Mindshow turns you into a VR actor in your own production

Mindshow turns you into a VR actor in your own production

For all of the talk there is about content being the one thing that’s really missing in VR, it’s pretty difficult for consumers to dive into VR and really make anything.

Visionary VR is aiming to change that with their new product called Mindshow, which gives run-of-the-mill VR users the ability to dive into the medium and create a narrative from the perspective of the characters themselves.

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Mindshow is an exercise in bringing content creation in VR to its most established extreme yet. Visionary VR has produced a tool that lets you define your environment, your interactive surroundings and the skin you inhabit. From there, it’s all about finding your childlike creativity and crafting something fun and memorable.

“It’s about getting the recognition of life in something inanimate—something you created—that’s the feeling we had when we were kids,” Visionary VR co-founder and CCO Jonnie Ross tells me.

I had the chance to get walked through a demo of Mindshow at VRLA by Visionary VR’s CEO Gil Baron. Of the dozens of demos I tried out at VRLA this weekend, Mindshow was the only one that left me both technically impressed and a little giddy.

There’s something inherently powerful about seeing a character with your voice and movements play out a scene in an environment that you can control. Add in the social element of being able to take scenes from your friends and alter them and your left with a goofy, light-hearted creative medium that’s a blast to play around with and only made possible by virtual reality tech.

In addition to the HTC Vive which I demoed it on, Ross and Baron tell me that Mindshow will be rolling out on the other major VR platforms later this year, including both the PSVR and Oculus Rift. Mindshow is still in its early stages of rollout and has just opened sign-ups for early access to the platform.

Source: TechCrunch

HTC launches Viveport app store as the company continues to move all-in on VR

HTC launches Viveport app store as the company continues to move all-in on VR

As the Vive becomes an increasingly essential part of HTC’s future, the company is making sure that no stone is left unturned when it comes to potential profit. What perhaps began as a side project for the company is turning into its potential financial future as revenues rapidly decline in the company’s handset division.

Today at VRLA, HTC announced that they will be opening up a dedicated virtual reality app store called Viveport to host largely non-gaming content verticals that aren’t currently being served by Valve and its Steam store.

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HTC says the Viveport store will be available in Vive headsets, web browsers, the PC app and, most interestingly, on a mobile app. HTC has previously not shown off many pursuits in the mobile VR space, which is perhaps a bit ironic given its former status as a major leader in the mobile space.

The Viveport store will largely focus on hosting non-gaming verticals including “education, design, art, social, video, music, sports, health, fashion, travel, news, shopping, creativity tools, and more,” according to the press release. HTC will take a standard 70/30 app store revenue split with developers, potentially opening themselves up to some major profits. The store will also support in-app purchases and subscriptions alongside a more standard pay-to-download model.

This entire situation is perhaps a bit unfortunate on the user experience side, as consumers will now have to visit separate storefronts for separate types of content. It already wasn’t all that clear to begin with as HTC’s holodeck-esque Vive Home section and Valve’s Steam store relay much of the same functionality in terms of separate app-launchers and home screens. Now, you’ll also be downloading experiences from separate corners of the app with Vive Home prioritized for most non-gaming content but the Steam store still just a physical button tap on the Vive controller away.

I also expect the line to grow increasingly murky between what types of content would be found in each store. When I pressed HTC SVP Rikard Steiber on how clean the distinction would be between content on Viveport and the Steam store, he painted a picture of some redundancy  with Steam continuing to remain a clear home for “hardcore gaming content.”

“Our recommendation to developers today is that they make sure that they publish [their content] everywhere,” said Steiber.

Though it may be a bit messy at first, HTC’s shift to build a non-gaming storefront is a smart one and will help lend some differentiation to the Vive brand in a field about to be crowded further by the PSVR, which will obviously hold gaming central to its product DNA.

Source: TechCrunch

TheWaveVR raises $2.5M from KPCB and others to bring the concert experience into VR

TheWaveVR raises .5M from KPCB and others to bring the concert experience into VR

Digital music may have brought the experience of listening to an artist to a more convenient platform than ever, but there’s never really been a way to replicate the social experience of seeing an artist perform live at a concert.

TheWaveVR is hoping to do just that by utilizing social VR to bring people closer to an artist’s live performances than they’ve ever been digitally. The six-month-old, Austin-based company just raised $2.5 million in Seed funding from KPCB Edge, Presence Capital, Rothenberg Ventures, RRE Ventures, The VR Fund, Seedcamp and angels including Mike Fischer and Joe Kraus.

