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Tech News

The Macallan distillery opens up for 4D virtual reality tours

July 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Denis Balibouse / Reuters

Not everyone has the means to travel to Scotland and visit their favorite distillery a la Ron Swanson. To help connoisseurs live out their dreams of traipsing through its facilities, The Macallan has created the Macallan Distillery Experience. VRFocus describes it as a “4D multi-sensory” group tour that guides folks through the company’s process for making its Single Malt spirit. Along the way you’ll explore the Scottish distillery an the estate it resides on, learning about the outfit’s history along the way. Visitors will step into a “15x15x15 cube-like projection structure” with 360-degree videos beamed to the installation’s walls.

This won’t be the first time Macallan has experimented with VR-tech. Back in 2016, it released a 360-degree video featuring its 12-year double cask liquid. The experience apparently makes use of scents and wind machines to help sell the illusion.

It will debut next week in New York at a private event in Brooklyn on the 23rd, and a few days later it’ll take up temporary residence at Grand Central Station, running from the 25th through the 27th, National Scotch Day. Everyone not in New York will have to make do with talking a walkthrough via their home VR devices. Hopefully if Macallan hands out samples it’ll happen after you take the headset off. Shooting the spirit is kind of beside the point, VR can make you sick while sober and adding booze to the mix can exacerbate that uneasy feeling.

Tech News

Disney’s first VR short ‘Cycles’ debuts next month

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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John Keeble via Getty Images

Walt Disney Animation Studios is set to share its first VR short, a film called Cycles that took four months to create. The short will make its debut at the Association for Computing Machinery’s annual SIGGRAPH conference in August and the team behind it hopes VR will help viewers form a stronger emotional connection with the film. “VR is an amazing technology and a lot of times the technology is what is really celebrated,” Director Jeff Gipson said in a statement. “We hope more and more people begin to see the emotional weight of VR films, and with Cycles in particular, we hope they will feel the emotions we aimed to convey with our story.”

Cycles is about a house, what happens inside of it and how those that live there make it a home. When making the film, Gipson drew from childhood experiences in his grandparents’ home as well as the time he spent riding BMX bikes in empty swimming pools and wondering about the families who lived in the houses they were attached to. “Every house has a story unique to the people, the characters who live there,” he said. “We wanted to create a story in this single place and be able to have the viewer witness life happening around them. It is an emotionally driven film, expressing the real ups and downs, the happy and sad moments in life.”

The Disney short will air at SIGGRAPH’s Immersive Pavilion, an area dedicated to virtual, augmented and mixed reality. “What’s cool for VR is that we are really on the edge of trying to figure out what it is and how to tell stories in this new medium,” says Gipson. “In VR, you can look anywhere and really be transported to a different world, experience it from different angles and see every detail. We want people watching to feel alive and feel emotion, and give them a true cinematic experience.”

Last year, Pixar, a subsidiary of Disney, released a VR experience to promote the film Coco.

Image: Disney Animation Studios

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VR standard promises an end to headset connector headaches

July 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Engadget

If you’ve used a wired VR headset, you probably know the connector situation is inconsistent and messy: you frequently have to plug multiple cables into your PC, which is space consuming at best and potentially impractical if you have a laptop. That might not be quite such a thorn in your side if a handful of tech industry leaders have their way. AMD, Microsoft, NVIDIA, Oculus and Valve have unveiled VirtualLink, an open standard that would whittle VR headset connections down to a single USB-C cable. It would take advantage of the newer port format to deliver four lanes of DisplayPort video, USB data (for cameras and sensors) and 27W of power. It’s optimized for VR, too, promising low lag and a highly optimized path that would enable the “next generation” of headsets.

The technology is very young. The VirtualLink alliance has only published an “advance overview” of their specification for companies that want to take advantage of it ahead of a 1.0 release, and it will be a while after that before headsets adopt the technology. It’s also based on an assumption that wireless VR won’t become the dominant format. And you may have noticed that HTC isn’t involved, at least at this stage — it might not achieve true harmony so long as Vive owners are using another connector.

Even in this rough state, the appeal is clear. It’d lead to faster setup times even as it remained relatively future-proof, and would bring VR to virtually any laptop with enough power to handle it. You could plug a VR headset into a sufficiently speedy ultraportable. This kind of accessibility could be crucial to making VR accessible to more people, not just enthusiasts with desktops and beefy gaming laptops.

