Welcome to my weekly appointment with the best AR VR news! Before starting with the summary of the news of this amazing week, let me invite you all to subscribe to the FREE Awe Nite Florence Event that will happen this Thursday at 5 pm CEST and that will feature amazing hosts like Pico, VisionAR, and JoinPad! I know that last time we had some technical issues, but this time will be much better, I promise! Here you are the link to the event, subscribe now! https://www.meetup.com/it-IT/awe-nite-florence/events/277257097/
I’ll also be a speaker at the Viscom Talks event, all in Italian, on Wednesday. There I am going to talk about some use cases for AR and VR! You can find more info and subscribe here https://www.viscomitalia.it/it-it/eventi/Viscom_Talks_2021.html
Ok, the promotional moment is over… now let’s dig into the amazing XR news!
Top news of the week
(Image by Snap)
Snap announces its 4th generation Spectacles
In the end, it has not been Apple or Facebook, but Snap to make its first move in the AR glasses space. At the end of its latest conference, the company behind Snapchat has announced its fourth generation of Spectacles glasses, the first one featuring real-time AR. The glasses surprisingly are standalone, and are not directly connected to a phone: this means more comfort for the user since he doesn’t have to deal with a cable, but also means a big compromise in terms of performances and battery time (the battery lasts only 30 minutes).
Compromises can be found all over this device: the XR1 chipset is by far not the most performant SoC on the market, and the FOV is limited to 26.3° diagonal, which feels so 2016. The software inside is also very simple: basically, all you can do is look at something and apply it to your vision filters taken from Snapchat. You can also record some images or short gifs to share on the same social network. That’s it. Not the most useful of smartglasses.
The cool thing that these glasses feature is the 2000 nits display, meaning that you can also wear it outdoor and see perfectly the augmentations. Kudos to Snap for it. Another big kudos comes from the fact that Snap is clearly showing all the limitations of the device in its communication: in all photos and videos, you can spot the limited FOV of the device, something that instead all the other AR companies try to hide. Big respect for them just for this decision.
Apart from its honesty, I also compliment Snap for the choice of not selling these glasses at the moment: they are not for sale, you can only register to a dedicated page if you are a lenses creator, and then Snap decides if giving you a pair. It’s just a devkit for now.
I have a pretty mixed opinion on these glasses: they have limited features and especially the very limited purpose of just making GIFs for a social medium… they seem pretty useless to me… but it’s also true that I’m not the target audience for this. Snapchat influencers and AR creatives may love the opportunity of seeing their reality modified by filters and to be able to create the modifications they would like to see just in front of their eyes in real time and share them with others. I hope that they’ll enjoy this little toy.
I also like to think about this in perspective: Snap is deadly serious in its AR efforts, and the fact that it keeps releasing glasses proves that it for sure wants to become a relevant company in the new AR technological revolution. This is proven also by the fact that it has just acquired WaveOptics, the company producing the waveguide displays employed in these Spectacles, and one of the most relevant waveguide displays manufacturers in the world. Snap says that WaveOptics may keep serving other customers, but I guess that sooner or later its best products will become exclusive to Snap. The AR wars are ramping up…
Other relevant news
(Image by Facebook)
Oculus Quest gets v29 update
This week Facebook has started rolling out the v29 runtime update for Oculus Quest, and it brings some interesting features like:
Multi-user mode on the original Quest 1
A renewed UI of the “toolbar” of the device. Personally, I don’t see a great improvement with it… but if Boz likes it more…
Ability to receive phone notifications directly on your VR headset (at the moment only for iPhones). This is a good idea, even if I have some embarrassing memories of when I let someone else use my GearVR headset, and he kept seeing my phone notifications
Ability to record your voice when you shoot videos inside the headset. This is super cool for us Youtubers to record gameplay video and comment them on the fly
Ability to apply a live overlay of yourself taken from the camera of your phone superimposed on the images of the game you are recording (at the moment only for iPhones). This is not a mixed reality video (I guess it is coming, though), but just a picture-over-picture overlay
120Hz support on Air Link. I’m sorry to say that, but this is probably one of the last nails in the coffin for Virtual Desktop streaming.
For us developers, there is also now the possibility of opening WebXR links easily from the PC by writing their URLs in the Oculus Developer Hub.
