High Fidelity: “VR commerce”, 200 avatars and scanning faces

HF-logoHigh Fidelity have a put out a couple of interesting blog posts on their more recent work, both of which make for interesting reading.

In Update from our Interns, the provide a report by Edgar Pironti and Alessandro, Signa two of High Fidelity’s interns who have been working as interns  on a number of projects within the company, including developing a single software controller for mapping inputs from a range of hand controllers, with the initial work involving the Razer Hydra, HTC Vive’s controllers and the Space Navigator. They also discuss working on recording and playback functionality, which is also expanded upon in the second blog post which caught my eye, the January newsletter, issued by Chris Collins.

This work has involved developing the ability to pre-record the data stream of an avatar – audio, facial expressions and body movement in a format which can later be played back on a server under the control of JavaScript. As Chris notes, this makes it very easy to quickly populate a VR experience with compelling pre-recorded avatar content, allowing life-like characters to a place or for use within a machinima film.

As their third reported project. Edgar and Alessandro discuss how they’ve been looking into creating a “VR commerce” environment. This combines elements of physical world shopping – sharing it with friends, actually grabbing and trying items, having discussions with sales staff, etc., with the convenience of e-shopping, such as quickly changing colours, seeing customer reviews and feedback, and so on. As well as explaining how they went about the task, Edgar and Alessandro have put together a video demonstration:

In the High Fidelity newsletter, Chris Collins covers a number of topics, including work on optimising avatar concurrency on a single High Fidelity server. While this work most likely used Edgar’s and Alessandro’s approach to pre-recording avatar  data streams mentioned above, the initial results are impressive: 200 avatars on a server, of which the 40 nearest the observer’s viewpoint are rendered at 75Hz when using the Oculus Rift, and with a very high level of detail, with full facial animations.

200 avatars on a High Fidelity server as the comes starts into optimising avatar concurrency (image: High Fidelity)
200 avatars on a High Fidelity server as the comes starts into optimising avatar concurrency (image: High Fidelity)

One of the things that High Fidelity has often be critiqued for by SL users is the cartoon like avatars which were first shown as the company gradually cracked open its doors. These are still in use, but there has also been a lot of work put into making the avatars more life-like should users so wish. However, there is a trade-off here, which has been discussed in the past: the so-called uncanny valley effect: the closer the facial features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some observers.

This has tended those investigating things like avatar usage to express caution in pushing too close to achieving any kind of genuine realism in their avatars, and Philip Rosedale has discussed High Fidelity’s own gentle pushing at the edge of the valley. Now it seems the company is stepping towards the edge of the valley once more, using 3D scans of people to create avatar faces, as Chris notes in the newsletter:

We scanned our whole team using two different 3D scanners (one for hair and one for the face), and then used some simple techniques to make the results not be (too) uncanny … Although there is still a lot of work to do, we achieved these results with less than 2 hours of work beyond the initial scans, and the effect of having our team meetings using our ‘real’ avatars is quite compelling.

High Fidelity's staff group photo using scans of their own hair and faces (image: High Fidelity)
High Fidelity’s staff group photo using scans of their own hair and faces (image: High Fidelity)

Not everyone is liable to want to use an avatar bearing a representation of their own face, and the idea of using such a technique does raise issues around identity, privacy, etc., which should be discussed, by High Fidelity’s work in this area is intriguing. Although that said, and looking at the staff group photo, I would perhaps agree there is still more work needed; I’m not so much concerned about the technique pushing towards the edge of the uncanny valley so much as I am about the avatars in the photo looking just that little bit odd.

Also in the update is a discussion on audio reverb, a look at how the use of particles can be transformed when you’re able to see your “hands” manipulating them, and a look at a purpose-built game in High Fidelity.  These are all discussed on the video accompanying the January video, which I’ll close with.

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Holly Kai Park: Music with Anthony

Caitinara Bar
Caitinara Bar

Wednesday, February 3rd marks the start of a new weekly music event at Holly Kai Park, and an invitation is extended for anyone so minded to join us.