PC News and Reviews

VirtualLink Aims to Become New Standard Connector For VR Headsets, Uses USB-C

July 17, 2018 — by Wccftech.com0

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An industry consortium lead by Nvidia, Oculus, Valve, AMD, and Microsoft have today introduced the VirtualLink specification which is an open standard for next-generation VR headsets to connect to PCs and other similar devices with a single high bandwidth USB Type-C connector, forgoing the mess of cables that have traditionally plagued VR gaming.

New Open Standard For Connecting Next Generation VR Headsets Titled VirtualLink Uses USB Type-C

The Connection is an alternate mode of USB-C should simplify and speed up the setup time for your VR gear avoiding one of the major inconveniences of having and using a VR headset in a room where it isn’t always connected. It should also make VR experiences much easier with smaller devices like laptops and notebooks.

stormland_androidRelated Open-World VR Game Stormland Announced By Insomniac Games For Oculus

“Simulating reality requires incredible visual fidelity and processing power. With a single, high-bandwidth cable, VirtualLink unlocks the full potential of the PC to power amazing VR experiences.”

Jason Paul – General manager of gaming and VR, NVIDIA.

This may also help in the long term with the need to provide higher display resolutions and high bandwidth cameras for tracking. VirtualLink connects with VR headsets to simultaneously deliver four high-speed HBR3 DisplayPort lanes, which are scalable for future needs; a USB3.1 data channel for supporting high-resolution cameras and sensors; and up to 27 watts of power.

One of the nicer things about VirtualLink is that it has been purpose built for VR with optimizing latency and keying in on bandwidth demands to make the next generation of VR experiences a much better one.

“At Oculus, we’re committed to making VR easily approachable for a wide variety of people, a consolidated connection point is critical in removing barriers to experiencing high-powered PC VR. With the adoption of VirtualLink technology, purpose-built for VR, we look forward to helping push the industry forward into the next phase of VR.”

Nate Mitchell – head of Rift, Oculus.

“We hope to see the results of this collaboration enhance the user experience and extend the possibilities for all developers and hardware manufacturers,”

Pierre-Loup Griffais – of Valve.

“We have been involved on VirtualLink from the beginning and are supportive of industry-standard approaches for emerging Windows experiences including mixed reality,”

Scott Evans – general manager, Mixed Reality, Microsoft.

The consortium also announced the publication of an advance overview of the VirtualLink specification, available to companies that wish to receive details ahead of the upcoming VirtualLink 1.0 specification. Details are available at www.VirtualLink.org.

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Tech News

VirtualLink USB-C Alt Mode Announced: Standardized Connector for VR Headsets

July 17, 2018 — by Anandtech.com0

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While PC VR headsets are fun, no one has especially enjoyed the number of cables required to hook one up. With separate video, power, and data cables, the end result has been that manufacturers have used somewhat unwieldy cables or breakout boxes. However as part of the generalized push towards the second generation of VR headsets, a new industry consortium is coming together today to reduce the requirements to a single cable. Backed by NVIDIA, AMD, Oculus, Valve, and Microsoft, the new VirtualLink standard is a USB Type-C alternate mode that will be able to supply all of the necessary power, video information, and data over a single Type-C cable and connector.

Today’s announcement from the group is essentially a call for participation, announcing the group’s existence and inviting others to get involved ahead of the VirtualLink 1.0 specification. So the consortium and its members are broadly talking about the standard itself, but are not saying anything about products that may implement it. And indeed as of Monday evening as I’m writing up this article, the VirtualLink consortium’s website still isn’t up.


HTC Vive Cable Set

In any case, the rationale for creating a standardized connector is pretty straightforward. A clunky multi-port cable is okay for first-generation early adopter products, but if the consortium members want to push VR adoption, then the setup process needs to be easier to reach the masses. This includes not only reducing the cable down to a single port, but also making these headsets easier to use with laptops, where HDMI ports are uncommon and DisplayPort is primarily picking up penetration through the popularity of the associated USB-C alternate mode. So a standard for a single cable, using the smallest yet most compatible port choice, is going to be the best way forward.

What this amounts to is that the standard is being implemented as a USB Type-C alternate mode. USB-C is the natural choice here, as the wider industry is already consolidating around the port for external connectivity, and the port + cable is designed to carry multiple lanes of data along with significant amounts of power. In fact I was a bit surprised that this required a new alternate mode at all – we already have the DisplayPort alternate mode – but after checking with the consortium, there is a good reason for this.

