This is (very likely) the new Samsung Gear VR

This is (very likely) the new Samsung Gear VR

As Samsung prepares to launch its next-gen phablet extraordinaire, the Note 7, at its special event this upcoming Tuesday, the leaks are continuing to flow. Today, photos of the new Gear VR were leaked from leaker OnLeaks (h/t 9to5Google). The device is reportedly going to be sporting a USB Type-C connection which corroborates reports that the new Note 7 will be shifting to the new connection type.

This headset is reportedly a bit bigger (207mm x 122mm x 98.5mm) if not just to accommodate the sheer size of Samsung’s ballooning devices. The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is a pretty snug fit in the old Gear VR headset (198mm x 116mm x 90mm) so it’s no surprise that Samsung’s new hallmark phablet might need some new digs to get in on the VR game. The new headset reportedly gets a boost in field-of-view (110-degrees compared to the old model’s 96-degrees) that brings its FoV up to par with higher-end headsets from Oculus and HTC.

The color change from white to black is a very welcome change that goes beyond the aesthetic. The old white plastic Gear VR often fell victim to a slight amount of light leakage when played on sunny days which really just didn’t make any sense. That said, Samsung does lose a bit of its Gear VR brand power as a result of the color change since its a bit difficult to tell the difference between this and every other black mobile VR headset out there, but Samsung may very well continue selling a white version so ¯_(ツ)_/¯.

Other than that, there’s not really that much to see here that’s changed. There aren’t really any visual clues to what the other side of the device holds. The old headset sported a touchpad for rudimentary input controls and while this one is highly likely to maintain that setup there has been some talk of an external bluetooth controller being included for compatibility with Google’s Daydream headset reference design which Samsung has already signed on as a partner for.

TechCrunch will be on the floor at Samsung’s Unpacked event next week checking out what Samsung ends up showing off, though it seems there won’t be a ton of surprises given how many freaking leaks there have already been.

Source: TechCrunch

Minecraft support for Oculus Rift is finally almost here

Minecraft support for Oculus Rift is finally almost here

After months of teasing, Microsoft is finally almost ready to give Minecraft Windows 10 Edition Beta users a taste of VR.

In a blog post celebrating the first anniversary of Minecraft Windows 10 Edition Beta, Microsoft announced that support for the Oculus Rift will be coming “in the next few weeks” as a free update to existing users. People who want to get in on the action have until tomorrow to download the Beta if they want to enjoy the free upgrade.

Microsoft has been pushing Minecraft gameplay in virtual reality pretty hard lately. A few months back, the company launched Minecraft Pocket Edition support for the Gear VR. While the experience itself was just okay, Oculus has really been pushing it as it is one of the only AAA full experiences available in the Oculus Home store at the moment. Rift support has been just around the corner for quite a while and it seems that Microsoft is finally ready to unveil what it’s been working on.

The VR version for the Rift will feature all of the major methods of gameplay available on desktop including multiplayer, Creative and Survival modes. Again, no word on an exact release date.

The Minecraft VR site is interestingly showing off the Oculus Touch motion controller and advertising “a new perspective” for the game, but there’s no detail on how exactly the game will be implementing Touch controls.

Source: TechCrunch

Fove shows off a new build of its eye-tracking VR headset

Fove shows off a new build of its eye-tracking VR headset

Fove showed off a new design for their eye-tracking VR headset in an announcement on their company blog. The Disrupt SF Battlefield 2014 alum is aiming to have headsets start shipping in fall 2016 for its Kickstarter backers.

The headset design has lost much of the wispiness of its Kickstarter prototype design. This was done in an effort to reduce the weight of the headset and improve its wearability. The company also noted that the more understated design will boost production efficiency.

Production has been a bit of an issue for the small startup aiming to build a high-quality HMD that rivals efforts from Oculus and HTC. Due to delays caused by part-sourcing, the company was forced to push back their expected delivery date from spring 2016 to fall 2016. Perhaps more critically, Fove also announced that the headset would be losing integration with Valve’s Lighthouse system which powers positional tracking on the HTC Vive in favor of its own system.