“We’re working toward empowering artists and music lovers alike and transforming the way people connect through music by building the world’s first musical metaverse in VR,” said Adam Arrigo, CEO of TheWaveVR. “Music creators will be able to fully customize how their audience experiences the music – whether that’s by transforming the venue from a realistic nightclub to outer space or putting on the most unimaginable light show ever.”

TheWaveVR gives users a platform where they can have a communicative relationship with onstage artists in VR, raising a digital lighter in the air or bobbing their head all while the onstage artist reacts accordingly. The experience is particularly suited, at lease early-on, for EDM music as a large part of the experience involves the crazy digital light shows taking place onstage behind the artist. The whole situation may just be playing out with avatars at the moment but this is just the first step in the future evolution of users transporting themselves into digital live concert experiences.

One of the toughest challenges for early VR proponents has been convincing early adopters of the technology of the platform’s social potential and shedding its status as a personally isolating technology, which at this point is a very fair appraisal. TheWaveVR founders want to see their platform evolve into something where a bunch of buddies can open private concert and have their own jam session or travel together to a major artist’s show and meet people from across the globe.

TheWaveVR is about to have one of its biggest tests, hosting a “silent rave” at Los Angeles’s VRLA conference where attendees will sport headphones and headsets and jam to DJs while looking like idiots alongside one another in VR. This is the first major live event for the young company and I will be participating so catch me on Twitter to see the madness unfold this weekend.

Source: TechCrunch

Valve opens up the HTC Vive’s tracking system to third-party developers

Valve opens up the HTC Vive’s tracking system to third-party developers

One of the most technically advanced features of the HTC Vive virtual reality system is the way it tracks a user’s motions inside their play space. Valve, which collaborated with HTC to build the Vive, just opened its ‘Lighthouse tracking system’ up to third-party hardware developers building on the SteamVR platform to license royalty-free.

What does this mean for the average VR user? A much richer experience down the road with a bevy of input and sensor options to best fit the experience. Full body sensor suits, new types of controllers and next-gen peripherals will all have a much easier time getting from development to people’s living rooms because of the integrations.

This isn’t hugely unexpected on the part of Valve or HTC, who partnered to build the Vive and its underlying tech. For its part, HTC has been signaling a clear interest in third-party hardware solutions that add to the Vive experience. Earlier this week HTC opened its Vive X virtual reality accelerator program to VR hardware startups with a new location in Shenzhen.

“We are extremely excited about the potential mid- to long-term impact of our decision with our partner Valve to simultaneously open up our respective technologies in order to accelerate growth in the VR industry,” said Cher Wang, Chairwoman and CEO of HTC, in a statement. “The new wave of innovation this program will enable is going to be amazing to watch, the biggest winners will be the consumers and business customers around the world.”

This really is a huge boon to the VR industry and will reduce fragmentation in a major way for consumers and developers. For every VR sensor or input company that’s been looking to find a home for their hardware, this news makes it possible for them to build Lighthouse tracking functionality into their devices instead of having to produce their own entire system from scratch.

There’s a bit of a catch for developers, they’ll have to fly some people to Seattle to learn the ropes of the Lighthouse tracking system. If you’re a developer and you’re curious about licensing the tech, Valve posted some FAQs on their site.

Source: TechCrunch

Intel shows off mystery depth-sensing virtual reality accessory

Intel shows off mystery depth-sensing virtual reality accessory

An Intel engineer just tweeted out a photo of a new VR sensor prototype and suggested that VR would play a large role in the company’s developer conference late this month.

In the since-deleted tweet, Dimitri Diakopoulos, a senior prototyping engineer at Intel, showed off what he referred to as a depth-sensing prototype attachment for the HTC Vive.

At least visually, the sensor seems somewhat similar to the designs of previous Intel RealSense developer kits that’s symmetrically designed with six sensors tracking the area in front of the headset.

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In a conversation with Upload VR, Diakopoulos referenced possible use cases for the mystery device which was designed specifically for the HTC Vive virtual reality headset.

He told us an accessory like this could track hand movement as well as IR-tracked controllers. The system could also scan the environment in real-time. This opens up the potential to detect obstacles automatically.

Depth-sensing as a tool for not running into things while in VR is interesting. The HTC Vive already has a small camera built into the headset which outlines objects in your immediate vicinity as a semi-transparent 2D image, but a sensor like this could theoretically allow you to have a more AR-like experience with the headset.

The other clear use case would be tracking as a means of input. Leap Motion already has a developer kit out there which helps devs mount their sensor to the Vive and track user hand movement. It’s pretty great but there are some limitations with the scope of capture which works best when the hands are generally positioned right in front of the user.

