EDITORIAL

Oculus Rift S at GDC 2019

MTBS Reviews the Oculus Rift S at GDC 2019

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MTBS will give more detailed product reviews for the Oculus Rift S and Oculus Quest when we have hardware in-hand.  Written by Kris Roberts, this summary is based on our interactions with the Oculus Rift S during Game Developers Conference 2019 and was written shortly thereafter.

 
Oculus Rift S at GDC 2019

Oculus Rift S at GDC 2019

Just for some context, I have been using my original Oculus Rift with iRacing for a couple years and have done over a thousand races with it. We also own a regular Vive which I have used for iRacing but have preferred the Rift for the way it fits on my head. I’ve also kickstarted the Fove headset, auditioned the Odyssey+ and used Vive Pros (but I don’t own one). Two weeks ago I got my Pimax 5K+.

The Rift S is pretty much exactly what I expected from reading the announcement.

The resolution is better than the old Rift and puts it on par with all the other WMR headsets and Vive Pro that run at 1280×1440 per eye. Thats more pixels in both directions and it does look better. But it also seems like the pixel structure is more rectangular, whereas the old rift always looked to me like the screen door was more of a diagonal pattern.

The FOV seems no different, and actually I would say that I saw more obvious hard edges to the sides in my peripheral vision when looking forward.

The audio from the strap sounded good but it was also odd to still be able to hear everything happening in the real world. We were in a quiet demo room, but still the conversations of the other people in the room were distracting and honestly for VR I would prefer to have headphones. It does have a headphone jack, but the integrated headphone on the original Rift seems better in terms of being able to put the whole thing on/off as a unit rather than dealing with headphones and the HMD.

 
Oculus Rift S at GDC 2019

Oculus Rift S at GDC 2019

The tracking was good. I have been disappointed with some of the other inside out tracking systems I’ve tried in terms of drift and stutter in their tracking, but the Rift S was surprisingly solid. I would have believed it was still using external sensors. But we were also in a bright room with high contrast carpet and it may have been a nearly ideal/engineered environment for the tracking to work well.

The software IPD is there, but adjusting it I felt like it was kind of a mystery. With the old Rift there was the green cross hatch pattern and that made it obvious when you had the IPD set correctly. With the Rift S, the setting to change the IPD just gives you a number and up/down arrows and it’s harder to say for sure whether it was correct. Maybe there is a way to get the green cross test pattern back, but in the obvious setting option it wasn’t there. My eyes are unusually close together and I do need to get any headset I use down as close to 58 as I can. That being said I was able to see pretty clearly in spite of not physically moving the lenses.

 

The head strap is different, and much more like a WMR / PSVR in design. Personally I don’t like it, or maybe it would just take me a while to get used to it. There is also a button you press to move it away / close to your face. I suppose if you have glasses or need to move it out for focus this is a good thing? But for me it seemed like I just wanted to get it as close as possible.

The controllers were fine I guess, and moving them out of view of the headset never caused problems in the demos I was doing. But in iRacing that’s a non issue anyway.

My overall impression was that it was what I expected and I was kind of underwhelmed. The innovations Oculus seems excited about promoting are generally not that important to me and actually not what I would want compared to how I feel about the original Rift. The resolution is improved, but it puts it on par with the other WMR / Vive-Pro headsets – but not better than them.

 
Oculus Rift S at GDC 2019

Oculus Rift S at GDC 2019

If I owned a lot of games from the Oculus store and wanted to retain access to that content, the Rift S seems like it would be a reasonable upgrade from the original Rift. Personally, I do not and all the VR games we own are on Steam as an intentional choice so we could use them with all our headsets.

I think for the specific use case of iRacing, I expect the Rift S will be easy to set up and use and provide a great VR driving experience.

For me, the most critical improvement would have been a wider FOV and I’m sad that neither Oculus nor HTC seem to be pursuing that. Personally I would even accept keeping the vertical resolution and pushing the width out to support around 150 degrees. I do understand that they need to produce a consumer unit that they can have confidence will work well with a wide range of computers and applications. I’m going to try not to get on a soapbox, but people complaining that the Pimax is a resource hog and runs poorly would have the same experience with any HMD trying to push that many pixels. Pimax does have other issues and their device is not on the same level in terms of industrial design and polish, but it’s the headset I’m excited about getting back home to use.

Ready Player One is Just a Movie, People!

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It’s a precarious position to tie the market’s riches with the success of a Spielberg movie.  That seems to be the case with Ready Player One where an upcoming Stephen Spielberg epic about a double VR life in an otherwise dismal world is hoped to somehow spur on the vision of virtual reality and immersive technology to the general public.

We’ve seen this kind of thing before with the Avatar movie, though this has more of a disconnected twist.  In the case of Avatar, its sheer financial success was a proof of concept for 3D entertainment and it carried some real weight that held up to scrutiny.  If anyone questioned the future of 3D, all they had to do was say “yeah, but look at the oodles of money that Avatar made”.  Ironically, $2.8 billion dollars later (accounting for inflation), Cameron expressed that he thought the 3D was too modest in Avatar and didn’t go far enough during the 3D Entertainment Summit several years ago.

The VR equivalent of Ready Player One isn’t even about making money in the box office to prove the value of a technology.  In this case, it’s hoped that people are going to see this fantasy vision and everyone is going to say “I want that” only to be slapped with the reality of where VR and immersive technology is today.    I would argue that it’s the same as showing Star Wars in hopes of selling the NASA Space Program.  VR has a great reality, but come on!