The official VirtualLink standard calls for 6 lanes of high speed data – 4 DisplayPort HBR 3 channels for video, and a single USB 3.1 Gen 2 channel (2 lanes) for data – along with 27W of power. And while you can combine the DisplayPort alt mode with those power requirements, the lynchpin is 4 lanes of video plus the USB 3.1 Gen 2 data channel. By the standard, DisplayPort alt mode replaces all of the USB 3.1 data channels, leaving only the much slower USB 2.0 baseline channels available.

USB Type-C Alternate Modes
  VirtualLink DisplayPort
(4 Lanes)
DisplayPort
(2 Lanes)
Base USB-C
Video Bandwidth (Raw) 32.4Gbps 32.4Gbps 16.2Gbps N/A
USB 3.x Data Bandwidth 10Gbps N/A 10Gbps 10Gbps + 10Gbps
High Speed Lane Pairs 6 4
Max Power 27W
(Mandatory)
Up To 100W (Optional, depending on manufacturer)

As it turns out, tucked away in version 1.3 of the USB Type-C cable specification released last year, the USB-IF has made some small but important changes to what alternate modes are allowed to do, which in turn means that new standards are needed to take advantage of these changes. In short, for direct connect devices – that is, devices connected directly to a USB-C port and not going through a hub or other extender/repeater – those devices are now allowed to reconfigure the 4 USB 2.0 pins (A6/A7/B6/B7) after the device handshake. So for the VirtualLink standard, this means that VR headsets can tap these additional 4 pins, giving them the extra flexibility they need in order to simultaneously meet the video, power, and date requirements of a VR headset.


VirtualLink Receptacle Pin Configuration (Color Coded)

Diving a bit deeper, what this essentially means is that the 4 USB 2.0 pins have been turned into another pair of high-speed differential lanes, giving compliant USB-C connectors 6 high-speed lanes overall. Normally these 4 pins are implemented in a USB-C cable as simple unshielded twisted pairs, which is sufficient for USB 2.0 data. However high-speed operation requires shielded differential pairs, which is not part of the base cable specification. But in the case of direct connect devices, they come with their own cable, meaning the usual cable rules can be thrown out the window and vendors can specifically use higher quality cabling to get away with high speed data on these pins.

The net result of all of this is that the VirtualLink standard is a rather forward-looking standard in terms of capabilities. 4 lanes of HBR3 video data alone is equivalent to a DisplayPort 1.4 connector, which is to say that it offers enough video bandwidth for 4K @ 120Hz with 8bpc color. This is more than double the bandwidth afforded to the Rift and Vive via their HDMI 1.3 connectors. I also find it interesting that after favoring HDMI for the first-generation products, this change means the industry is shifting to DisplayPort. DisplayPort of course is royalty free, among its other advantages, however its packet-based data transfer paradigm is very different than HDMI’s classic pixel-based TMDS system, which is an important distinction when you’re talking about how to best fight latency.

Meanwhile a full USB 3.1 Gen 2 data connection means there’s 10Gbps of bandwidth for data transfers between HMDs and the host computer, which right now at least is bordering on overkill. Though I’m very curious what the consortium is doing here (if they’re doing anything at all) to combat the fact that USB 3.1 Gen 2 data is normally only rated to run over 1 meter cables due to faster signal attenuation, which is a rather short cable length for a VR headset and the room scale experiences the vendors are pushing. Otherwise the 27W power standard sounds high at first as well, but it’s a sensible choice. The current Vive and Rift consume a fraction of that, but they had to be designed around the limitations of a USB 3.0 Type-A connector to begin with. As headsets become increasingly powerful in their own right – especially with inside-out tracking – a greater power budget will undoubtedly come in handy. As an aside, the consortium’s announcement doesn’t list voltages here, but 27W is almost certainly 9V @ 3A, a common mid-power point for USB-C devices.

Unfortunately this is the limit to what we know about the specification at this time. As mentioned previously, the consortium’s members aren’t talking about specific implementations quite yet, such as which types of devices the members would like to put VirtualLink-capable USB-C ports on. For desktop PCs the logical choice is video cards – especially if USB-C eventually replaces the DisplayPort connector outright – which is something we’ve seen manufacturers toy with, but not actually reach shipping products. This would also be consistent with the consortium’s goals of making VirtualLink a low-latency port (owing to the comfort requirements for VR).


