VR has too much to prove

Lucas Matney on TechCrunch:

At a company event today in San Francisco, Samsung President & Chief Strategy Officer Young Sohn detailed that the company is actively pursuing both smartphone-focused VR headsets and standalone solutions. The decision to market and ship a dedicated all-in-one device would rely largely on where the VR market goes in the upcoming months and years, he says, and whether the clunky headsets can gain wider adoption.

That seems a smart decision. VR was going to change the world and at the moment both Oculus and HTC have not convinced much people of the revolution that this technology was bringing us.

I see Sony and its PlayStation VR as a much more compelling offer for most users. They’ll have to spend some serious money besides the PS4/Pro itself (the PlayStation VR bundle costs $500 and comes with the headset, PlayStation Camera and two PlayStation Move controllers), but the offer is quite good for a solution that is not that far from what Oculus and HTC give -and I’ve tested all of them-.

Virtual Reality got us excited, but it hasn’t brought that revolution it promised… yet. We’ll see if future titles really show us what this tech is capable of, but as of now, it’s too expensive to exit its niche market.

Microsoft’s ‘mixed reality’ sounds like a confusing plan B

Terry Myerson at Computex 2016:

Today, we announced that Windows Holographic is coming to devices of all shapes and sizes from fully immersive virtual reality to fully untethered holographic computing. Today we invited our OEM, ODM, and hardware partners to build PCs, displays, accessories and mixed reality devices with the Windows Holographic platform.

It’s good to hear that Microsoft opens up its platform and allows others to develop its own devices, but this feels weird. Why would anybody want to invest time and resources in something that hasn’t proved anything?

The same happens with that new ‘mixed reality’ concept that Microsoft has been talking about. Combining VR platforms with AR platforms could be interesting, sure, but Microsoft seems to be the weak one in this battle. HTC and Oculus have the winning hand (or at least a better hand) because they’ve already showed that this platforms can do something that interests certain kind of users.

All Microsoft has given us at this point is nice promo videos.

The Oculus Rift era has arrived, the revolution hasn’t

The reviews for the final, consumer version of the Oculus Rift are all over the media, and there are mixed comments. Above all I perceive some kind of disappointment: where is the miracle? Where is the revolution?

It’s hard to surprise with something that has been in the works publicly for so long. The miracle and the revolution started years ago, when we astounded ourselves with a device that finally showed that Virtual Reality experiences were indeed possible.

Being able to enjoy those experiences seems now something almost boring. Of course the Oculus Rift has arrived: it had to, at some point. Those reviewers have written prettydull, unimpressive pieces about a product that was so well known it had no chances to impress us.

That is the next step for the Oculus Rift and the rest of its competitors, of course. But at least they’ve given the first and most difficult step.

The Google VR future is autonomous

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Google took a big step forward with the first iteration of Google Cardboard: that simple solution was able to democratize VR and make accessible to everyone. It was, however, a flawed product: too limited and too toy-ish.

Weeks ago rumors started to pour in -we just talked about it a few days ago-, and now it seems clear that Google will soon reveal a new piece of hardware that will be far more advanced and ambitious than Cardboard. It probably will be also a new step between the Gear VR from Samsung and the HTC Vive Pre/Oculus Rift.

According to the WSJ, the new headset from Google won’t be tethered to a smartphone or a PC to work, and that’s something that makes everyone question where will it get its content from. I assume it will have WiFi support, so you’ll have to connect to a streaming server: some kind of ‘VR version of YouTube’, if you will, with some kind of VR Android on it. Uhm.

We’ll see if that’s the case, but that future of an independente headset is quite difficult to imagine: a good VR experience needs a lot of power, and streaming those experiences is for sure really demanding. Interesting times for VR, that’s for sure.

Oculus Rift as the PC savior

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Yesterday Oculus revealed the details of the first PCs that will be able to show the “Oculus Ready” tag. These computers will come from makers such as ASUS and Alienware and will allow end users to enjoy a guaranteed VR experience that (theoretically) won’t suffer for glitches and problems.

Do-it-yourselfers who scrounge around part-picking websites may be able to get a slightly better deal on an extremely bare-bones PC that can power the Oculus Rift, but the bundled savings mean these Oculus Ready towers actually provide some decent value for the money. The Oculus Ready line should also provide an easy, “all-in” solution for eager virtual reality early adopters that have more curiosity than hardware-building prowess.

Those PCs won’t be exactly cheap, and even if you upgrade your system or decide to build one of your own, you’ll have to admit one thing:

Oculus Rifts are great news for the PC market.

I suspect there won’t be an enormous growth of those PC offered with the “Oculus Ready” certification, and the reason is that I guess early Rift adopters were already gamers and had systems that complied with the minimum requirements.