I think the people who will ultimately benefit from Ready Player One are those working in the field because it delivers a vision; something to look forward to given enough time, money, and huge technological advances.  For the general public; it will be a fun movie.

Ready Player One has a Rotten Tomato rating of 76% so it’s probably going to be a descent film.  Let’s enjoy it for what it is and avoid creating a false dependence on such things.

Neil's Messy basement

MTBS’ Ultimate Virtual Reality Shopping Guide

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Neil's Messy Basement

Welcome to MTBS’ ULTIMATE Virtual Reality Holiday Shopping Guide!

Where better to do it than from Neil’s Messy Basement?!?  What a mess indeed!

This guide was specially designed for people that don’t know the first thing about virtual reality or computers and want to learn more.  We think this will help VR shoppers at all technical levels, and as messy as Neil’s basement looks (ok, it’s not THAT messy), this won’t require a mad scientist’s understanding to get the most out of this.  You’ll be jumping into the metaverse in no time!

Neil is a long winded dude, so you will be pleased to know that it’s unnecessary to watch every video.  We even divided the longest videos into shorter chapters according to your personal shopping needs and technical interest.  We want you to have a simple and pleasant shopping experience, so this was all done for your benefit!

Feel free to post your comments and experiences below if you think it will help other VR customers, and be sure to share this guide with all your friends, family, social contacts, and the occasional family pet.

Some things to be aware of:

  • The discussed pricing is subject to change without notice.
  • We won’t be held accountable for any market changes, fluctations, or errors.
  • The retail and vendor policies are subject to change without notice.
  • The reviews are strictly personal opinions based on available data and expertise.
  • The most important review is your own.  Try before you buy!

This is the recommended order videos for consumers that are unfamiliar with virtual reality or the technology that supports it.
 

  1. Introduction, VR Basics
  2. Mobile VR Solutions (Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream Viewer, ImmersiON-VRelia GO)
  3. Console VR Solutions (Sony PlayStation VR)
  4. PC Based VR Solutions (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive)
  5. Room Scale (Understand the Commitment)
  6. Where to Try, Buyers’ Protection
  7. Personal VR Computer: Upgrade, Bundle, or Buy on Your Own
  8. Extra Purchases For Your VR System
  9. 15 Minute IT Lesson (for PC Based VR)
  10. The Science of VR

Have fun!

Matrix Cat

What 10 Facebook Years REALLY Mean

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Matrix Cat

A few months ago, we ran an article entitled “Build to Last: VR Sales Figures You Can Count On“. It was very well received, and it influenced quite a few people.

Based on accurate GPU sales provided by Jon Peddie Research, we are expecting about 300,000 to 500,000 PC HMD sales (Oculus, HTC, and others) total within 12 months of launch. This includes customer sales as well as content creator / media sales. With recent changes to Samsung Gear VR’s marketing strategy, our Gear VR sales expectation has been upgraded from 3 million to 9 – 12 million units within 12 months of launch. An updated sales article is getting printed elsewhere later today with additional new details.  Sure HMD sales can be better; this is based on the reliable data we have access to.

Facebook has been promoting that VR won’t be a mass market for at least ten years. The first time they did it was on February 9, 2016 via Fortune Magazine. In this case, it was quoted by Sheryl Sandberg (COO) and David Wehner (CFO) from Facebook at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference. The second time was just the other day by Mark Zuckerberg himself through Technology Review. Only this time, Mark went from 10 years to anywhere from 15 to 20 years!

Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook

Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook

So what does Facebook mean when they use the words “mass market”? The figure they’ve gone on record with is 50 to 100 million units. To put this in perspective, the total current enthusiast gaming PC market is only about 15-20 million units, and once the entire lifespan of the PlayStation 4 is completed, they will have about 100 million PS4s in the wild. It’s a very tall order that Facebook is envisioning, so it’s no wonder they are quoting such a long stretch of time.

It’s very easy to misinterpret this messaging without context, and left unchecked, it could have consequences for their content creation opportunities because:

  • Angel investors don’t back ten year plans, they back three year plans.
  • Content makers have two to three year AAA game production cycles and they need to see light at the end of the tunnel (and the good light, not the light you see on your deathbed!).
  • There are already millions upon millions invested in this space that are hungry for a return on investment.
  • The supporting vendors in the PC market (GPUs, API writers, PC makers, etc.) have all shaken things up to support the technology.
  • Many Meetups and conferences have completely volunteered their time for industry growth.

A ten to twenty year vision doesn’t make sense in this environment; it won’t work.

In my opinion, it’s completely feasible that content makers can begin turning significant virtual reality and immersive tech profits within the next three to five years – some much sooner. It will definitely help to be working in specialized industries because the number of HMDs sold becomes far less important. If enough SDKs or interoperability standards are supported, the chances of success are even greater. The GPU and supportive processor markets will benefit from better margins from selling premium products even if they don’t sell more units; so they will do well I’m sure.

Facebook’s ten year expectation is correct for their scale; of this I am confident.  I just think it’s important that they constantly put this in perspective because when others misinterpret what they are saying, it could easily undermine the content-making opportunities that they and others are counting on.  I think it would be more beneficial for Facebook to position themselves as a unique entity, and publicly discuss their three to five year plan and how it stands to benefit the industry players in the short to mid-term.

That’s my take for the day.  Good luck everybody!