MSI’s Unreleased USB-C Equipped GTX 1080 Ti

The flip side to all of this is that AMD, NVIDIA, and their board partners would need to start implementing either USB 3.1 controllers or USB 3.1 headers on their cards, in order to supply the necessary data connectivity. Which is not too difficult to do, but it’s yet another feature that video cards would need to support. And without going too far down the rabbit hole here, where this ultimately could lead to is that we’re about to see a major shift in the kinds of ports available on video cards, especially if most video cards need to be VirtualLink capable to maximize the number of systems that can be used with VR headsets.

Conversely, laptops should be relatively easy due to their highly integrated nature. USB-C ports are already common there, so it’s just a matter of adding another USB-C alternate mode. However it does call into question whether the consortium will be able to convince laptop manufacturers to adopt the alt mode for large swaths of their product lines (similar to the DP alt mode today), or if it will only be found on high-end gamer-focused laptops.

In any case, this should be a welcome development for the industry as a whole. While VR hasn’t proven to be as immensely popular with consumers as some vendors had hoped, VR headset adoption has shown solid growth and spurred plenty of system upgrades to drive the data-hungry headsets. So anything that further simplifies the process is going to be a welcome move for consumers and hardware vendors alike.

Tech News

Using your body to control a drone is more effective than a joystick

July 17, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

EPFL

If you’ve ever been chastised for throwing your entire body around during gaming (because physically leaning into track corners definitely helps somehow), here’s a bit of science-backed vindication. Researchers in Switzerland have discovered that using your torso to control a drone is far more effective than using a joystick.

The team from EPFL monitored the body movements and muscular activity of 17 people, each with 19 markers placed all over their upper bodies. The participants then followed the actions of a virtual drone through simulated landscapes, via virtual reality goggles. By observing motion patterns, the scientists found that only four markers located on the torso were needed to pilot a drone through an obstacle course, and that the method outperformed joystick control in both precision and reliability.

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The study’s lead author, Jenifer Miehlbradt of EPFL’s Translational Neuroengineering Laboratory, said: “Using your torso really gives you the feeling that you are actually flying. Joysticks, on the other hand, are of simple design but mastering their use to precisely control distant objects can be challenging.”

The proof-of-concept system still depends on body markers and external motion detectors to work, so the team’s next challenge will be making the tech wearable and completely independent. However, the range of applications for it are enormous. Being able to virtually fly while your head, limbs, hand and feet are free to perform other tasks could be a major development for gaming, drone control or even the planes of the future.

Tech News

'David Bowie Is' coming to your home through AR and VR

July 16, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

Did you miss your chance to see the David Bowie is museum exhibition and pay tribute to the late, great musician? You won’t have to wallow in regret for very long. The David Bowie Archive, Sony Music, Planeta and the Victoria and Albert Museum have announced plans for both augmented and virtual reality ‘recreations’ of the exhibit. These digital productions will use a series of “audio-visual spaces” to showcase 3D scans of Bowie’s artifacts and let you get much closer than you might in real life. You might not only see a legendary costume, but try it on for yourself.

The exhibition will arrive on all “major” AR and VR platforms at an unspecified point in the future. There’s no exact pricing, but it will carry a cost for a good reason: some of the proceeds will go toward both the V&A Museum and the Brooklyn Museum. Think of it as paying for any other exhibition ticket, only with more flexible visiting hours and no other guests getting in your way.

Tech News

HTC hints at multi-room VR using Steam

July 15, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Brian Oh/Engadget

You may know that VR in large rooms is becoming a reality, but what about venturing between rooms? It might happen sooner than you think, albeit with a few caveats. HTC has shown off an experience that used a SteamVR beta, a Vive Pro and 16 base stations to allow VR between multiple rooms. A tester successfully wandered between rooms finding tracked objects as he wandered through a complex but connected space. Don’t expect to play VR games that span your entire home, though, as there are some limitations.

Observer Alan Yates noted that SteamVR is still limited to tracking from four base stations in a given session. This is really about support for “radio-based channel configuration tools” rather than a dramatic change in SteamVR’s capabilities. As it stands, you can’t buy this exact setup. You currently need to buy a Vive Pro to get Steam VR 2.0 tracking stations, and there’s no certainty HTC, Valve or other companies will release stand-alone station packs in the near future. Think of this more as a glimpse of the future of room-scale VR than a sales pitch.