Facebook is not stopping here and is already working on other features. For instance, it is working to let you take your keyboard, whatever model it is, in VR: it is being more complex than they expected, but it will eventually come. “Infinite Office” for the Quest is not an application, but a complete set of features (like support for Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, desk mode, etc…) that let you work in VR. Honestly, as a VR professional, I still don’t find it compelling enough and I keep happily working on my laptop, but who knows how will the situation be in some months, considering the steady update pace that Facebook is proposing.
It is also working on transforming the home of the Quest in a social environment where you can meet your friends, as it is on Rift. I have never used that feature on Rift, and I guess I won’t do it on Quest, either… but maybe other people are interested in it.
Another feature Facebook is working on is the detection of people and pets entering your play space. After the leaked popup of some weeks ago, now a Redditor claims to have received by error a development version of the firmware that included already this interesting experimental feature.
It’s hard for competitors to keep this same update pace of the Quest…
More info (Official blog post of the v29 update)
More info (v29 update commented by Road To VR)
More info (120Hz coming to Air Link)
More info (Oculus Quest Home could become social)
More info (How to use all Infinite Office features on your Quest)
More info (Support for all keyboards on Quest is harder than expected)
More info (How to open URLs via the Developer Hub)
More info (How to open an internal Testing menu on your Quest)
More info (Someone got an internal build with special Guardian detection)
Google unveils Starline communication solution
At Google I/O, Google has announced Project Starline, an interesting project it has worked on for five years. It is about creating a bridge between two distant people.
Starline is a research project that makes two people meet one in front of the other in a realistic way, even if they are distant. Imagine sitting and having in front of you something like a mirror, but in that mirror instead of yourself, you see another person, perfectly in 3D, without wearing glasses. It feels like magic.
The technology behind it is pretty cool: you have some cameras (I guess RGB + depth) that scan yourself live in 3D, compress the data with a special Google algorithm, send it to the other peer, where it gets decompressed and reconstructed in real-time on a light field display. The other user can see your figure in 3D and enjoy your company.
The system is still pretty experimental: it is custom-built, so it is expensive; there are some glitches in the digital representation of the other person; and if you move your head too much, you exit from the eye box of the light field display and don’t see the other person in 3D anymore. But it’s an experimental project, so of course, it has issues.
Google claims that it can become the future of communication, which offers more human communication than the flat Zoom: Clay Bavor says that with it, you have a true impression of having met with someone else, as it had happened in real life. And in some months, the first enterprise customers should install Starlight boots in their venues and use them for meetings and other undisclosed purposes (I wonder if they are undisclosed because they are porn-related…).
I find Starlight an AMAZING project on the research side, and I think that all these technologies Google has developed for it may be re-used in other XR projects. But I don’t see its value as a product: it’s expensive, it’s bulky, it works only for one-to-one meetings… and I don’t have the natural impression of having met someone just because he’s in 3D… I want to touch people, I want to do something with them… just speaking in front of a window seems to me when people visit their friends in jail and speak using a phone in action movies. Furthermore, the pandemic could end in some months, so people eventually can meet again. I think it can become just the nth XR project that Google will abandon.
So personally I don’t share the same enthusiasm of the community on this project… but I find it cool anyway.
Digilens shows a reference design for AR glasses
DigiLens, one of the most important Waveguide optics manufacturers, has just announced the “Design v1”, a reference design for modular AR glasses.
Interestingly, this reference design is pretty powerful because it runs a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2, but it is all enclosed in a quite small form factor, that is standalone. So while until now we have seen mostly AR glasses tethered to a phone, this reference design can work with all the required parts all enclosed in a standalone headset.
The specifications, kindly offered by Road To VR, are also quite interesting for a self-contained unit:
Resolution: 1,280 x 720 (0.9MP) per-eye, DLP
Refresh-Rate: 60Hz, 72Hz, 90Hz
Lenses: DigiLens waveguide
Field-of-view: 44° x 25° (50° diagonal)
Processor: Snapdragon XR2
Tracking: Dual on-board cameras (no external beacons)
Audio: In-frame speakers
Cameras: 8MP RGB center
Wireless: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth
While the FOV is not exciting, the display is pretty cool because you can use it even outdoor (thanks to its 3000 nits of luminance) and it lets other people see your eyes, so you don’t look like a complete dork like when you wear HoloLens.
It’s a great piece of tech, and even my review hero Ben Lang that has tried them has said that these glasses are very interesting. What worries me are the compromises required to run on such a small form factor: for sure the XR2 has been underclocked to not make it overheat (so it won’t have the same performances as the one in the Focus 3), and the battery must be small, so I don’t imagine a long duration for it.
