Tag: vr

‘The Walking Dead’ VR scene puts you in the shoes of a walker

Would you submerge yourself in a fear-inducing virtual setting overrun by zombies? That's the world The Walking Dead has expertly crafted during its seven-year run, and now AMC is inviting you to step into it, courtesy of its VR app. You can grab it for iOS, Android, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Daydream right now, but the real fun begins on Sunday. Directly after the show's 100th episode, the network is dropping an exclusive VR scene.

The immersive experience will put you in the action from both sides. You'll start off trapped in an abandoned car waiting for help to arrive as the walkers inch ever closer. If that doesn't sound terrifying enough, you'll also get to join the herd and feast in the carnage. Once you get your fill of claustrophobic horror, you can peruse the extras, including trailers and features from that other AMC show Into the Badlands. The network is also promising to keep the app stocked with virtual experiences for the foreseeable future.

The AMC VR app follows the announcement of The Walking Dead: Our World -- an augmented reality game coming soon to iOS and Android. The two combined should turn you into a regular zombie-slaying survivalist.


Samsung’s 360 Round camera livestreams 3D VR

Samsung already has a virtual reality camera in the form of the Gear 360, but it's not really for pros -- it's for everyday users who want to record a 360-degree video on the street. What if you're a pro, or a well-heeled enthusiast? Samsung has you covered: it's launching the previously hinted-at 360 Round. The disc-shaped device carries a whopping 17 2-megapixel cameras and six microphones (plus two mic ports) to create 3D (that is, stereoscopic) VR video. It's powerful enough to livestream 4K VR at a smooth 30 frames per second, helped in part by software that promises to stitch together immersive video with virtually no lag.

Other nods to pro use? The Round is IP65 water resistant, so you can use it in the rain, and its unibody design is meant to keep you shooting for "hours" without the need for a noisy cooling fan.

Samsung is releasing the 360 Round later in October for American buyers at an unmentioned price, with other countries coming later. Keep in mind that the camera is only one part of the cost, though. You'll need a monster PC, especially if you're livestreaming. A post-processing rig demands at least a Core i7-6700K, 16GB of RAM and GeForce GTX 1080 graphics, while livestreaming and preview machines ask for a 10-core i7-6950X, 32GB of RAM and two GeForce GTX 1080 Ti cards. You're probably not going to use the Round for your video blog, then, but this makes high-quality 3D VR a viable option using off-the-shelf PCs.

Source: Samsung


Where are VR and AR headed? We’ll explore at the Engadget Experience.

We're diving head-first into the world of virtual and augmented reality next month at the inaugural Engadget Experience. The event, which takes place at LA's Ace Hotel on November 14th, will bring together pioneering minds in these new mediums. (Tickets are available here.) It's almost impossible to discuss VR and AR without considering how far they've come over the past few years, and where they're headed in the future. That's what we'll be tackling in "The Big Picture," a panel discussion with Marcie Jastrow of the Technicolor Experience Center; Jen Dennis from Ridley Scott's RSA Films; and Ruthie Doyle from Sundance's New Frontier.

We'll tap into the panelists's diverse industry experience to explore the biggest issues facing AR and VR today; how they'll co-exist moving forward; and what, specifically, these new technologies offer that existing mediums don't. And that's just a start.

The VR and AR industry are still in their early stages. It's reminiscent of where the internet was in the '90s, long before it became an essential part of our lives. Call it the "West West" period -- an exciting time where the rules are still being written for new technology. As we explore the new opportunities in VR and AR, it's important that we keep an eye forward to avoid pitfalls, and make sure it's something normal people will actually want to use.


Google’s second Daydream headset is all subtle improvements

Samsung's Gear VR ushered in an age where we strap our phones to our faces for entertainment. But when it debuted last year, Google's $79 Daydream View managed to make the whole process look just a little less geeky. To coincide with the launch of its new Pixel smartphones, Google whipped up an updated version of the Daydream View that costs $20 more than the old one. So, what's actually new here? Quite a bit, as it turns out.

First off, no one could blame you for having trouble telling the new Daydream View apart from the old one. Google's cozy design language is still in full effect — it's all gentle curves and soft fabric here -- and you still just place the phone onto the headset's flap and cinch the whole thing shut with a bit of elastic.