Kevin Williams, KWP Ltd.

Professional VR Entertainment Applications

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Following a thought provoking feature on the ‘Realistic VR Sales Prediction’, Kevin Williams, a specialist in the field looks beyond the Consumer hardware impact of VR and towards how it is being evaluated by the Professional Out-of-Home Entertainment industries, and what this will mean to the sector beyond the aspirations of the consumer roll out.

As we rush to the end of the year, and anticipation is high towards what 2016 holds for the VR community and the technology in general; however, beyond the anticipations for Q1 and Q2 2016, we are already seeing VR entertainment being deployed into the public-space industry; especially in the Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment (DOE) sector. We need to be clear that in charting the DOE scene, due to the available space in compiling this brief report, we will be omitting DOE’s penetration into the pop-retail and promotional marketing sector.

Defining DOE, the theme park, visitor attraction and location-based entertainment sector has a dedicated audience that demand the latest entertainment experience, and with that audience investment the deep pockets to be the first to embrace new technology – rather than focusing on just one approach, the DOE scene has started to invest on immersive technology (defined as Mixed Reality technology), looking at Computer Automated Virtual Environment (CAVE), 3D Projection Mapping and Immersive Display (VR) platforms.

Regarding Immersive Display technology, the application in the DOE sector have been broken down into three key areas, and the initial investment have started to be deployed – for this special feature we have defined these three areas as ‘Attraction’ (dedicated large audience theme park platform), ‘Location-Based Entertainment (LBE)’ (dedicated facility or location to experience VR games) and ‘Game System’ (stand-alone VR game machines).

Game System

VR’s first entertainment application included a populist deployment into the 1990’s amusement scene, through the UK based Virtuality hardware approach, and many developers from emerging territories are looking towards this path of a stand-alone ‘coin-operated’ amusement platform as a means to jump onto the VR bandwagon.

One innovative example is from Brazilian Rilix, the company creating an incredibly simple VR roller coaster representation with their ‘Rilix Coaster’ this amusement package one and two rider system using Samsung GearVR HMD’s to represent one of 18 different coaster experience.

The representation of VR to the widest possible audience has seen the Eastern European territory grab public-space VR with both hands, this exuberant approach has seen systems such as ‘HEADSHOT 3D’ from uniquely named Oculus6D, attempting to present an amusement shooting game in VR with an assortment of kickass weapons.

Offering an extreme entertainment package sees VR applied in unique motion systems – one example being ‘MM-One Project’ by MM-Company developer of a unique three axis 360-degree motion-arm based system, running a VR HMD playing games such as game ’Trackmania’, successful showing at the Paris Game Week exhibition in the French capital during October.

Another territories investing heavily in the public approach to VR is the Chinese sector – a number of companies in this territory have deployed VR game system since 2014, one of those being 9D Electronics Technology the company deploying their egg shaped ‘9D Virtual Reality Experience’ in one, two and three seat configurations. The system is one of the few currently being sold that uses one of the new Chinese HMD systems. This platform has also been the first finding a home in shopping mall locations.

Eastern European effects theatre manufacturer Amusement and Edutainment Technologies (AET) have applied their 4Dfx seat systems and added a VR component launched as a 5D ‘Motion Sphere’ product. Along with a product off the shelf, AET’s US distributor MaxD Entertainment have opened their own standalone Las Vegas shopping mall venue offering VR entertainment.

Location-Based Entertainment (LBE)

For many the VR approach of the Cybercafe and LAN sites approach to establish the technology, builds on the popularity previously seen in this network PC game center approach in the early years of the genre, offering a means for expensive hardware and services to be amortized in a retail facility approach, (still very popular in many territories).

TALON Simulations is an example of a company looking towards offering the hardware that players will experience their first VR games within these LAN style sites – the ‘Atomic A3’ cost-effective compact electric multi-axis motion-base (developed by UK based Atomic Motion Systems), seen as a platform that will draw players to try VR simulation.

While many look to build VR entertainment retail centers, the Chinese territory has beaten them too it once again – with over 10 facilities across the country, the ‘EMAX’ facility chain offers a number of specially developed VR platforms for the guest to experience as a virtual reality theme park, EMAX Technology hoping to expand the coverage of their franchise.

The presentation of VR to an enthusiastic audience has also seen the Indian territory embrace this approach, the family entertainment center chain SMAAASH Entertainment has invested in creating their own unique VR attractions. The facility running experiences like ‘Finger Coaster’ allowing riders to build an extreme rollercoaster and then virtually ride it. An attraction (along with other’s developed by the Indian company) that is now being sold as a stand-alone to other entertainment facility operators.

The opportunity of what VR offers in a specialist location has been rammed home by the explosion in popularity behind the concept of ‘Arena-Scale’ VR entertainment facility and attractions, most notably with the ambitious development of Nevada based concept The VOID, but also seen with the recent demonstration in Orlando of the Australian based Zero Latency. Borrowing heavily from the business model created with laser-tag and simulator centers, now applied to compelling VR application using better than consumer VR hardware.

Attraction

It is the ability of the deep pockets of the visitor attractions scene that drives development of unique applications of VR that will be ‘unachievable @ home’.

Generating great interest in the attraction sector, the ability to utilize steel rides, but incorporate a digital environment representation has proven a compelling concept. First experimented the University of Applied Sciences Kaiserslautern, Germany during February 2014, the concept proved compelling and resulted in the formation of the company VR Coaster GmbH & Co. KG, partly owned by veteran theme park attraction manufacturer Mack Rides GmbH.