The $599 price for the Oculus Rift hardware won’t appeal most users if they have to spend another $1K in parts or a whole system. Not at least virtual reality really delivers what is expected from it -and we expect a lot-. If it does, if it indeed delivers, the Post-PC era could in fact be a great lie again.

 

The challenge for Google’s next Cardboard 

The Google Cardboard project has been incredibly succesful on its primary goal: democratize Virtual Reality and allow nearly anyone to get a glimpse of what this trend is going to allow us to do.

Now that they have succeed in that, it seems Google wants to monetize that kind of market too. According to the Financial Times, Google will launch a new headset that will be similar to current Gear VR. That’s the right move for Google -given that they don’t abandon the current version- and will allow them to compete on  market that will for sure have associated many opportunities to earn some money.

There are doubts, though. How many kind of devices will we have?

  1. Oculus Rift: the most expensive and -supposedly- the best to get the richest experience. (Gaming PC required)
  2. HTC Vive Pre: from what people are saying, this one is really starting to be a serious contender to Oculus’s headset. (Gaming PC required)
  3. Gear VR: that’s the cheapest way to enjoy a quality VR… if you currently are an owner of a Samsung high-end smartphone. We already discussed what are the differences between this device’s features and the ones Google Carboard has. (Samsung high-end smartphone required)
  4. Google Carboard: cheapest, most affordable way to play with VR and test if it can deliver what we expect it to deliver. (Any (capable) smartphone required)

From what we see, there will be a high-end and low-end for both segments: PC based and smartphone based. I guess for the time being the VR experience will be similar to what happens with regular games on the PC and the smartphone. If you want to enjoy a richer experience in almost every aspect -mobile games can be really addictive-, you’ll have to go for the PC experience. Mobile VR will be more casual, more of a testing arena.

So Google going for the high end makes sense. Hopefully being able to enjoy a better, more comfortable experience with (almost) any Android or iOS smartphone will push this kind of content even more.

Interesting times ahead.

 

Samsung Gear VR vs Google Cardboard: the differences are night and day

As an owner of a Google Cardboard model, I had doubts about how Samsung Gear VR could really make a difference when the experience should depend more on the mobile phone than on the mobile VR glasses themselves.

In fact, to me the Samsung Gear VR weren’t nothing else than a expensive, pretty version of the Google Cardboard, by I was wrong. On a recent poll in Reddit, some users pointed out the big differences:

  • Better optics
  • Better field of view
  • Better head orientation / tracking (custom sensor vs under-optimized phone sensors when you use Cardboard)
  • Low persistence (reduced blur)
  • Low latency (OS level changes in Samsung phones made by Oculus)
  • High quality lenses
  • Inbuilt ventilation ducts to prevent lens fogging
  • More content
  • A proximity sensor between the lenses so it waits for it to be on your head to begin (and when you take it off, it pauses)
  • Built-in controls (at the right side of the goggles)

The difference is clear according to one of those users:

Cardboard is a toy, Gear VR is real virtual reality

And the recent The Verge’s review confirms that Gear VR’s experience is much more suited for VR fans. We’ll see how Oculus Rift performs -it should nicer, but also more expensive and you’ll need a powerful PC- but it seems Samsung has made a compelling case for affordable* VR here.

*Not that affordable considering that you’ve got to be owner of one of the “2015 Samsung GALAXY flagship smartphones” :/

The future shouldn’t be nerdy

Tech readers and users know about a new piece of technology long before most of the population does. They understand what that technology can do for everyone before people actually know that technology exists. So when that software or hardware product finally gets away from the geeky cave, their features and highlights must be clearly clarified.

Which doesn’t happen that much. Geeks and nerds seem geeks and nerds before and during the development and even launch of their products, but most of the times they continue to look like that, and their products do too. Media companies often like to show us that products in a way that may interest the general public… but not the right way.

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People couldn’t help it. A meme was born.

It happened with Google Glass and the shower moment, and it has happened again with Virtual Reality and the akward Time magazine cover that has become the new big meme thing.  Lot’s of images have been makking the rounds on the Internet, lots of listicles (and another one, and another one) have appeared around the new meme phenomenom, and even Time magazine editors themselves have embraced that publicity with their own favorites.

That’s a good way to react against a mistake that could damage their recognized brand, but there’s no sign of admitting that this cover does not sell that technology very well to the non-tech-initiated population. It makes Virtual Reality look like a toy, like something you look stupid with, and does not reflect the impact that this revolutionary technology can have in our world.

I haven’t read the article and I hope the text there reflects that, but that cover, wich is what people will remember, is a mistake. And a big one.

Please, stop that discourse. Technology revolutions will not make anyone a nerd or a geek. They will tranform us and our lifes, hopefully for the better. This kind of message does not help that mission. I’m not the only one who thinks that. There are lots of critics around. Lots of them.

PS: By the way: don’t miss the featured article that The Verge did on this subject. It’s amazing.