Don't be fooled though, there's more going on with the new View than you might expect. Some phones were prone to overheating and shutting down in the original headset. Obviously, this is no bueno for a device that sits so close to your face, so Google added a magnesium heatsink to help phones shed heat.

So far, it seems to be working pretty well. I spent the better part of my weekend sitting on the edge of a virtual lake angling for virtual fish in hourlong chunks, and the Pixel 2 only got about as warm as it did after playing a typical mobile game. Then again, your mileage may vary depending on how long you stay in your virtual realm of choice — most of my time with original Daydream was spent watching videos or playing games like Don't Talk and Nobody Explodes in short bursts.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

This has its drawbacks, though. The heatsink's placement means you can't just stick the Daydream controller into a slot on the front flap anymore. Instead, Google stuck an extra elastic loop on the back of the new View's headband for the controller. It's functional, sure, but it's far less elegant than Google's original solution. At least the controller's buttons are more pronounced so you'll never mix them up. The Home button feels a touch more concave than before, and the Apps button is raised instead of flat.

More important, the new View is much better at shutting out stray light that can distract from the VR experience. The original was notorious for letting light bleed through small gaps where the headsets rested on people's noses, and I'm glad Google finally got around to fixing it by improving the foam cup your face pushes up against. You'd think a more secure seal against your face might get a little uncomfortable, especially because the View largely relies on a single elastic strap to keep everything snug. Not so. The pad that presses into your face now seems to spread the weight around more evenly, and the new View comes with an extra strap that sits atop your head to help make the whole thing a little less front-heavy.

The other major change to the View's design becomes apparent when you look into the headset for the first time. Comparatively speaking, the new Fresnel lenses used to magnify a phone's screen are huge. Google made the change to increase the headset's virtual field of view by 10 percent, and while that sounds like a pretty modest bump, it meant I take in more of whatever world I was in at a glance. More important, these new lenses also make the sweet spot -- that point where your eyes can perfectly focus on the screen -- a little larger than before. After five or six minutes of trial and error, I got the ideal strap lengths locked in, and I've been staring at the sweet spot ever since.

So yeah, the hardware has been improved in subtle, helpful ways. The software experience, meanwhile, hasn't really changed. You'll be plopped into the same virtual forest in front of the same virtual menu to access the same virtual apps. That's what makes the new Daydream such a hard sell: Because all of the heavy lifting is handled by the smartphone, the actual experience isn't hugely different from before. When it comes to content, Google still has a ways to go -- at current count, Google has around 250 Daydream apps, but the Gear VR's head start still means it has a stronger catalog of exclusive apps to work with. In particular, Samsung and Oculus' mobile headset has a better selection of licensed experiences -- you'll need a Gear VR if you want to cruise through Blade Runner's techno-noir LA or peer into a handful of Disney-themed worlds.

Ultimately, the new Daydream View is a solid new choice for people with compatible phones looking for a crash course in virtual reality. If you already have an old View and haven't run into the trouble others have, there's no pressing need to upgrade. And if you fall into the category of people who yearn for a more powerful mobile VR experience, well, you should probably just wait for Google's standalone headset instead.


Steam will support VR in very large rooms

If you want to play a room-scale VR game using Steam's current tracking method, you need to do it in a 13-by-13 foot area. That's fine for your living room, but what if you want more space? Don't fret: Valve has announced that SteamVR Tracking 2.0 will support a cavernous 33 feet by 33 feet space starting in early 2018. You'll need four trackers to do it instead of two, but this could be very helpful for arcades or any other experience that could benefit from greater freedom of movement.

The company is looking at support for even more tracking stations and thus a larger space, but it doesn't have a timetable to offer. Don't expect to run around a warehouse-sized VR environment, folks. There also won't be an official mounting option for SteamVR until later in 2018, and the finished next-generation tracking system won't work with existing HTC Vive headsets. Developers can use the Vive through engineering samples that add a blinker for backwards compatibility.

