CtrlAltStudio gains Kinect support and is adapted for use by a university

CAS-logoDave Rowe contacted me earlier in the week to let me know that he’s updated his CtrlAltStudio viewer with both a variable walk speed and support for Kinect for Windows.

Commenting on the updates, which can be found in CtrlAltStudio release Alpha 5 1.1.0.34376 (Windows only), Dave explains:

In the time-honoured tradition of making things do that which they weren’t quite designed for, I’ve added a variable walking speed to the CtrlAltStudio Viewer, Alpha 5 1.1.0.34376. I’ve also added “spot standing” Kinect control of avatar movement for people to try out. These two items can be used with all display modes: normal, stereoscopic 3D, and Oculus Rift.

The variable walk speed came about as a result of some issues when walking / flying in-world when using the Rift, and Dave was pointed in the direction of a possible solution after reading a Firestorm JIRA raised by Adeon Writer requesting that the ability to more easily toggle between “full” and “quarter” speed movement when walking, running or crouching than solely by pressing and holding the spacebar.

Dave notes that his solution, which employs a slider in the Movement sub-tab of Preferences > Move and View, may not be ideal at present, and only affects avatar walking speeds.  He also notes it may not work properly on OpenSim Grids or with the SpaceNavigator (at least at present in the case of the latter).

The new variable walk speed slider and the Kinect options in CtrlAltStudio Alpha 5
The new variable walk speed slider and the Kinect options in CtrlAltStudio Alpha 5

In all the slider has five presets, from “slow” (left) to “normal” (right). When using the viewer, I found that with the mid-point “half speed” and the preset between it and “normal”, my avatar (on an uncrowded region) moved forward reasonably well and was relatively responsive when turning as I walked. Walking backwards was also OK, although if you enable the option to turn your avatar around when walking “backwards”, you may find your avatar’s movement becomes jerky and it constantly tries to turn and put its back to you; something which becomes more pronounced at the lower settings.

I found the “slow” setting to be somewhat akin to being caught in a heavy lag situation, but without any accompanying rubber-banding or sudden speed-ups with walking; my avatar moved very slowly and was subject to intermittent pauses and froze on a couple of occasions, requiring me to adjust the slider more to the right.

While this may not sound promising, do remember that this is only the first cut at the work on Dave’s part.

Kinect Gesture Support

As well as the variable walking speed, Dave has also added gesture support for the viewer, which can be used via the Microsoft Kinect system.  The supported gestures allow you to set your avatar walking, stop it, turn it around and fly up and down or stop gesture-driven control. He’s produced a set of easy-to-understand drawings of the gestures for each, and notes that you can also stop gesture-driven motion by walking out of the Kinect’s sensor range, and also fly down by crouching.

Kinect gestures (image courtesy of Dave Rowe)

In discussing the use of the variable walk slider and the Kinect options, Dave notes:

The variable walk speed improves the usability of Kinect “spot standing” control, usable in Windows builds on PCs with Kinect for Windows sensors installed. You set a “home” position of zero movement, then once you move out of a dead zone around that position your avatar starts moving in the direction you’ve moved in. Avatar movement starts off slow and increases speed as you move further out, with the maximum being that of the walk speed you’ve configured. Except that for forwards movement you start running after the maximum walk speed.

Even if you don’t have either active stereoscopic glasses or an Oculus Rift headset, but you do have a Kinect system (with Runtime or Software Development Kit installed on your PC), you can still use the Alpha 5 version of CtrlAltStudio to try both the variable speed walk and the gesture controls out – just leave both the Stereoscopic and Oculus options disabled. Note you do not have to have Kinect in order to try-out the variable speed walking.

A further change with this release is the inclusion of a Prediction Delta slider with the Oculus Rift options.  Again, as Dave notes in his blog:

Sensor prediction helps reduce latency and you can configure how far into the future your orientation is predicted. With your Rift on, adjust the Prediction Delta value until moving your head feels most comfortable.

predict
the new Prediction Delta slider in the Oculus Rift section of the Display Output sub-tab for helping to reduce latency and configuring how far into the future your orientation is predicted for a more natural head movement when using the Rift.