VR Coaster offering the ability for riders to board a traditional steel coaster, wearing VR HMD’s (Samsung GearVR) a view of a virtual environment which marries its action to the ride profile of the coaster. The system seeing first operational installation at Mack Ride owned Europe-Park in September 2015. The company is working on a number of tests towards announcing further high profile installations at leading theme parks.

The company is not the only theme park developer working on VR attractions using existing ride platforms (roller coasters as well as steel rides); 2016 expected to see the announcement of a number of momentous new installations using available, and specially created VR hardware. The ability to focus on short but highly compelling VR experiences tailored for the DOE sector offering a unique platform far beyond the restraints of trying to serve the consumer approach.

In conclusion it is important to understand that the DOE sector is nor married to only one application of Immersive technology, a vast and well respected industry is well known for investment and not hedging its bets. With regarding Mixed Reality, along with VR a number of developers in the sector are looking at unencumbered immersive experiences (negating sim-sickness and hygiene concerns). A good example of another approach to immersing a player within a virtual environment is seen from Scale-1 Portal – the French company offering a projected 3D environment for the player with their body movements tracked and represented in games such as ‘Robots Frag’ and ‘Future Runner’.

Immersive entertainment is proving the new frontier of public-space entertainment, offering not only a brand new opportunity for hardware developers, but more importantly a new and compelling new platform for content developers beyond the restrictions traditional approaches to consumer VR.

Kevin Williams, KWP Ltd.

About the Author – Kevin Williams has an extensive background in the development and sales of the latest amusement and attraction applications and technologies. The UK born specialist in the pay-to-play scene; is well-known and respected through his consultancy KWP; and as a prolific writer and presenter (along with his own news service The Stinger Report), covering the emergence of the new entertainment market. KWP working as consultant with a number of developers in the DOE sector – including a number mentioned in this feature. Kevin has co-authored a book covering the sector called ‘The Out-of-Home Interactive Entertainment Frontier’ (published by Gower). He is also the founding chairman of the DNA Association, focuses on the digital Out-of-Home interactive entertainment sector. Kevin can be reached at – kwp@thestingerreport.com

HTC Vive will be released WHEN?!?

Build to Last: VR Sales Figures You Can Count on!

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It’s with special thanks to Dr. Jon Peddie and Jon Peddie Research that they gave us the fundamental sales data needed to make this analysis possible.  More than this, even though this article was originally only intended to be published in JPR’s Tech Watch publication, they agreed to allow this article to be public as everyone could discuss, learn, and hopefully benefit from it.  We’ve also made the article available in Immersed Access so industry professionals can openly (though privately) discuss it and its ramifications if any to build for the future.

HTC Vive will be released WHEN?!?

HTC Vive will be released WHEN?!?

A big stink is being made about HTC delaying the commercial release of their HTC Vive until April next year, and others are worried that Oculus has already missed the mark by delaying until 2016 altogether. It’s unbelievable how so few understand the VR market and the core metrics that make it tick. Oculus and HTC could effectively wait a whole year, and it wouldn’t harm their bottom line or lay a dent in any content or business relationship they are working to build.

How could this be, you ask? What bit of data makes it possible for all the VR HMD makers to sit back and relax and get things right? You’ll see.

Oculus Rift DK1

Oculus Rift DK1

When the Oculus Rift first made the scene, they overcame a major hurdle by using dirt cheap smartphone panels as the core of high field of view high resolution VR displays. The technique effectively revalued VR devices that were formerly tens of thousands of dollars to just hundreds of dollars per unit in retail value. As major as this was, it’s a smaller piece of a much bigger challenge that is going to take years to overcome.

Oculus has been shying away from public sales commitments, though I think they are expecting big numbers given the hoopla they’ve received. HTC has been bolder in that they went on record that they expect non-smartphone revenue to account for 10% of their business next year (http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/biz/archives/2015/12/12/2003634579).

I’ve seen all kinds of media study blurbs and claims about VR. Everything from millions to tens of millions of units sold within the first year; most recently a study promoting the industry valued at $70 billion by 2020. With numbers like these, no wonder people think that VR’s future is going to be determined within the next six months.

The good news is everyone can take their time and do things right.

First, we have to rule out the sales figures for SDKs and developer kits; those Ocul-i and Valve-i mind-tricks won’t work here. Unless otherwise stipulated, figure that the first 200,000 in declared sales for all platforms are in fact SDKs sold or sent to hopeful content makers and press. In many cases, they could be purchased in multiples per location so developers have it in their hands. Whether they buy it or not, it’s a valueless part of the equation. We are only interested in actual customers that just want to enjoy VR and immersive tech and are not bound to the technology in any other way. The following numbers are based on this mindset.

Nvidia GTX980 AMD HD290 Series

To achieve what they consider the best VR experience on their HMDs, Oculus and HTC are each recommending an AMD 290 series or Nvidia GTX970 series graphics card or better. In fact, there are already signs that the Oculus SDK will detect if your graphics card isn’t up to spec and their software won’t work for you. So everything that performs less than these GPUs is out of the VR universe – settled.