As you might guess, this won't make a huge difference if you only ever experience VR in your den. It's more about public or commercial VR, where you want as few arbitrary boundaries as possible. However, it's advances like these that could be crucial to VR as a whole. Walkabout VR should ideally be limited only by the size of the room, not the trackers. This isn't technically unlimited, but it's close enough that more developers could let their imaginations run wild.

Via: Gamasutra

Source: Steam


PlayStation’s updated VR headset arrives in Japan tomorrow

You may want to hold off buying the current-gen PSVR, as its successor is imminent. We already knew the updated headset will come with integrated headphones and HDR passthrough support (courtesy of a new processor unit). And, now Sony is blessing us with a release date -- for Japan, anyway. The company's native home will be the first to get the refreshed VR device when it lands there on Saturday. Meanwhile, everyone else will have to wait. At 44,980 yen ($401), the new headset will match the starting price of the original (although, its older sibling now comes bundled with the PlayStation Camera at no extra charge).

The gradual rollout sets it apart from its predecessor, which was released simultaneously in the US, UK, Europe, and Japan one year ago today. To mark its birthday, Sony is giving PlayStation Plus subscribers 80 percent off over 50 compatible titles on its Store for a limited time. Word of advice to all the cat people out there: Set aside some change for the upcoming Neko Atsume.

Source: PlayStation (Japan)


Chinese startup’s ‘8K’ VR headset is surprisingly advanced

As much as I enjoy the occasional VR gameplay, I've been waiting for headset manufacturers to boost the pixel density in order to reduce the screen door effect, as well as to widen the FOV (field of view) for a more immersive experience. There's no doubt that the big names like HTC and Oculus are already working on it, but to my surprise, a Chinese startup by the name of Pimax simply went ahead. At CEATEC, I came across the Pimax 8K headset which not only features an incredible 7,680 x 2,160 resolution (more on that later), but also laser tracking that works with HTC Vive's base stations, plus an impressive 200-degree FOV which is almost double that of existing offerings.

Before we go any further, yes, the 7,680 x 2,160 resolution here isn't the "8K" you're thinking of (that's 7,680 x 4,320, twice as many pixels), and some went as far as accusing the company of misleading people with the product name. Pimax argues that the "8K" here is to highlight the much higher horizontal resolution which, to be fair, is an industry first. A more accurate way to describe this is that each eye is looking at a 4K (3,840 x 2,160) panel with a 90 Hz refresh rate inside the headset, and if you ask me, this sounds just as impressive in today's market. Maybe "Pimax 4K Duo" would be less controversial?

Speaking of display panels, unlike the PlayStation VR, the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, the Pimax 8K uses CLPL or "customized low persistence liquid" panels instead of OLED. Pimax claims that with CLPL it has "completely eliminated ghosting and improved brightness" (presumably a comparison to traditional LCD). CLPL and OLED apparently only have some minor differences in terms of contrast and color temperature, but the former can achieve a higher pixel density for the same cost. It's unclear what sub-pixel arrangement has been applied to this CLPL technology, but I'll update here if I hear back from Pimax about this.

As I waited in line for some hands-on time, I noticed that the demo setup was running on an MSI laptop equipped with an NVIDIA GTX 1080 GPU. I thought: surely that would struggle with an "8K" output? I later found out that Pimax 8K is actually designed for 4K input or less (the prototype was using HDMI, but the final version will likely use DisplayPort instead), and then it upscales the signal to "8K" internally. This means your PC could get away with using just an NVIDIA GTX 980 or GTX 1070, and you'd still be able to enjoy the invisible pixel grid on the displays.

Indeed, the brief session of Fruit Ninja through a Pimax 8K was literally the most immersive VR gameplay I've ever had. As soon as I put on the headset, I was amazed by the lack of black border within my vision. For the first time ever, I finally felt like I wasn't looking into a VR headset! The device felt comfortable to wear and didn't feel heavy despite its bulky look -- unlike the StarVR with a similarly wide 210-degree FOV. Pimax claims that its headset is actually lighter than a Vive, but it has yet to finalize the weight.

As expected, I could not see any sub-pixels thanks to the insanely high display resolution, nor did I notice any ghosting. Interestingly, I only found out after the demo that the laptop was actually just pushing a 2,560 x 1,440 output, but what I saw was still significantly better than what I'm used to on other VR headsets. So far, this whole package is basically everything I've ever wanted in a VR system. Head tracking and the Vive-like controller worked fine, too, though I'll need more hands-on time to assess their reliability.