We haven’t seen a ton of an emphasis on VR/AR tech from Intel outside of a few RealSense developer kits so it’s interesting to see the company working directly with integrating their sensors onto consumer head-mounted displays.

Intel was not immediately available for comment.

Source: TechCrunch

Owlchemy Labs nabs $5 million to keep on building crazy VR games

Owlchemy Labs nabs million to keep on building crazy VR games

Owlchemy Labs wants you to reach out and grab VR content with your hands.

The Austin-based VR studio just secured a $5 million Series A led by Qualcomm Ventures with participation in the round also coming from HTC, The VR Fund, Colopl Next and Capital Factory.

Right now the studio, founded in 2010, is best known among those in the VR community for building the game Job Simulator, which was a bundled launch title for HTC Vive pre-orders and will be a launch title for PSVR and Oculus Touch. The kooky faux futuristic game lets players mess around in a digital work space and knock over coffee cups and turn on computers and make copies. It’s actually a lot more fun than it sounds.

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“VR has been a deep passion of ours for many years and being at the forefront of designing new virtual worlds is truly a dream for our whole team,” Owlchemy Labs CEO Alex Schwartz said in a statement. “We’ve solved some of the toughest design and development challenges in this new medium, and with this investment we’ll apply these lessons to a portfolio of full games.”

The 16-person team is experimenting aggressively with how users interact with VR, focusing closely on motion-tracked input interactions to draw participants in and keep them entranced.

“Our work in VR has led us to understand that direct interaction with virtual worlds using your real hands will not only define what makes VR great but will shape all content to come,” the company detailed in a blog post.

Owlchemy Labs likely isn’t going to let its newly raised cash go to its head. It’s planning to keep producing wacky content and it already has some cool projects on deck. The company recently received quite a few headlines when it announced that it would be bringing the absurdist TV show Rick and Morty into the VR world.

Source: TechCrunch

Kik users have exchanged over 1.8 billion messages with the platform’s 20,000 chatbots

Kik users have exchanged over 1.8 billion messages with the platform’s 20,000 chatbots

After a few months of testing the waters, Kik is still bullish on chatbots and has quite a few reasons to be.

Just last May at TechCrunch Disrupt NY, Kik CEO Ted Livingston divulged that developers had built over 6,000 chatbots on the platform. Fast forward a few months and the popular messaging app has announced today that more than 1.8 billion messages have already been exchanged with the nearly 20,000 registered chatbots on the service.

Developers can apply to have their bots included in Kik’s Bot Shop where any user can pop in and take a bot for a spin, but they have to meet some guidelines first that ensure they’re a good fit for users. To date, 100 chatbots have been approved and are currently available for download in the Bot Shop under three categories: entertainment, lifestyle and gaming.

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These bots range from user-created tools to bot experiences built by brands like Sephora, H&M and Vine. One reason some of these companies are rushing to build Kik bots has to do with one of the main distinguishing factors of Kik as a messaging platform: teenagers. The app, which had 300 million registered users as of May, reaches nearly 40% of American teens.

Josh Jacobs, the President of Kik Services told me that teens have been especially receptive to using the feature with nearly 60% of the 1.8 billion messages exchanged with bots being done so by teenagers in the 13-19 age range.

“Bots are to apps as dating is to marriage, and teens have a lot of time to date,” Jacobs said.

What is perhaps more valuable than the metrics are the insights that have been gained from both Kik and its developers in discovering how bots can serve its users effectively and, well, not suck. It’s taken a lot of experimentation on the part of developers and some curation on Kik’s part.

The team at Kik has had to learn alongside developers what bots are really best used for while simultaneously crafting its bot API in a way that empowers them. A few features Kik has found effective are its “mention” feature which allows bots to be easily called on to participate within conversation threads and a feature called “invites,” which lets Kik users socially share their favorite bots with others.

It’s still the early days for bots and with so much competition emerging from other chat apps, it’s clear platforms need to be ultra-competitive in producing experiences that users actually get something out of. Kik’s very young, very active user base seems to be warming up to bots early, but time will tell how important the service will be to Kik’s messaging future.

Source: TechCrunch

Baidu shows off DuSee, an augmented reality platform for China’s mobile users

Baidu shows off DuSee, an augmented reality platform for China’s mobile users

Soon, hundreds of millions of mobile users in China will have direct access to an augmented reality smartphone platform on their smartphones.

Baidu, China’s largest search engine, unveiled an AR platform today called DuSee that will allow China’s mobile users the opportunity to test out smartphone augmented reality on their existing devices. The company also detailed that they plan to integrate the technology directly into their flagship apps, including the highly popular Mobile Baidu search app.