Music with Anthony will take place on Wednesdays between 16:00 and 18:00 SLT, and will feature music provided by Anthony Wesburn, who has been a Second Life DJ for almost 10 years.

With a passion for music which is focused on, but not exclusive to, the blues, classic rock and jazz, Anthony describes himself as no walking jukebox. Instead, between playing the tunes, he loves to engage with his audience, sharing tidbits about the music and the artists he’s playing, and sometimes the eras in which they performed.

The venue for Music with Anthony is Holly Kai Park’s beach side Caitinara Bar, a cosy spot adjacent to the beach on the west side of the park, and with moorings available for those who wish to attend by boat (60 minute auto-return, and re-rezzing from the docks).

So why not make a note in your diaries and join us Wednesdays from 16:00 SLT through to 18:00 SLT, starting on February 3rd, for dancing, great music and great company? With Art at the Park just a short walk across the beach and along woodland paths, Holly Kai Park, Music with Anthony and the Caitinara Bar have a lot to offer!

Caitinara Bar
Caitinara Bar

We look forward to seeing you there!

SLurl Details

SL project updates 16 5/1: Server and viewer

Calas Galadhon; Inara Pey, February 2016, on Flickr Calas Galadhon – the view along the revised coastline from Dimrill Dale towards Glanduinblog post

Server Deployments

As always, check the server deployment thread for the latest updates.

On Tuesday, February 2nd, the Main (SLS) channel received server maintenance package 16.01.21.310177, previously deployed to the three RC channels, comprising Internal simulator fixes and a fix for BUG-1313 “LSL llSetPos in root prim of attachment behaves differently at high altitudes – viewer does not show updates”, which can cause attachments to fail to update correctly at altitudes over approximately 1500 metres.

There are no scheduled deployments to the RC channels for this week, and there are currently no plans for any deployments in week #6 (week commencing Monday, February 8th). Some suspect this is because nest week will see one of the semi-regular meetings those at the Lab directly involved in Second Life have to determine projects and priorities taking place.

Simulator Moves

The Tuesday rolling restart apparently included a number of simulators previously on the RC channels also being redeployed onto the Main (SLS) channel. There has been no word on why this is the case, although it might simply be a re-balancing of simulators between the various channels (Main, Magnum, LeTigre and BlueSteel), or part of a server load balancing operation (the Lab used to undertake periodic re-distribution of simulators by server, but I believe that process is far more automated nowadays).

SL Viewer

The anticipated Maintenance RC viewer arrived in the viewer release channel on Tuesday, February 2nd. Version 4.0.2.310545 includes some 38 updates and fixes for, but not limited to: memory leaks; viewer crashes; UI, permissions and mesh uploader bugs; visual muting issues, autopilot issues and duplicated calling cards (which should hopefully prevent people seeing some / many of the calling cards in their inventory duplicated each time they log-in to Second Life).

Outside of this, the current official viewers remain as:

  • Current Release version: 4.0.1.310054, January 15 – formerly the Maintenance RC viewer download page, release notes
  • Release channel cohorts (please see my notes on manually installing RC viewer versions if you wish to install any release candidate(s) yourself):
    • HTTP updates and Vivox RC viewer, version 4.0.2.310349, dated January 27th
    • Quick Graphics RC viewer, version 4.0.2.310127, dated January 20th
  • Project viewers:
    • Project Bento (avatar skeleton extensions), version 5.0.0.310099, dated January 20th
    • Oculus Rift project viewer, version 3.7.18.295296, dated October 13th, 2015
  • Obsolete platform viewer (Windows XP and OS X versions below 10.7), version 3.7.28.300847 dated May 8th, 2015.

Project Bento Bone Survey

Those involved in work with the Project Bento avatar skeleton extensions are reminded that the  Bento Bone Survey,  while currently open, but is liable to be closed soon. The survey intended to gauge the level of interest in various bone proposals for the Bento skeleton is now available. So if you are an animator or content creator with a vested interest in Project Bento, and if you haven’t already completed the survey, please make sure you do so sooner rather than later. The Lab will be using the results to help with prioritising which additional bones people would like to see added to the Second Life avatar skeleton as a part of the Bento work.