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Fove’s earlier headset design

What distinguishes this headset from all the nerd face computers though? This is the first VR headset to directly integrate eye-tracking sensors into the headset to monitor a user’s gaze. The technology can revamp processes for how users navigate interfaces, but it also has the potential to alter gameplay and in-headset communication.

In the future, ridiculously high-resolution headsets will see performance boosts from eye-tracking by way of foveated rendering, a technology that allows the display to simulate depth-of-field and keep the highest resolution images confined to the center of a user’s gaze.

Eye-tracking is generally seen by most in the industry as a key feature for the next-generation of high-end headsets so Fove may not be be the only VR player with the distinguishing feature for long. Eye-tracking tech veteran SMI has already shown of an eye-tracking dev kit for the HTC Vive and there are a number of other eye-tracking companies including Tobii and Eyefluence who claim to be working with VR headset manufacturers on next-gem devices.

Source: TechCrunch

VR studio Kite & Lightning raises $2.5M to build a fighting baby game

VR studio Kite & Lightning raises .5M to build a fighting baby game

Funding may be becoming a bit harder to come by for some startups in the current climate, but generally as long as a company has the right idea someone will always be there with a checkbook in hand. A studio building a virtual reality baby brawler seems to have fit that bill.

Kite & Lightning announced today that they have raised $2.5 million in seed funding to support development of a new VR title called Bebylon Battle Royale: A Gentleman’s Game. The experience, which the studio refers to as “Smash Bros-esque,” involves lots of babies fighting each other.

“[W]e always envisioned a world that you could immerse yourself in,” the company detailed in a blog post. “We want to create this amazing comedic world where you can craft your own personal character, cheer/boo/support your friends as a live audience member in the gladiatorial stages, or explore the world of Bebylon, from the shows it has to offer to the characters that inhabit it.”

The studio has been flirting with both interactive video and gaming content. They’ve produced popular experiences like their Senza Peso Italian mini-opera in addition to working on #branded content for NBC’s The Voice among other projects.

Raine Ventures, who led this round, isn’t a stranger to the VR content space; they’ve seeded companies like AltspaceVR and Chris Milk’s VRSE (now Within). Incidentally the VC firm’s parent company, The Raine Group, has also advised VR content capture companies Jaunt and Lytro. Lytro CEO Jason Rosenthal also participated in the round alongside Courtside Ventures, Comcast Ventures Catalyst Fund, Social Capital, Outpost Capital, Boost VC

Kite & Lightning is really just two full-time people building cool stuff, but they already have some big expansion plans. The company detailed in a blog post that they’ll be hiring two more people, which math suggests will result in a doubling of employees, but they’re also currently hiring people to fill out their cool beach-front LA office so if you’re passionate about beating up babies virtually seek professional help then drop them a line.

In all seriousness, Kite & Lightning seems to have some major creative juices flowing and the artistic style of their new title looks promising, though we’ll have to keep waiting to see what gameplay looks like.

Source: TechCrunch

Oculus update paves the way for room-scale VR on the Rift

Oculus update paves the way for room-scale VR on the Rift

The Rift’s best days are still ahead of it as Facebook’s virtual reality company prepares to drastically improve user experience by introducing its room-scale tracked motion Touch controllers in Q4 of this year.

An update to Oculus Home is apparently prepping for Touch’s arrival by enabling users to connect multiple Oculus camera sensors to enhance movement tracking and give developers access to highly precise room-scale setups.

Though the update allows for for up to four sensors to be connected, most developers are likely looking to optimize room-scale titles for just a pair sensors which makes sense as the Touch controllers are expected to ship with just one additional infrared sensor included.