Here’s a video of the test environment that people asked for. Three separate tracked spaces, with two 2.0 BS each, all in a shared virtual space. (Seems to work even behind closed door) Trackers placed within the shared space to show common coordinate system between spaces. pic.twitter.com/efqJKajky6

— Alvin Wang Graylin (@AGraylin) July 11, 2018

To be completely clear; the 1st four that it sees in a session. So this announcement is a little premature. This release is mainly about beta support for the radio-based channel configuration tools.

— Alan Yates (@vk2zay) July 11, 2018

Tech News

The latest Tilt Brush tool is a game-changer for VR artists

July 13, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Google’s Tilt Brush is one of the best VR painting apps for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Since its release in 2016, artists have drawn magnificent ships, jaw-dropping mountain ranges and imaginative fight scenes in immersive 3D. Most of the app’s brushes, however, mimic the real world with flat, ribbon-like strokes. For years, you’ve had to move around and paint, or ‘color in’ every surface of a 3D object like a cube or cone.

It was pretty time consuming. Thankfully, the team behind Tilt Brush noticed and introduced a solution, called the hull brush, toward the end of June.

The new tool allows you to paint volumetrically. Normally, the app follows your movements in mid-air and creates a series of control points. These are supplemented with secondary points and then converted into colorful brush strokes. The hull brush, however, uses the control points to create a 3D mesh. The outermost points dictate the final size and shape, which for now has to be convex (curving outward, rather than inward). “The simplest way to think of a convex hull is as if you were ‘gift wrapping’ the points with geometry,” Jeremy Cowles, the technology lead for Tilt Brush explained.

In practice, you simply move the Rift or Vive controller through 3D space and watch as an abstract object is ‘filled in.’ With a single gesture, you can create a slab-like blob that is clearly visible from every angle. Now, people are embracing the hull brush as a way to quickly build characters and scenes. Steve Teeple, a concept artist who has worked with Marvel, Google and The Weeknd, among others, used the tool to create a dark and mysterious astronaut on June 29th. It’s a wonderful creation that could easily pass for some new Mass Effect or Destiny artwork.

“It’s a bit of a game changer in the Tilt Brush world,” he explained, “because while technically all the brushes create geometry of some kind when exported, usually a flat plane, it’s the first real 3D like brush we’ve seen added to the app.”

[embedded content]

Steve Teeple: Visitor

[embedded content]

Roscoe Studio: Woman by the Pool

The hull brush was made in response to user feedback (including a Pixar employee) who wanted a simpler way to create 3D objects. “If you’ve ever tried to create a solid sphere Tilt Brush without using any guides, the need is painfully obvious,” Cowles said. At first, the developer experimented with concave (inward facing curves) hulls because they were easier to implement “and mathematically well defined.” The user experience was unnatural, and for a while, Cowles considered abandoning the idea. He showed the team a couple of prototypes, though, which led to the convex-based tool available today.

“It quickly became clear that it was worth keeping,” he said.

Artists are profiting from that decision. Cesar ‘3Dominus‘ Ortega, for instance, used

Tech News

HTC's June sales highlight the need for its recent layoffs

July 6, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Tyrone Siu / Reuters

HTC can’t catch a break. The company has announced that in June its sales fell “nearly 68 percent,” according to Reuters. Earlier this week, the company revealed it would cull some 1,500 employees from its Taiwan manufacturing division in its chase for profitability. The last several years haven’t been kind to the company, rife with reorganizations (including one earlier this year), key staff members resigning and desperate efforts to put money in the bank by seemingly any means possible — including selling its Pixel team to Google for $1.1 billion.

Recently, the company combined its virtual reality and mobile divisions in an effort to refocus. Given this week’s news, and the Pixel sale as evidence, it wouldn’t be surprising if, in a last-ditch effort to return to profitability, HTC sold its Vive team to Valve. The two worked closely on the device, and it’s not like Valve’s coffers will run dry anytime soon.

Where would that leave HTC though, like BlackBerry? Vive is the company’s last stand, from the looks of it, and selling it off sounds like a Hail Mary. More than that, pulling a BlackBerry only works if the handsets HTC produces capture the market, something that hasn’t happened in years. And unlike BlackBerry’s keyboards, HTC doesn’t have one defining feature, let alone two (a reputation for enterprise-grade security). The new reduction in headcount probably won’t have the same financial benefits of the Pixel sale, but we’ll have to wait for HTC’s next earnings report to know for sure.