Outward’s imaging and rendering technology for the home furnishing industry.

Outward’s 3D image capture, measurement and rendering technology offers a perfect fit with Williams-Sonoma, owner of the Pottery Barn and West Elm brands, as well as stores in its own name. A statement from the company making the acquisition says that Outward’s imaging technology will enable them to “enhance and extend its high-touch customer service platform.”

Founded in 2012, Outward raised $11.5 million from Merus Capital in two funding rounds. Their technology is used for capturing furniture and related products in 3D, allowing customers to see the products from all angles and to make selection based on color or pattern. They have pioneered the use of augmented reality and virtual reality in this field.

Williams-Sonoma CEO Laura Alber stated:

Outward brings proprietary and transformative technology at the forefront of our industry, and we welcome them to WSI. We are excited to own and collaborate in the further development of Outward’s technology that enables applications in product visualization, digital room design, and augmented and virtual reality.

Never one to mince her words, Alber is bullish about the future of bricks-and-mortar retail. At the Recode Commerce Event, two months ago, she stated:

Clarence ShuiI certainly don’t think we’re in the midst of a retail apocalypse. I do not believe that and I do not believe that Amazon is killing retailers. I believe retailers’ bad service is killing retailers.

When the acquisition is finalized, by the end of the year, Outward will operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of WSI. It will continue to be run by its co-founder and CEO Clarence Chui.

 

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