I’ve spent a decent amount of time with the latest developer version of Touch and most setups are optimized for tighter experiences than the Vive with sensors set up about 4 feet apart from each other in front of the user. This leads to environments much less sprawling than the Vive’s 15×15 feet setups but setup is much snappier to get through on the user’s part as well. I will say that when you get turned around and aren’t facing the sensors, tracking coverage can actually get pretty bad due to occlusion.

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YouTube user Reality Check VR tested the limits of the update by playing with four sensors synced through SteamVR using HTC Vive controllers. What results is a level of tracking precision that appears much smoother than anything I’ve seen in my own experience with the HTC Vive which can work with a maximum of two tracking sensors.

It’s important to note that Oculus doesn’t even sell the camera sensors separately right now so the only way you could try this now is if you have four Oculus headsets sitting around with their included sensors or are a Touch developer so don’t go rushing to try this out just yet. You’ll just have to wait for the Touch controllers to be released which Oculus swears will happen by year’s end.

Source: TechCrunch

Veeso wants to share your smiles and eye-rolls in VR

Veeso wants to share your smiles and eye-rolls in VR

First VR experiences seem to bring about a pretty wide variety of emotional reactions from the people who try it, but right now there aren’t too many ways to actually convey how you’re feeling inside virtual reality.

Veeso is aiming to become one of the first VR headsets to capture how you’re feeling through their sensor technology. The company just launched a Kickstarter campaign to drum up interest in their face-tracking developer kit.

Tracking your movement, body position, head position and location are some of the skills existing high-end VR headsets have in their sensor repertoire, but a key item that’s been lacking is the ability to track the face that the headset is strapped to. Understanding where your eyes are looking or how your mouth is positioned is key to allowing you to convey emotions in VR, something rather essential to the gaggle of social VR apps that are already out there.

Some of these things can be done already without the need for additional sensors. I’ve seen developers using audio cues from the mic to sync avatar lip movement with what users are actually communicating. It’s a bit rudimentary but it’s also something that could clearly be improved with an integrated tracking sensor pointed towards the user’s mouth from the bottom of the headset.

Veeso

The Veeso headset not only tracks the user’s mouth and jaw but also has infrared eye-tracking sensors built into the headset to track the user’s line of sight. This is especially effective for social VR, saving you from weird interactions with avatars with dead eyes. It’s bizarre how essential eye contact is to making social experiences feel more comfortable even in non photo-realistic environments, but demos I’ve experienced with other companies’ eye-tracking tech have more than confirmed this.

This headset appears to be primarily focused towards Google Cardboard use, which limits the graphics and gameplay capabilities an unfortunate amount, especially since Google’s next VR platform play, Daydream, will be seeing the light of day this fall. This is a developer kit so don’t expect to order one and have a bunch of cool stuff to test out at launch, they want you to be the ones building all that after all.

You can currently snag an early bird deal on the face-tracking headset dev kit for $80. Veeso is hoping to raise $80,000 with this campaign. The company says they’re hoping to start delivering the fist batch of headsets in December of this year.

Source: TechCrunch

Google hires former Samsung VR exec to work on Daydream

Google hires former Samsung VR exec to work on Daydream

Google is forming a rather hefty team within the company to tackle smartphone-based virtual reality. The latest addition to the team is Matt Apfel, a former VP of content strategy for Samsung’s Milk VR (now Samsung VR). Apfel left Samsung in March and has been hired By Google to work on content for Daydream, Google’s next-gen mobile VR ecosystem, Variety reports.

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Matt Apfel

Daydream, which was announced during Google’s I/O developer conference earlier this summer, is the company’s move to bring VR to the masses by deeply integrating VR capabilities into newest Android phones.

Daydream is in many ways throwing a wrench into the VR walled garden Samsung has built for itself alongside Oculus, but mobile VR is largely Google’s platform to lose. Samsung has interestingly already signed on as an early hardware partner for Daydream. Its new Note smartphone, likely launching next month, is rumored to have the specs needed to support Daydream.