For those who originally assumed that the Pimax 8K would take an "8K" signal, well, that's what the higher-end Pimax 8K X is for. This special model is made for the hardcore users who plan to use the headset with at least an NVIDIA GTX 1080 Ti (pending further testing but may require SLI configuration) or the next-gen NVIDIA Volta, and the headset will likely have two DisplayPorts -- one for each 4K panel. The image quality here would obviously be better than the upscaled view on the Pimax 8K, but given the demanding hardware requirement for an "8K" output, the Pimax 8K would make more sense for most of us.

In fact, there's also a more affordable Pimax 5K based on the same headset design but houses two 2,560 x 1,440 CLPL panels instead. Still, this resolution is higher than what PlayStation VR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are offering, so this "5K" model will no doubt appeal to those who want to try high-end VR with a smaller budget. At the time of writing this article, this is still available for $349 on Kickstarter if you already have a Vive base station plus controllers, and it's expecting a January 2018 delivery; though if you want the two base stations plus two controllers as well, you'll have to fork our an extra $300 and wait until February for the delivery.

As for the Pimax 8K, it's starting at $499 and is also expecting a January 2018 delivery; but like the Pimax 5K, you'll need to add $300 for the controllers plus base stations, and expect a February delivery as well. Alas, the higher-end $649 Pimax 8K X is no longer available, but its backers will have to wait until May.

The company added that expansion modules are in development, and these will provide features like inside-out tracking, eye tracking, wireless transmission, scent and more. It's a highly ambitious move from a startup, but we'll be happy enough just to see the delivery of the headsets themselves.

Source: Kickstarter, Pimax


Square Enix’s Project Hikari makes a good case for VR comics

Comics are big business in Japan, but here in the West, Japanese and American titles alike tend to get overshadowed by movies, television and video games. In fact, many of those programs might even be adaptations of popular comic titles. For its first big VR project, Square Enix's Advanced Technology Division is putting the spotlight back on manga. But it isn't just about taking these stories and pasting them into a headset. Due for release in 2018 on all major VR platforms, Project Hikari aims to capture the look and feel of reading a manga while taking advantage of the immersive nature of VR to let the viewer delve deeper into these worlds.

Square Enix is best known for console role-playing games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. But it has also been a manga publisher for several decades now, putting out popular titles like Soul Eater, Black Butler and Fullmetal Alchemist. When the team first encountered the Oculus dev kit back in 2013, project lead Kaei Sou says they were inspired to do something more story-focused than the usual VR fare, as well as something unique to Square Enix. The company's large back catalog of manga gave them that opportunity.

For Project Hikari's first outing, the team chose Tales of Wedding Rings, a lesser-known title from the company's oeuvre. The idea was that working on something more high profile like Fullmetal Alchemist would draw criticism from fans if they didn't like how it looked or if something was left out. But while the creator of Tales of Wedding Rings has been giving the Advanced Technology Division some feedback and art assistance as it develops the project, he's been mostly hands off, though apparently pleased with the results.

Instead of a fully interactive experience where you wander around a virtual space and click on things that interest you, Project Hikari is focused on feeding you the story. That means there are stretches where you're looking at panels floating in front of you, dialogue and all. It's similar to other attempts to translate comics into VR, with images floating in a simulated space. But the Square Enix team has also added spoken dialogue, sound effects and music.

Square Enix is hardly the first to try to meld comics with other media. Marvel has been experimenting with concepts like motion comics and adaptive audio for decades. And then there's popular webcomic Homestuck, which incorporates various multimedia and interactive elements over its thousands of pages of story.

Where Project Hikari differs is how it incorporates animation. For companies like Marvel, calling something a motion comic was a way to cover up the fact that it was essentially a cheap cartoon, with limited motion and reused backgrounds akin to an old Hanna Barbera show. But Project Hikari aims for realistic 3D animation, something that looks smooth and natural from every angle.