According to Jon Peddie Research, 33 to 34 million add-in boards (AIB / GPU cards) will be sold in 2015. Three to five million of these are high-end / enthusiast graphics cards. The Nvidia GTX 970 / 980 was only announced September, 2014 and AMD’s R9 290 series was announced a year earlier, though AMD’s card wasn’t framed as a required-for-VR card until 2015. For arguments sake, let’s aggressively predict that by the end of 2016, 7 million high-end GPUs are sold, and this includes the qualified GPUs sold in 2013 and 2014. Factoring in that many gamer PCs use SLI or Crossfire, I estimate there will be three million gaming PCs powerful enough to play in VR. Whether it’s SLI / Crossfire or single GPU doesn’t matter; three million PCs is the potential universe for modern VR. If an optimistic 10% of these PCs own a dedicated VR device, the industry is looking at 300,000 HMD units sold within 12 months from launch. Not 300K for Oculus and 300K for HTC and 300K for other players coming to market…300K for everyone.

The SimpsonsIt takes anywhere from three to five years for today’s top grade graphics chips to be affordably mass marketable, and ten years for them to be inexpensive enough to work in a smartphone. This means that year over year, the VR market potential will have sequential growth, but it’s going to take time. I’d estimate that a potential market size would be about 20 million gaming PCs give or take within the next five years or so if the GPU flexibility is there.

The industry will likely have to come up with a recommended resolution limit on VR display hardware. Unless this happens, the GPU and display markets will never meet up at a mass market scale. The only way around this is if the GPU makers can arbitrarily surpass Moore’s Law (that circuitry doubles on a processor every two years), and that’s unlikely because Moore’s Law is struggling to keep pace as it is. This means that there is little to no room for major bumps in resolution from the HMD makers; too many pixels, and they are trapped in that 300K universe all over again.

There are cheats that can help. Combined with eye tracking, foveated rendering makes it possible for the GPU to only render the pixels you physically see, but this won’t be enough to turn the tide. It will also be tempting for content makers to use horrible 2D+Depth techniques instead of true stereoscopic 3D rendering to compensate for missing horsepower. 2D+Depth killed stereoscopic 3D gaming in the past, so the market should run for the hills if this makes an appearance.

DirectX OpenGL

We also have to consider that DirectX and OpenGL get overhauled every two to three years with new features. Future content makers will have to support legacy APIs or they are going to quickly alienate the mass market consumers by limiting themselves to the latest generation graphics options.

Console and mobile which are practically available now face different metrics and realities entirely.

Samsung Gear VR

Samsung Gear VR

Estimate that with nearly 22% of the market share, Samsung sells 300 million units a year. 20% of these are high-end, so that means Samsung’s Gear VR has a potential reach of 60 million phones. If they can achieve an aggressive 5% early adoption rate within 12 months of Gear VR launch, that brings it to about three million units sold. I think that’s very aggressive, but it’s not crazy.

ImmersiON-VRelia GO Google Cardboard

It’s actually more and I know the numbers won’t match up, but let’s calculate that there are around one billion Android phones sold each year. Estimate that 20% of these are mid to high-end phones that are VR qualified. If Google takes their Cardboard platform seriously, designs their own chips as pseudo-publicized a few weeks ago, and effectively flips the VR switch in all their compliant phones, they have a potential reach of 200 million Android phones each year including Samsung’s. Combined with their dirt cheap cardboard option and more premium clam-shell VR vendors like ImmersiON-VRelia, they could achieve a 10% adoption. So that brings their take to about 20 million Android phones within a twelve month period. When I say adoption, I mean people using the stuff and not just getting it in the mail or attached to their newspaper.

The challenge with mobile is that even though they have the sheer numbers potential, it’s not the same quality level of virtual reality as that of PC or console. So the VR industry is going to be a constant battle between the marketing forces, the artistic forces, and the limited forces of available processing power.

Sony PSVRConsole in every way, shape, and form has it made. I estimate that Sony PlayStation 4 will have 35 to 40 forty million units sold by the end of 2015. Thanks to their console’s fixed specification and their HMD’s committed resolution limit, it’s an easy sell. If there are 35 million PS4’s in the world, and if they could sell the PSVR HMD to 10% of them – that’s 3.5 million units sold in the first year with sequential market growth to follow. The genius of it is that PlayStation is suddenly in the display business as well as the console business. Even if they have a modest success, their hardware consistency makes for a promising future.

So what’s the moral of the story?

First, while we have a very exciting market to look forward to, it’s to no one’s advantage to rush products to store shelves to capture market share because…there is nothing to capture. The graphics market is not yet ready to handle the numbers of units that analysts are boasting about. The scalable technology doesn’t exist to make this happen.

At these early stages, I think it’s worthwhile for the PC hardware makers to consider selling their products for $1,000 a piece. They’ll make money on the mark-up, and the market segment that owns the required GPUs spend this kind of money anyway. This isn’t going to be a lower to mid-tier industry at the very beginning and this is the normal way of things. As the compliant GPU market grows, the display prices can drop.

Content makers are definitely going to have to get behind truly open standards and discussions because every HMD sale is important. It’s the only way their product distribution will add up in the early days. The exception to the rule is if they can somehow garner a lucrative exclusivity pre-paid sponsorship deal, but there are only so many cheques to go around.

PC products and product mind-sets need to be designed to work in universes sized at hundreds of thousands to a few million later on. The peripheral business has been doing this for years, and it’s very possible to flourish if the players have the right strategy. Content makers can succeed too provided they can thrive with a dedicated audience of a few hundred thousand people at the high end, thousands to tens of thousands at the earliest stages.