Google has been working aggressively over the past couple of years to craft tools and platforms for creating VR content. Google Cardboard was an easily accessible, if not highly rudimentary, avenue to show off that content, but Android Nougat’s technical improvements will likely give users a much more pleasant VR experience with Daydream.

Daydream will reportedly be launching later this fall.

Source: TechCrunch

Razer opens pre-orders for OSVR HDK 2 virtual reality headset

Razer opens pre-orders for OSVR HDK 2 virtual reality headset

When it comes to buying a serious VR headset, to most it’s largely a question of choosing the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive. There is a second tier of lesser-known VR headsets however, and at the forefront of them is OSVR headset.

Today, Razer announced that it is opening up pre-orders for the company’s second OSVR development kit, called the HDK 2. It’s available for $399 and boasts a new 2160×1200, low-persistence OLED display running at 90 frames per second. This should theoretically put the HDK 2’s optics in the same weight class as the Rift and Vive.

The devices will begin shipping July 29. Consumers who order a device through July 28 will receive two free bundled games, Descent: Underground and Radial G: Racing Revolved.

OSVR exists almost as a lobbying device to convince other headset manufactures to open source their hardware so that the VR industry doesn’t move forward in a fractured capacity. The headset has been particularly popular among hacker types who are itching to experiment with new types of input and haptics without having to wait for Oculus or HTC to get their hardware support act together.

The headset doesn’t include controllers, but OSVR supports input from dozens of hardware manufacturers including Nod and Leap Motion.

OSVR’s open-sourced development platform is a bit of a harder sell to developers who are a bit ambivalent thanks to how easy game engines like Unity and Unreal are making it to port games to multiple VR platforms.

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OSVR is by all means a headset system primarily for developers and hackers right now. The headset is modular, which on one hand means endless customization, but it also means that it isn’t the simplest device to get up-and-running unless you have some major patience.

Source: TechCrunch

Second Life creators look to revamp reality once again, this time in VR

Second Life creators look to revamp reality once again, this time in VR

Nobody understands community and online social dynamics quite like Linden Lab, the SF-based team that has maintained a very odd, somewhat dysfunctional digital society called Second Life for what’s coming up on thirteen years.

The team is now embarking on its most ambitious project yet, a wide-reaching virtual reality network called Project Sansar that is, in many ways, aiming to become a new layer of reality that gives individuals and businesses a space to experiment with VR environments for their first time.

I had the chance to sit down for a demo of Sansar with Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg this past week and take an early look into some of the platform’s first environments.

Traversing the worlds of Sansar and chatting with my guide, Linden Lab VP of Product Bjorn Laurin, was a mostly seamless experience but still an oddly unsettling one. It’s not that anything was particularly creepy about the place I was viewing through an Oculus Rift headset. Sansar is visually placid and often beautiful, but it’s also startlingly scalable and boundless. Scale is something that’s often taken for granted in an age of video game epics like Skyrim and GTAV, but when every horizon you see through your own point-of-view is conquerable, you’re left to either feel very bold or very lost.

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Linden Lab is hoping creators feel empowered by the platform to build worlds that solve problems and create opportunities for social interaction.

Project Sansar is designed to allow every average Joe to create their own VR-facing presence or space on the platform as easily and non-technically as they desire. Linden Lab is hoping to monetize their VR world by building what is essentially an app store for VR creative properties. That could mean a small business buying a trade show template someone else designed so that they can host a digital get-together in Sansar, or it could mean a university purchasing a classroom or lab model to build their own VR presence and teach students in more immersive ways.

It’s almost trivial to think of more specific examples because in many ways Sansar is trying to crack the base question of what physical presence means to communication and whether additional benefits can be yielded from a VR environment when it’s replicated to a T while implementing actions and mechanics that aren’t possible on earth.

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At a certain point, when their guards are down, companies in the VR space seem to subtly allude to the fact that they’re expecting virtual reality to swell up to replace a pretty significant percentage of our active lives rather than just enhance it.