One of the team's biggest challenges has been taking 2D drawings and reconceptualizing them for the virtual space. Artists may need to take a lot of shortcuts or distort their character designs in order to get them to look the right way on the page. It doesn't matter if something isn't anatomically accurate, as long as it looks fine in the finished drawing. But when transferred into a 3D space, the flaws in the images become obvious, with things like overly long limbs and crooked facial features seeming downright horrific.

So the character designers have had to rework the character models, making sure protagonists Satou and Hime look well-proportioned and detailed while still maintaining the distinct look of manga. It's not unlike how the Disney short Paperman is computer animated but still carries many visual markers of hand-drawn animation. The artists on Project Hikari pay a lot of attention to line thickness and shading, aiming for the natural, somewhat imperfect look of ink on paper. But they still need to give it some 3D shadowing to give the characters weight in the eyes of the viewers who will end up standing next to them.

The animation right now is done through motion capture. That means although it looks fluid and natural, it's impractical in the long run. The eventual goal, which the company will work toward with later chapters, is to fully animate the story from scratch on a computer.

The characters aren't the only thing the team has had to build out though. Even if Project Hikari heavily leans on its floating-comic-panel structure, it still takes advantage of the immersiveness of VR by dropping you into fully rendered environments from time to time. For example, during my demo at this past weekend's New York Comic Con I saw the inside of Satou's apartment first as a comic panel, but then it slowly opened up to surround me so that it felt like I was standing inside the room. I could look out the window at the town and forest beyond, even though the original comic panel only faced the door.

One of the challenges Square Enix's environment artists face in recreating the world is figuring out what lies beyond the comic panels. They can glean clues from the manga's content. For example, in a later scene from the same chapter Satou does look out that window, so they can extrapolate what it would have looked like in the earlier part of the story. But other places, like the alley behind Satou and Hime's apartment complex, don't get as much panel time, forcing the artists to come up with their own designs.

But with all this work into creating a full 3D world, how is this adaptation of Tales of Wedding Rings still a manga? It goes a lot further than Marvel's experiments with sound and motion, and at times it very much falls into the "walking simulator" genre of video games, where you poke around an unfamiliar environment to uncover bits of story.

But one thing about Project Hikari is that it's more strictly regimented. The New York Comic Con demo had all interactivity removed in the name of expediency, keeping it as short as possible to ensure that more attendees could try it. But the interactive elements planned are more about making it a better reading experience: The team wants to add the ability to skip to or rewind parts of the story and to slow down or pause the action so players can look around more. The most gamelike addition will be interactive objects that can be clicked on to reveal more about the story, though these additional bits of the experience won't be required for finishing each chapter.

The other thing that makes it more mangalike is how the story transitions between sections. Individual scenes are often separated by panels, with the viewer's focus shifting from one to the next and something even sliding or stepping through them to reveal the next scene. This keeps the comic book feel to it but also has a huge side benefit: It's really good at reducing VR sickness. That disconnect you often get between what your eyes are seeing and your lack of movement doesn't happen in Project Hikari because your viewpoint isn't being dragged around from place to place. I'm prone to motion sickness, and I'm happy to report I didn't feel ill once during the 11-minute demo.

Manga is supposed to be relaxing, so making the viewer as comfortable as possible is key to Project Hikari. In fact, the Advanced Technology Division might have succeeded already, as several people who tried it asked if they could lie down during the demo, since that's how they usually read manga at home. But still, one of the things many people enjoy about reading manga is the portability of it, and that's sort of lost when transferred to VR. You not only lose the ability to curl up on your bed but also can't throw it in your bag and read it on the subway. But Square Enix isn't looking to replace manga any more than an anime replaces the work it's based on. Project Hikari is just another way to experience it.


Columbia researchers might have the key to wireless VR

The millimeter wave frequency has the potential to do a lot. So far it's helping power 5G cell networks, but research from Columbia Engineering could expand that to self-driving cars and virtual reality headsets. It's a little dense, but the key bit is that the team figured out a new nonreciprocal way to transmit the waves, by using "carefully synchronized high-speed transistor switched that route forward and reverse waves differently." The school says it's basically like two trains charging head on on the same track, with them switching tracks at the last possible second.