The professional, public exhibition, and academic markets will do very well. Anything that doesn’t require millions of units right away to make their business work will benefit from VR and immersive tech. I’m confident they will do even better than they were previously.

Don't Panic
Finally, for those concerned about when the Oculus CV1 or HTC Vive or PSVR or other promising option is released, or even developers who feel compelled to pledge their undying allegiance to a specific brand…relax. There is no meaningful advantage or disadvantage to launching first or getting tied down. The real market growth will happen further down the road – not this year or next. Just learn all you can, collaborate with industry friend and foe alike, and build.

Immersive Technology Alliance
These challenges exemplify why The Immersive Technology Alliance is so important. The industry is going to have to seriously get together in a safe and open forum so the market can figure these things out together and build towards a future that works. It’s the only way.

As Executive Director of The Immersive Technology Alliance (http://www.ita3D.com), I’m very committed to helping grow this market because it’s something I’m very passionate and excited about it. This is my career, and I want to be working in this field for a very long time. Oculus got their launch on Meant to be Seen (http://www.mtbs3D.com) after all. As with any industry, the first years will be the most challenging, and we have to proactively plan for this to succeed. I’m hopeful this analysis will help put the industry in perspective and financial strategies can be designed for the long term. With some planning, I feel confident that everyone’s hopes and dreams will become a reality; not just a virtual one.

Last Peanuts Strip

Review: The Peanuts Movie in 3D

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Good grief! My four year old son has reached the age of being able to behave and sit through a movie without having to pee. What better way to indoctrinate him in his father’s footsteps than to take him to see The Peanuts Movie in 3D?

For those unfamiliar (and really, I think there are people who are unfamiliar), Peanuts is a classic comic strip written by Charles M. Schulz. It began its run in 1950 and continued almost until the point of Schulz’s death in 2000. Peanuts’ central character is Charlie Brown, a warm hearted boy who tries and tries, but never seems to have success in the end. His sidekick is his infinitely cool beagle Snoopy and is further surrounded by a rich ensemble cast including Woodstock the bird (and Woodstock’s chirping friends), Peppermint Patty, Violet, Schroeder, Lucy, Linus, Pig-Pen, Franklin, Marcie, Sally, and more.

While the strip was first penned in the 50’s and was freshly written for decades, it stayed within that era where kids didn’t have gaming consoles, and playing outside with our friends around the block wasn’t such a foreign idea. Through the years, the comic expanded to animated specials and films, and for the first time since Schulz’s passing, we can finally enjoy Peanuts’ greatness on the big screen and in stereoscopic 3D.

The movie opens with what is arguably the happiest day for any ten year old during the school year…a snow day. Immediately, our memories are re-awakened with age-old themes like Charlie Brown desperately trying to get his kite off the ground…in the middle of winter, the kids skating around the rink with each giving a snippet of their character’s richness, and of course Snoopy being up to his high jinks.

Breaking the fourth wall, Charlie Brown reflects on his failed past which is shown as rapidly flashing black and white comic strips, and realizes that he now has a clean slate and vows to do things right and to be a success. With the arrival of the little red haired girl in class, Charlie Brown’s forever crush, the story is set. Can he work up the confidence to talk to her? Can he better himself to be worthy? Will he be a success?

It’s on this journey that we see Charlie Brown working to self-improve by going for Lucy’s five cent therapy session, reading War and Peace, learning to dance, and more.

Reflecting the complete opposite persona with unparalleled confidence, wit, and completely free of the chains of caring what others think, is his trusty dog Snoopy. He might be a beagle, others may treat him like a beagle, but he knows he is so much more. Joe Cool, dance instructor, top student, fighter pilot, spy…Snoopy does it all. Maybe that’s the point: Charlie Brown is more than he thinks he is, and Snoopy knows he is more, but it’s society that keeps him down.

Snoopy’s real story begins after being thrown out of the school classroom for pretending to be a student and landing in a trash bin. Perhaps a symbol of the times, Snoopy finds a working typewriter in the trash, takes it back to his doghouse, and starts typing “The Greatest Love Story of All Time”. In it, he is a World War I flying ace who is out to defeat his sworn enemy…The Red Baron. Flying his aerodynamic machine-gun armed doghouse with the help of his Woodstock-led support team, Snoopy is a force to be reckoned with. However, brave Snoopy is not immune to the ravages of love! He too has a crush on an imaginary pink poodle damsel in distress named Fifi (Fifi!).

What makes the Snoopy story even more endearing is it’s all in his mind and there is a wonderful sequence where we are seeing the story through Snoopy’s eyes and then through reality. I suspect it’s through imagination that the infinitely bright Snoopy can get through his day around us foolish humans.

Cinematically, the film was a joy in 3D. Scene after scene, they did creative things to keep it interesting – especially the Red Baron flight sequences with Snoopy and Woodstock. It was a great artistic choice to transform the Peanuts world into volumetric 3D for the film as it brought even more life to the movie. I have to admit that part of the joy was watching my four year old stretch his arms out to the screen and yell “Oh my goodness!!!”. Tired of the lackluster 3D conversions, we hadn’t seen a 3D movie in a long time, so we are glad we went to this one.

