VR: HTC Vive hands-on

The Vive from HTC:  a VR headset developed with Valve
The Vive from HTC: a VR headset developed with Valve

On Sunday, March 1st, HTC held a presentation on the eve of the Mobile World Congress, Barcelona. During the course of the event, they revealed a new VR headset they’re developing in partnership with Valve.

I pulled together news on the announcement from a variety of sources a few hours after it was made. Since then, more information has hit the media, the results of numerous opportunities for hands-on demonstrations. And going by the feedback, it would appear Oculus VR has some very series competition on its hands.

The big thing everyone has been pointing to as being the real secret sauce for VR is a sense of presence. With so many different systems in so many different states of development, how this will be properly achieved has perhaps been hard to judge. Some headsets are managing it in part, some third-party peripheral makers are looking at various means of providing it with room sensors, body kits, etc. However, from all the hands-on reports, it would seem that HTC are the first to nail it in one fairly straight forward package.

“With the original Oculus Rift and things like Samsung Gear VR, that sensation of really being somewhere else is present, but fleeting,” Carlos Rebato says, writing for Gizmodo. “Those can’t track your body, so as soon as you lean just slightly, the illusion is shattered. The Oculus Rift DK2 did it better, with a motion tracking camera that at least let you lean, but you were still a sort of an armless half-body. Sony’s Project Morpheus improved it further by using controllers keep track of your hands.

“But the Vive? It’s like nothing that’s ever come before.”

The HTC Vive headset with a pair of "base station" scanner below and to the left of it, and a pair of the hand controllers in the foreground (image courtesy of PC Gamer)
The HTC Vive headset with a pair of “base station” scanner below and to the left of it, and a pair of the hand controllers in the foreground (image courtesy of PC Gamer)

Gareth Beavis, over at Techradar, is equally gushing. “There’s a TV show from the early 1990s called Red Dwarf that depicted the last human (and a group of humanoids) that were lost in space in the future, desperate to get home. One of the big ways they stayed entertained was with a holographic headset that let them play in hyper real worlds, like they were living in the action sequence … I always thought that idea, that experience, would never be real.

“But with the HTC Vive I took my first steps into that world.”

Both reports – and others in a similar vein – point to the distinguishing factors that make the Vive the complete package: the laser “base station” scanners and the dedicated hand controllers. Details of both of these were rough at the time of HTC’s announcement, but the various hands-on demonstrations taking place at the MWC and, under the Valve banner, as the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, more information on them has filtered into the tech media.

The scanners are small, box-like objects designed to be mounted on wall at 90-degrees to one another. As noted in my original article ion the Vive, these can then scan a square area up to 4.6 metres (15ft on a side), accurately tracking multiple sensors on the headset, and the motions of the wearer’s body and recreating them within a virtual environment, allowing the wearer to move around “inside” a virtual space. To reduce the risk of collisions with physical objects, the scanner also map the location of walls and furniture, and the system fades these into the wearer’s field of view should they get too close.

A closer look at one of the "base station" laser  scanners used with the Vive (image courtesy of PC Gamer)
A closer look at one of the “base station” laser scanners used with the Vive (image courtesy of PC Gamer)

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SL project updates week 10/2: server and viewer notes

RMS Titanic, Second Life
RMS Titanic, Second Life

Server Deployments

Tuesday, March 3rd, saw the Main (SLS) channel receive the server maintenance package deployed to the RC channels in week #9. This includes:

  • A server-side fix for BUG-8297, “Unable to teleport anywhere using SLGO”
  • Improvements to server logging.

There were no deployments to the RC channels on Wednesday, March 4th.

Upcoming Server Updates

During the Server Beta User Group meeting on Thursday, March 5th, Caleb Linden, who now chairs the meetings, indicated that an upcoming deployment to the RC channel will include a change to the number of off-line IMs delivered when you log-in.

Currently, the cap is set to 25, but it’s not clear what the new limit will be, although it might vary (or be adjustable) depending on whether a user is a Basic or Premium member. This change will not affect the forwarding of off-line IMs to e-mail.

SL Viewer

The new Tool Chain Update viewer was promoted to Release Candidate status on Wednesday, March 4th. Version 3.7.26.299443 see a change to the tools used to build the viewer (e.g. the use of Visual Studio 2013, Xcode 6.1, and some other tools improvements). This update also incorporates the log-in screen update to a single button, replacing the need for the Log-in Screen RC viewer.

Future Viewer Updates

Avatar Layers Global Limit

In 2014, BUG-6258, “Popularity of Mesh Attachments Facilitates Need For More Alpha Layers” is a request to raise the number of alpha layers which can be concurrently worn, prompted the Lab to consider the introduction of a global limit on the number of clothing layers an avatar could wear,so that, like attachments, an avatar can wear as many clothing layers in any combination, up to that limit, rather than having individual limits enforced per clothing layer.

During the TPV Developer meeting in week #9, Oz Linden indicated that while there had been major progress on this idea since it had been first raised, something would likely be appearing later in the year. Since then. Whirly Fizzle has spotted a viewer code repository from Vir Linden: “SL-103 WIP – viewer enforces wearable limits based on total articles of clothing rather than per-type limit. Limit is artificially low for testing, will bump before release.”

This doesn’t mean new global limits on avatar cloting layers will be appearing in the next few weeks, but it does indicate that it is one of several avatar related projects he’s working on (together with the new Avatar Hover Height feature and fixing at least some of the current crop of attachment issues).

Notifications Changes

Also during the TPVD meeting in week #9, Oz commented that some “cosmetic” work was being done to the way notifications are presented through the viewer. Again, thanks to Whirly’s poking around, this would appear to be in connection with BUG-8000, “Separate transaction notices from group notice/invites or provide some means for sorting incoming notifications”, which has been imported by the Lab and is being worked on.

A preliminary version of the proposed new notification panel (see BUG-8000). Note that is is a work-in-progress and may be subject to change prior to release (image courtesy of Whirly Fizzle)
A preliminary version of the proposed new notification panel (see BUG-8000). Note that is is a work-in-progress and may be subject to change prior to release (image courtesy of Whirly Fizzle)

 Group Chat

Simon Linden is continuing to bang on things to try to correct issues that have arisen since the last set of updates at the end of week #9. According to Caleb Linden, who now chairs the Server Beta Group meetings, those groups that are affected are seeing up to a 20% failure rate in delivered messages.

Other Items

Rigged Mesh Crashers

Further to my last report on this issue, Whirly Fizzle (who is genuinely one of the great powerhouses in helping to keep SL rolling along) stepped up to provide a more detailed explanation of the issue based on her own extensive investigations into the matter (thanks Whirly! 🙂 ).

In her comments, Whirly notes that Chalice Yao has developed a debug  setting within her own NACL viewer setting specifically stop cap rendering of worn rigged meshes, and that Nicky Dasmijn from the Firestorm team is working on a patch for their viewer. However, while the setting works, it can also prevent “legitimate” rigged mesh items with high vertices counts from rendering.

Further discussion of the problem with regards to BUG-2082, which includes new viewer rendering controls, confirmed this would not help with the issues presented by this particular kind of rigged mesh crasher but it will prevent issues such as the animated mesh “tail of doom” which can cause viewer crashes as a result of overloading memory.