Columbia writes that this will enable circulators to be built into conventional chips and enable full-duplex or two-way wireless communication. Because so many devices are running in low-energy half-duplex, the frequency spectrum is getting congested. Moving to full-duplex means less congestion, and also higher bandwidth capacity.

So, how does this affect you and me? The school says the radar in autonomous cars "inherently" needs to run in full duplex mode, and be cheap. So these chips would play a part there. The silicon could also be used to create truly wireless VR headsets too, given how fast millimeter waves can transmit the surfeit of data VR requires.

The ultimate goal? Building a bigger array, of course.

Source: Columbia Engineering


Oculus’ Santa Cruz gets closer to the future of wireless VR

Earlier today, Oculus announced Go, its first-ever consumer-ready standalone headset. But it's actually been working on another standalone headset -- Project Santa Cruz -- for a while longer. I had a chance to try on a really early version of it last year, and it was so unfinished that an Oculus helper had to put it on for me. Today at Oculus Connect 4, I tried on the latest version of hardware as well as the new Santa Cruz controllers, and the difference is night and day. It felt like a completely finished product.

We weren't allowed to take photos of the headset, but the photo seen here offers a good representation of what it looks like. From the mesh fabric surrounding the display to the adjustable head straps, the latest Santa Cruz prototype now looks almost like a wireless version of the Rift. It has an elastic strap along the top, while the rear plastic appears to be clad in a soft elastomer shell.

Putting it on was surprisingly easy -- I just wore it like a backward baseball cap -- and I was ready to go with just minimal adjustment. There's an IPD (interpupillary distance) wheel on the left underside if you want to adjust that too. On the whole, the headset feels soft, snug and lightweight -- easily one of the most comfortable VR headsets I've ever tried.

Then, an Oculus helper placed the new Santa Cruz controllers on my hands. They instantly feel much more compact than the Touch, with a fatter, stubbier grip. Also notable is the lack of a thumbstick; in its place is a large circular touchpad. One big reason for this design difference is that the Oculus folks wanted the infrared LED ring to face upwards, in order to get better tracking from the headset. And in order to move the ring to the top, some design adjustments had to be made. The grip and trigger buttons are still there, however, and feel easy enough to press.

I was instantly launched into a demo, where I was instructed to feed and play with an adorable dog-dinosaur creature hybrid. I used my virtual hands to pluck fruit from the tree and feed them to it, and I also threw a stick into the distance to have the creature fetch it for me. And because I wasn't tethered to a PC, I could walk around the room with ease and didn't have to worry about tripping over wires. Using the controllers as virtual hands felt pretty natural (thanks to the 6DOF tracking), and I got used to it fairly quickly.

I was then guided to yet another demo, and it was set in the Dead and Buried universe, where I was instructed to fend off zombies. This time, feeling untethered really made a big difference. I was able to swing around 360-degrees and shoot the undead that were coming at me from all sides. What's more, I was able to walk around the room to pick up additional weapons and gear (they included a shotgun, dynamite and a big shield). I even pressed down on an Acme-style TNT bomb detonator to set off an area of explosion.

In a way, it was a little unnerving to have so much freedom. I caught myself not wanting to move too far forward, in fear of going outside of my zone and bumping into a wall. I had to sort of peek underneath my headset every so often to make sure I wasn't too close to any furniture or obstacles. I wasn't at all -- the Oculus helpers would've told me otherwise -- but I still felt overly cautious at times.

Another thing that struck me was the audio. I had no headphones on, and still the audio came through loud and clear. That is thanks to the Santa Cruz's spatial audio tech, which lets you listen to the game audio without any headphones. I really appreciated this, because I was able to listen to the people around me while also interacting with the game.

On the whole, the experience was truly amazing. It was really as if I was using a Rift, but without being attached to a PC. It's clear that truly wireless VR is where Oculus is going -- while Go appears to be positioned as the entry-level version, Santa Cruz seems like the one you really want.

Of course, Oculus is quick to point out that Santa Cruz is still in prototype stage, and the final product might not look like this at all. The controllers might look and feel completely different in the end. Seeing as what I tried felt pretty great already, the final version of Santa Cruz seems very promising indeed. Oculus will be shipping its Santa Cruz headsets to developers next year, and we're hoping it's as good as we think it'll be.