Last Peanuts Strip

Shortly before Charles M. Shulz passed away, his last strip was a single panel letter explaining that he couldn’t continue, and his family didn’t want others to write in his place. I remember how sad and heartbroken I felt when I read that. This movie affected me more than I expected, and I think Shultz would be proud to know that the Peanuts Movie was written by Craig Shulz and Bryan Schulz. Craig Shulz is Charles Shulz’s son, and Bryan Shulz is his grandson. Bringing more magic from the past, the film’s Snoopy and Woodstock voices were sourced from Bill Melendez archival footage from earlier works.

Reflecting on the comic strips and earlier Peanuts films, I remember always feeling sad for Charlie Brown because things never worked out for him. He never got the girl, he never got the kite in the air, and he always fumbled with something no matter how well planned and practiced he was. Completing the story in a way their predecessor didn’t, The Peanuts Move is a welcome take on the value of Charlie Brown and why it’s important to try and try again no matter the outcome.

8/10

Preliminary Review of Oculus CV1 at E3 Expo

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OK! It’s time for round two of our experience with Oculus’ CV1 – back to basics! I’m glad I reserved judgement on the CV1 hardware until today because the software choices were far more representative of what their technology is capable of. Again, I only had about fifteen minutes to work with, so I hope to be able to share a more in-depth review at a later time.

Visually, the CV1 is about on par with Crescent Bay. Whether it’s the same or a little better, I couldn’t tell you. It works, the FOV is fine as is, and the positional tracking was flawless (for the seated position I was in). At Oculus’ pre-E3 press conference, Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe boasted about the CV1’s sleek design before anything else. People joke that nobody clapped at the CV1’s first reveal, and I’d bet that Brendan was equally baffled that the reasons to be excited weren’t obvious! It’s too easy to forget that most have never owned a DK1 or a DK2. How could anyone appreciate the overwhelming and seemingly random wired mess that their developers kits represented (especially DK2). Now Oculus has it down to a science with a single camera, a deceivingly simple-looking HMD, and yes…they even threw in an XBOX controller.

The first game I tried out was Edge of Nowhere. This is a third person game where you move your character through mountainous rock-climbing disaster-avoiding terrain to get from point A to B to C. The game-play is like any other third person game, except the VR camera is behind your character and you can look around the environment as you move around. Similar to stereoscopic 3D displays, the VR added something to the game, but VR had little to no impact on how the experience was played.

The second game I tried was Airmech VR, and I was very impressed with it because the VR was an important part of how it’s played. Airmech VR is an RTS game where you have a top view 3D map of the world, and you control a giant (or not so giant!) battlemech / robot that is there to protect your base from an incoming onslaught of other robots, vehicles, and bad guys. It definitely worked for VR because you look around the map by physically moving your head and body around to not only see where enemies are coming from, but also getting a closer look at the fine details of the game characters and features. What I particularly liked about this game is that the VR wasn’t just about seeing the experience, it was a vital part of the interface as well. It wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable had it just been a traditional game.

I’ve been thinking about why Oculus went for the seated demos instead of their more recent standing or walking experiences. It’s not just their demonstrations – it’s true of all of their listed games. While it could be about safety or legal wrangling, I think it’s about something more. To my knowledge, this is the first time we are seeing full-fledged games designed for or being enhanced with virtual reality. These aren’t the 30 second experiences we have seen to date! Instead, they are committed stories with beginnings, middles, and ends – games that potentially last for hours instead of minutes. We’ll have to see what the other vendors come up with, but maybe telling longer stories are much harder when the user has the flexibility to stand up and walk around. The challenge may have nothing to do with VR safety and is instead about finding a way to keep a free flowing user in the physical world boxed in to a story track in the virtual world. Something to think about.

All in all, I think Oculus did a great job for E3 and wish them a much deserved congratulations. It’s very exciting to see all the wonderful virtual reality and immersive technology developments at the show, and there is much more to come!

MTBS Tries Out Oculus Touch at E3 Expo

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If all goes to plan, I’m going to try out the full CV1 demo this morning, so my only experience has been with the Toy Box demo with Oculus’ new VR controllers. It was a solitary demo, so I figure it deserves an article of its own.

The demo had you standing on a 5′ floor mat facing away from the computer monitors. Ahead of you are two tracking cameras mounted high up at approximately 45 degrees apart. Putting on the CV1 and half-moon controllers was easy enough; Oculus did a great job of simplifying the HMD especially. Right away, I can tell you that the tracking for both the HMD and controllers were excellent. I’m going to reserve judgement on the image quality until I see the full-blown demos later; I just want to focus on input today.

The controllers use two types of sensors to detect what your fingers are doing. They have traditional buttons and triggers, and they also have capacitive sensors similar to what your smartphone uses to detect whether or not your fingers are touching the device’s surface.  This is best used for hand gestures like waiving, thumbs up, pointing, etc.

As I mentioned, I was really happy with the tracking and how it detected exactly where my hands were in the virtual and physical space. I was also amazed that the size of my hands in VR seemed to be one to one. When I asked how this was accomplished, they explained that the hand sizing is based on the average size of a human adult and where fingers are likely be located based on how the controller is designed. So if I had tiny hands or extremely large hands, I don’t think that one to one experience would have been quite as good.

As the majority of the industry has been very focused on picking up the fine movements of your digits and working to let you grab things as you naturally do, I had very similar expectations from Oculus. Instead, they have taken a far simpler approach where grabbing is an on-off type of motion, some fingers can be extended or closed – nothing in-between, and there are buttons and mini-sticks for everything else.