You can find out about these , and the other updates within the Alpha 5 version of CtrlAltStudio via the release notes.

CtrlAltStudio Adopted and Adapted by St. Andrew’s University

Dave’s work on CtrlAltStudio has not gone unnoticed. None other than St. Andrews University in Scotland have adopted and adapted it as a part of their own work to create a new viewer they’ve called ACE.

Faculty members and students at the university have been using virtual environments for historical reconstructions as a part of their Open Virtual Worlds project for some time now, running their own dedicated OpenSim grid (which is hypergrid enabled, or people can access by creating a log-in account).

Project members have now taken Dave’s work with CtrlAltStudio viewer and combined it with their own Kinect bindings created as a part of their Chimera project in order to produce their own ACE (Armadillo Control Extensions) viewer. This can be used to explore and experience their in-world reconstructions using Oculus Rift and without the need for any physical device to assist them.

The ACE viewer also requires the installation of the Kinect Runtime or SDK to be installed on the host computer in order to work, but once these and the viewer are installed, it can be used to connect to any grid (OpenSim or SL).

A blog post on the ACE viewer is available on the Open Virtual Worlds blog, as is a video demonstrating it in use.

Related Links

CtrlAltStudio

Open Virtual Worlds Project

Kinect Runtime & SDK (required for Kinect use)

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LL request tax info from some customers and issue blog post clarification

secondlifeUpdate, November 28th: Linden Lab have clarified what they mean by “transaction”.

Some confusion occurred recently after some SL users started reporting they were receiving requests from Linden Lab for tax information, specifically to fill-out IRS form W9, Request for Taxpayer Information. The news of the e-mails sparked a discussion on the SL Universe forums, where opinions as to the cause of the e-mails was somewhat split, with some concerned as to why this should be happening and what it might mean, and others seeing it as a matter of routine.

On Tuesday 19th November, Linden Lab moved to try to clarify matters, issuing a blog post entitled Required Tax Documentation, which reads in full:

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires Linden Lab to collect and retain Form W-9 (for U.S. residents) and Form W-8BEN (for non-U.S. residents) at certain transaction volumes. If you reach the transaction threshold and we do not have your completed and signed W-9 or W-8BEN on file, we are required to withhold funds from your account (at the current rate of 28% of your gross amounts received). Additionally, for U.S. residents with 200 or more transactions with a total amount in excess of $20,000 in a calendar year, we are required to file a Form 1099-K with the IRS reporting those transactions for that year.

If you are required to submit a W-9 or W-8BEN form to us, we will email you before the end of the year with instructions on how to do so. Please follow the instructions to complete and submit the required Form W-9 or W-8BEN within thirty (30) days of receipt. You will only need to complete this paperwork once unless your information changes from year-to-year. If you do not receive an email from Linden Lab, we do not need you to complete these forms.

While the blog post is welcome, some confusion and concerns remain.

One key area of confusion is exactly what constitutes a “transaction” – is it related solely to cashing-out from Second Life, or is it based on the number of user-to-user transaction through the LindeX (i.e. the number of L$ sales a person makes per amount of L$ they offer on the LindeX? Or is it somewhere in between?

A potential cause for concern is that many people cash-out via PayPal, and are also required to fill-out the requisite forms mentioned by Linden Lab,  so there is an understandable level of worry as to the risk of double reporting. While this is not strictly Linden Lab’s issue, it is nevertheless a genuine cause for concern.

It has been suggested that one way to clear-up some of the confusion and concern might be for additional explanation to be given through the likes of a Knowledgebase article linked to the entry on account balances and withdrawals. Another alternative might be through an official wiki article dealing with tax liabilities as a whole, much as there are similar entries dealing with matters such as European VAT.

Related Links

With thanks to Ciaran Laval and Peter Gray