“DuSee will enable our customers to deliver a delightful real-time AR experience to the millions of people who use Baidu‘s mobile apps every day, thus quickly bringing AR to a huge population,” Zeng Hua, Baidu’s Key Account Department Senior Director said in a statement.

A press release from the company seemed to vaguely reference the successes of the type of AR made popular by apps like Pokemon GO, a title that has still yet to be released in China.

“Many smartphone AR apps today work by ‘pasting’ a cartoon on top of the camera image, regardless of that image’s contents,” IDL Director Yuanqing Lin said in the release. “The next generation of AR apps will use AI to understand the 3D environment, and create virtual objects that have rich interactions with the user and the real world.”

At first glance the technology seems a bit more rudimentary than AR systems other companies are building. It’s designed to work off of existing smartphone cameras so location mapping requires a physical real world marker unlike something like Google’s Tango platform which relies on sophisticated camera technology.

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The technology, which appears to work similarly to tech we’ve seen from companies like PTC’s Vuforia, offers China’s mobile users a chance to interact with traditional media in new ways while approaching augmented reality in a manner much less cumbersome than using an AR head-mounted display.

The fact that Baidu is confident enough in its tech to directly build it into its main apps speaks volumes for the kind of role the company sees augmented reality playing in its mobile future.

Source: TechCrunch

The Xbox One S is the most beautiful game console out there

The Xbox One S is the most beautiful game console out there

The Xbox One S doesn’t feel like a toy.

Whereas setting up the original Xbox One often felt like I was handling some sort of Medicare-provided DIY iron lung, the One S is a far tighter experience that’s luxurious and efficient in its build.

Shoddy vent grids covering an alarmingly hollow-sounding interior have been replaced with an innovative perforated vent design that is as fresh-looking as it is solid-feeling. Contrasting glossy and matte textures have lost their gimmick and given way to a cold, solid heft. The integrated power supply gives the One S an air of mobility  that was lacking with its predecessor which felt anchored to the TV cabinet after setup.

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Overall, the Xbox One S, available today, feels like a very dense console. The footprint of the device is now 40% smaller than the One before it and it’s clear that the engineering team behind the One S was considerably more purposeful in its build.

Not to shit talk the hardware design on the original Xbone too much, but comparing the One S to the original Xbox One feels less like comparing the build of a Macbook Air to a Macbook Pro than it does feel like weighing a Macbook Air against a 2005 Dell laptop.

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Now, not everyone out there really cares about this stuff. Few people are honestly buying a game console because of its hardware design. Unlike something like a laptop where weight, build quality and design can all directly influence how a consumer interacts with the product, people have learned not to expect too much from game console design because at the end of the day, it’s just a metal box that is going to live out the remainder of its days beneath your TV.

Something like the controller design is much more important to users. The Xbox One S ships with a slightly revamped wireless controller. It boasts new textured grips and new thumbstick designs, but most of the physical changes are only mildly noticeable. The big changes are the addition of Bluetooth connectivity which gives the controller the ability to connect to Windows 10 devices and the extension of the controller’s wireless range which Xbox boasts now doubles that of its predecessor.

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Once you wax poetic long enough on the design of this console and controller, which, believe me, I could do for a while, you’re prompted to turn less shallow and examine what sets the machine apart on the inside.

There’s not quite as much to see there.

HTC Vive X accelerator opens program to Shenzhen for VR hardware startups

HTC Vive X accelerator opens program to Shenzhen for VR hardware startups

HTC is rapidly mobilizing resources to build the broader ecosystem its own Vive virtual reality hardware will fit into. A big part of this strategy is its Vive X accelerator program which is aiming to train up the next generation of innovative VR companies.

For HTC, the onus has largely been on bolstering up outstanding VR content companies. Today, the company announced that it has added Shenzhen to its list of available locations for the Vive X program, which already has sites in Taipei, Beijing and San Francisco. The added location represents an added emphasis on VR hardware startups for the accelerator which HTC has already built up a $100 million fund for.

The company also released details today on the 33 Batch-1 VR content companies that had been selected for their accelerator program. They largely represent companies in the VR entertainment, education and application segments. The startups were chosen from an application batch of about 1,200 companies.

Vive X is in its earliest stages, but it’s clear that it’s already an important first step for HTC in future-planning its next platform shift. It’s a great sign that HTC is opening its focus to hardware startups, both for the future of VR in general and future Vive compatibility with external hardware add-ons.

Source: TechCrunch