You won’t see these glasses on the market soon, though: as I said, these are just a reference design, and DigiLens is looking for manufacturers that want to transform them into a full product. I guess that it won’t have much difficulty in finding them, because the project is very interesting.
News worth a mention
(Image by Facebook)
Quest 2 recalled from Amazon EU for skin irritation issue
The mystery of the Quest 2 disappeared from Amazon EU websites has been solved: the materials on the Quest 2 facemask caused irritations of the skin to a very little percentage of people, and so the sales have been suspended. It’s pretty weird, because actually Facebook had already publicly acknowledged the problem and even already solved it, so this suspension looks like total nonsense to me.
Facebook is working with Amazon to solve all the bureaucratic stuff and we hope that sales can start again soon. In the meanwhile, if you want to buy a Quest, you can head to the official Oculus website to do it.
Facebook may be losing at least $100 for every sold Quest 2
In an interview with a Chinese magazine, HTC China (Mister) President Alvin Graylin has stated that in his opinion, Facebook may lose at least $100-$200 for each sold Oculus Quest 2 device. HTC manufactures standalone headsets based on the same reference design of the Quest, so Mr. Graylin for sure knows how much does it cost to produce a headset.
Considering that Quest has sold at least 3M units now, this means more than $300M of losses from the hardware sales for Facebook. This just considers the sales, and not all the distribution channels, the salaries, the R&D, etc… Just for the salaries, considering that 10,000 people are working on XR at Facebook, we are at least at $1B per year.
HTC had $210 million as the total revenue for 2020. Now you get why it can’t compete at the same price point as Facebook and it went all-in in the enterprise market.
Apple new interface for the Apple Watch may be a glimpse of future XR interactions
Apple has just debuted the AssistiveTouch feature for Apple Watch, which lets you interact with the device by just clenching and pinching your hand. This interaction mode has been added as an accessibility feature, but may be a glimpse of how interactions with XR glasses may be in the future, with a bracelet that detects your hands’ movements. Facebook is also already experimenting on this, thanks to its acquisition of CTRL+Labs.
Some news on the metaverse
Some news on the metaverse:
Take Two CEO has said that he is allergic to the “metaverse” and all other buzzwords used in the ecosystem (and in this, I agree with him). Then he also expressed serious doubts on VR and AR (and in this, I don’t agree);
In an interview, Prof Bob Stone has expressed his foot-on-ground vision of the metaverse. Long story short, it is our future, but we shouldn’t overhype it, and companies shouldn’t start implementing XR technologies if they don’t need it. Plus, all this metaverse buzz may lead to an exploding bubble in the future;
Jesse Damiani has written an amazing article about the future of music and live events by interviewing some Roblox executives. The common consensus seems to be that XR events may be an important thing even after the pandemic because they’re more accessible than physical events and they can offer performances impossible in real life;
A law firm has written a whitepaper about the metaverse and all the legal implications of every aspect of it. If lawyers start entering the metaverse, we are f****ed…
(Thanks Cathy Hackl for this tip)
ThirdEye sets a fund for XR startups
ThirdEye, a manufacturer of AR glasses, has set its ThirdEye Investment Fund, to fund interesting XR startups in the field, so that to create a vibrant ecosystem around its company. Investments start at $50,000: if you have a software company about AR, you can consider this interesting opportunity.
Microsoft confirms (again) it wants to build consumer HoloLens
Alex Kipman, the mind behind Microsoft HoloLens, has confirmed again in an interview that Microsoft will one day build a consumer version of HoloLens. But this is not coming anytime soon, exactly like the HoloLens 3, which will only come when there is a technological leap big enough to justify the build of a new version.
Watch a throuh-the-lens video of Tilt Five glasses
Tilt Five is an amazing startup building AR glasses to play tabletop games. It is lead by the genius Jeri Ellsworth, and its Kickstarter campaign collected millions of dollars. Now the first batches of the glasses are being shipped, and so finally we can have a through-the-lenses look at how they are, and the visuals seem very sharp.
Discover Huawei 6DOF VR glasses devkit
Together with Nikk Mitchell from FXG, I have made a super-post where I show you the devkit for 6DOF tracking for Huawei VR glasses. Huawei is a very important hardware company and its glasses have a very sleek design, so I think it’s very important to keep an eye on them!