There were plenty of concerns at the beginning of this millennium that video games like Second Life were ushering in a godless digital era that would soon see people strapping computers to their faces and foregoing real reality entirely. Sansar is not quite OASIS, the all-encompassing fictional VR world detailed in the novel Ready Player One, but it is looking to evolve in a similar pattern.

Sansar perhaps has more challenges ahead of it than any VR platform I’ve interacted with, but that’s largely because it’s just so frighteningly ambitious. Like Second Life, Project Sansar is not an experience that needs to be perfect at its initial launch or see a certain number of first week user numbers to be a hit. It just has to stay consistent, evolve with the hardware/interface trends of modern VR and steadily push boundaries as it updates.

Linden Lab is a uniquely bizarre company that is still thriving off the successes of a product that was introduced when people were grabbing AOL disks to connect to the web. In the decade since the greater public stopped caring about Second Life, nearly a million people have continued logging in and checking on their digital lives, running digital businesses, making digital friends and digitally living out their odd sexual fetishes.

During this past 13 years, Facebook and the social media revolution have taken off and taken hold, powerful smartphones found their way into a few billion people’s pockets and the way we all interact online has grown richer and more engrossing. Yet all those people keep logging in to take stock of their virtual lives because regardless of how much the theoretical polygon counts on the latest systems increase, the hardest thing to replicate online will always be a sense of community.

This area will be where Sansar faces its greatest test, building a digital community for a new generation of internet users on a medium that’s not yet fully understood. The early beta shows great promise and while a wide release of its desktop and VR versions is still likely months away, it’s clear that Linden Lab understands both the daunting magnitude of Project Sansar’s challenges and its potential.

A brief moment of VR brilliance with Trials of Tatooine for HTC Vive

A brief moment of VR brilliance with Trials of Tatooine for HTC Vive

Psshhhewww…Wwooooom…Woooooom….Kkssschhhh…

In the midst of thrashing a virtual lightsaber all around my body with all of the sound effects, it’s a bit hard for me to ignore the increasingly apparent point that nostalgia will play a huge role in getting people hooked on AR and VR.

Pokémon GO has already ignited this huge feverish debate around the future of augmented reality and what its adoption will look like, but it has essentially done so through capturing a lot of big kids’ imaginations in letting technology help them relive their childhood fantasies.

In many ways Trials of Tatooine, a VR experience available now on Steam for the HTC Vive, is this exactly. It begins with a brief non-combat experience where you listen to Han Solo instruct you to make repairs on the Millennium Falcon (just pushing lots of buttons) all while getting shot at by TIE fighters.

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But this all really only exists to prepare you mentally for the awe-inspiring moment of getting a lightsaber into your hand for the first time. As soon as I grabbed the iconic weapon from R2-D2, I instantly flashed back to a 10-year-old Lucas lightsaber battling my friends and trying to make the most accurate sound effects possible as we fought our hearts out until someone got hit in the face and started crying.

This nostalgia-conjuring of mine is something that theoretically should be pretty well-exhausted for Star Wars after the all-Star-Wars-errythang media and merchandising push that defined a good deal of 2015. But even so, the feeling of actually holding the Vive controller with two hands and deflecting droid laser beams was a geekgasm that’s difficult to move past.

This isn’t the most dynamic experience I’ve had on Vive by any means, it’s obviously built as another demo for people to see the potential of VR storytelling in video game environments and it honestly does quite well there. Some early reviewers of the game on Steam have expressed dissatisfaction with the breadth of the experience, and feel as though it was over-promised and over-hyped, a dangerous and common occurrence in the VR content space these days.

I will say that Trials of Tatooine does say great things for the potential of Lucasfilm’s ILMxLAB, which is already aggressively experimenting with content for VR while also embarking on some stranger journeys with Magic Leap to embrace mixed-reality storytelling.

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Most VR content is crap these days, but the ones that are showing a lot of promise aren’t just giving people moments of photorealistic graphics or real world physics, they’re convincing users that some impossible things can happen with a little bit of virtual surreality.

Source: TechCrunch