The software demo was excellent because it required you to pick up toys and manipulate them, you had another virtual buddy interacting with you in another room – it was a great testing bed for this. Unfortunately, I struggled through the whole thing (MTBS’ Kris Roberts is my witness!). It was consistently trial and error as I attempted to pick things up because I often failed to get the actual object I was aiming for. In the fifteen minutes I was working with this, I didn’t get that ahah moment of easily manipulating the environment and was instead a virtual klutz. I’ve used other VR controllers which I had a much easier time with, so something about this was disconnected from what my body expected.

Now remember that I mentioned there were two tracking cameras in the room. The CV1 has been promoted as having one camera, so I’m hypothesizing that a second camera will be added alongside the controller to widen the room’s coverage. I don’t know why both cameras were placed on one side instead of either side of the room to maximize detection range. Maybe it’s because a camera can only work for one device at a time; I don’t know. I asked about occlusion, and I was told the controllers have magnetometers and accelerometers to compensate; I didn’t get a chance to test this.

While input is the main attraction, the half-moons are in desperate need of some serious haptics. I mean SERIOUS haptics. I asked about this during the session, and she explained that you feel a nudge as you pick things up. After she mentioned it, I did eventually take notice. I know that Oculus can’t break the laws of physics and deliver a Novint Falcon level of haptics with unbound controllers, but they really need to take it up a level – especially if they are calling this Oculus Touch. If there is a way they can make it possible to experience things like texture or get a physical sense of object shape, that would be impressive. Their hardware might already be capable of this with some creative software programming.

So how would I rate the half-moon controllers? I think that if I had more than fifteen minutes, I would have eventually mastered them – and maybe that’s the point. I would have had to master them; it wasn’t the pick up and go experience that I expected from a VR controller where my physical hands and virtual hands were speaking the same language.

Kris Roberts had a blast, and the rest of the press seem to be super content with Oculus’ Touch controllers which makes my experience a possible exception to the rule. Still, Oculus likes to say that input is hard, and I’m hopeful we will see further improvements and innovations as they get closer to launch. Or better yet, maybe we will see multiple controller options so people can interact as they do best.

As it is, I’ll describe Oculus Touch as very promising.  Pardon the pun, but these ain’t no XBOX controllers!  Oculus has definitely come up with something custom and innovative for the VR space.  They just didn’t immediately mesh as I expected them to.  When I get more time with them or future revisions, I’ll revisit this – I really don’t think I had enough time to make a fair assessment for the long haul.

Possibly the REAL Story of ILMxLab!

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ILMxLab, a new subsidiary of Lucasfilm, has been earning a lot of press because they are introducing augmented reality, virtual reality, and stereoscopic 3D components to the Star Wars franchise and are developing new forms of storytelling. In our opinion, this is just a small part of a much grander picture. It’s clearly a far older and more thought out process than a sudden ILMxLab branding!

John Gaeta is Lucasfilm’s Creative Director of New Media and Experiences, and we happened upon this interview he did in 2011 where he effectively spelled out where things are headed and why. The whole thing makes for great viewing, and things get extra juicy at the eighteen minute mark.

Gaeta starts by acknowledging the limitations of cinema. A core issue with cinema innovation is it’s not a continual enhancement of the technology. Innovations are created for a specific movie, the film is released, and maybe those innovations are used again in the next franchise when needed. Innovation is effectively a staggered series of starts and stops as movie studios move from film to film and franchise to franchise. Over the course of 30+ years, the biggest innovations have effectively run their course, and it’s time for the next step in cinematic storytelling.

While film will continue in a fixed perspective form, there is also a completely new class of storytelling that is being created. It’s no longer just about what you see on the camera; viewers will be able to have a “god-view” and look around the scene and get nuances to the story they wouldn’t otherwise. While this may resemble concepts we take for granted in video games, the goal is to add true to life fidelity to the mix.

One point he highlighted that I found very interesting is that if we look at the core of film, it’s baked imagery. The filmed content is fixed, and while the special and visual effects can be elaborate, they too are baked on to the image – never changing once recorded. The future is dynamic content or “omni-capture” using real-time engine technology. The physical actors are universally captured and can then manifest in vr media as perfect holo-digital equivalents.  In the interview, Gaeta calls this “volumetric video”, though he likely meant to say “volumetric cinematography”.

While the concept of the Bullet Time effects in The Matrix movie exemplified the physics-breaking magic that can occur in a virtual world versus the real world, it was no more than a hack of the readily available and limited camera technology. Using technology like the Kinect and other devices, all the gesture and body capture data is really there to change the virtual world around us according to how our body influences it.

Remembering that this interview was done in 2011, Gaeta insisted that this vision isn’t pie in the sky. He expected holographic viewing technologies available within five years, and the processing power needed to make true-to-life rendering possible within ten. Ironically, when an audience member quipped about having an elephant in her house, Gaeta was quick to point out that she will have that elephant within three years!

Pretty close, John!

Of course, Gaeta highlighted the potential evils of the technology. In addition to storytelling, we are also looking at the development of a new culture; even a new “punk” culture based on this media. The cartoon metaverse will eventually be replaced with true-to-life imagery as technology allows, and core to making many of these new experiences possible are cameras and immeasurable amounts of data being collected from each user. The vendors will effectively know everything about you. In 2011, Gaeta used the Facebook reference and that he made a conscious choice to not create a Facebook account. This new era will be far more intrusive than that.

I’m not doing John justice. Best you watch the video for yourself and share your thoughts! Very interesting!