Decamove attracts $350K in its preorder campaign
Decamove, the little device that you put on your waist to be able to walk in VR in a direction while you look at another one, is being pretty successful and it has collected over $350K in its preorder campaign. Not only this, but also the reviews are very positive, and PC VR gamers love using it. Shipping should come as early as August 2021.
Track your body in VR with just two webcams
A Japanese entity called “Akiya Research Institute” has shown on Twitter that it is developing a system to let you perform motion capture with just two webcams connected to your PC, and this could be used also as a very cheap way to have your full body in VR. The video they shared is promising, but there is not a release date yet.
Researchers are working to treat chronic pain with VR
Research is being done to evaluate the use of virtual reality also to treat chronic pain. Most of the research until now has been devoted to handling acute pain, that is caused by an external event, while now researchers want to evaluate the effectiveness of VR for chronic pain, the relentless one that you feel every day. I hope this proves to be effective so that to help people affected by fibromyalgia and other similar diseases.
You can now touch a virtual cat with full haptics
The “most WTF news of the day” prize has been won by the University of Taiwan, where researchers have worked on a haptic device with fur on it so that to simulate your contact with an animal. Thanks to this, you can so touch a virtual cat in a very realistic way. Years of research for… cats. It makes perfect sense.
Time perception changes when you are in VR
Another research has proven that when you are in VR you have a different perception of time: when you think that only 5 minutes have passed by, actually they have been 7 minutes or something like that. Now you have scientific proof of the reason why it happens that you say during the afternoon “I just play 5 minutes to In Death: Unchained” and then when you remove the headset, it’s 3 am of the day after.
Epic sues Nreal because of its name
Epic Games has sued Nreal because its name is too close to “Unreal”, which is its trademark. Considering that there are plenty of companies with the “real” name in it, I think that at this point Epic should sue half of the XR ecosystem. I have heard many people making confusion between “Magic Leap” and “Leap Motion”, but no one doing the same with Nreal and Unreal.
In comparison to this news, the one about the haptic fur system appears to have much more sense…
Three VR games have implemented NVIDIA DLSS
Three VR games have implemented NVIDIA DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling), a technologic that can render a frame by just rendering a lower resolution of it and then boosting its fidelity through machine learning. This can be used either to improve the performances or to increase the fidelity of an XR application. The three games are Into the Radius, No Man’s Sky, and Wrench.
Some news on content
There’s now an unofficial mod available to play Red Dead Redemption 2 in Virtual Reality! Yes, there are glitches, it’s not perfect, but wow! RDR2 in VR!
We have a new video of the upcoming Ven VR Adventure for Quest 2, and it’s amazing to see real-time shadows in it!
Dungeon Full Dive looks like an amazing upcoming game for all tabletop RPG games fans: it should be able to create in VR the sensation of playing a game like D&D with your friends!
Green Hell VR is a game about survivorship in a forest. It looks pretty intense from the trailer;
God Of Riffs is an indie clone of Beat Saber for metal fans;
I have reviewed Puzzle Bobble VR: Vacation Odyssey! Nice transposition in VR of an old classic, but there are some issues…
News from partners (and friends)
LA composer Joris Daniel has released his futuristic electro music video “Give It All” on May 19. The visuals were designed by Joris using 360-degree technology created for both Oculus and Youtube. You can check it out now on Youtube!
RIFTCAT has ended the development of its software VRidge. The Polish team says that the decision has been taken because the product is complete and there is no need to update it further, but we all know that this is only part of the truth. The other part is that there’s no place in the market for PC-to-headset streaming applications because all the headset makers have in-house solutions now.
RIFTCAT team will dedicate itself to game development now. I wish them a lot of good luck… RIFTCAT was one of the first companies with which I had a sort of friendship/partnership when I had the Immotionar startup and when I started my blog… they are amazing people and I hope they will succeed in their new venture!
Synth Riders is -35% off this week and you can even get two DLC songs for free! This is an amazing opportunity if you love VR rhythm games.
Some XR fun
Facebook’s content is Facebook’s spam.
Be a VR dev they said, it will be fun they said.
I see that you like VR, so maybe you may like… WHAT??
Let’s just tell everyone what VR is really useful for
Zuck The Startup Slayer
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Reynaldo T Zabala
Nikk Mitchell and the great FXG team
Julio Cesar Bolivar
Matthew Allen Fisher
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(Header image by Snap)