VR and MR catch-up: March 2017

The Oculus CR-1 - US $100 drop in price, and US $100 reduction for Touch controllers
The Oculus CR-1 – US $100 drop in price, and US $100 reduction for Touch controllers

Here’s another rapid-fire update on the worlds of VR and MR as I’ve been able to track a few things.

Oculus Rift

Oculus VR has dropped the price of the Oculus Rift headset and the Oculus Touch controller by $100 each. At launch, the headset cost Us $599 and the controllers, released later and a crucial part of the system, were priced at US $199. The new pricing brings the price for both down to the US $598 mark – just US $100 more than the Playstation VR bundle, and makes the Rift headset much cheaper than its main rival – the HTC Vive.

“Cheaper” is of course a relative term. Despite work to allow the Rift operate with lower-specifications systems (see my last round-up), to get the fullest out of the system you still need a heft PC with a hefty price.

There is still no news on when the untethered version of the Rift, with the project name Santa Cruz, will be ready for consumers. The only major update is that when it does appear, it will be marketed via Oculus VR’s “lower end” mobile division.

Speaking at the announcement of the price drop, Oculus VR’s former CEO (now head of Desktop VR), Brendan Iribe, indicated that the company is focusing on the next generation of VR systems, which he defines as being “a very big leap from where we are today”. However, consumers are unlikely to see anything on this front for at least another two years.

On February 1st, the ZeniNax case against Facebook / Oculus drew to a close, with the plaintiff being awarded US $500 million in damages over alleged code theft. While Facebook is seeking to have the verdict set aside, on February 24th, ZeniMax filed an injunction seeking to block Oculus VR from using the disputed code in its products. The news came via several outlets at the time, including Ars Technica, which pointed out that the injunction probably won’t succeed, but that if it does, it could be massively disruptive to both Oculus and Samsung, as the code is also used in the Gear VR.

HTC Vive 2?

Rumours are circulating that HTC are working on the “Vive 2”, an improved version of their headset.  Details have been sketchy and a little confused; one early report from November 2016 suggested the “Vive 2” would be a wireless / WiFi system, but given this came out shortly before HTC and Vive X Accelerator company TPCAST announced a “tether-less” WiFi kit for the existing Vive, (see me last round-up, linked to above) that report many have been incorrect.

However, other sources have indicated that “Vive 2” is in development, but has not release date. It is also said to have the internal code-name of “Oasis”. Has someone at HTC been reading Ready Player One?

In the meantime, HTC aren’t cutting the Vive’s price – but they are offering a new finance plan to help purchase it. They’ve also announced two new accessories: a Deluxe Audio Strap and the Tracker. Both are priced at a “mere” US $99. The Deluxe Audio Strap is in fact a rigid, Oculus-style head mount for the headset, complete with headphones.

Vive's new rigid head mount for the display, complete with audio headphones. Your for US $99
Vive’s new rigid head mount for the display, complete with audio headphones. Yours for US $99

The Tracker, due to ship in Q2 2017, is essentially a sensor unit  which allows game and hardware developers to turn real-life props into virtual weapons / gaming pieces, from guns to swords, to bats and so on.  Once connected to a peripheral, it allows the Vive’s lighthouse sensors to detect and track it, enabling it to be visualised in-game.

Headset Sales

As has been widely reported, sales of VR headsets have been far slower than the early hype predicted. No surprises there in many respects. Currently, Sony’s Playstation VR system is the highest-selling – but that’s just about to hit the million units mark. Oculus Rift and Vive are some way behind, with 243,00 and 420,00 unit sales respectively at the end of 2016.

This plateauing of sales has led to some pundits almost writing-off VR. However, while it would seem likely VR will be a niche product when compared to the everyday potential of Augmented Reality / Mixed Reality (AR / MR), it’s worth remembering that consumer-centric VR is only at the first generation stage. It is hampered by cost and the need to be hooked into a high-specification PC. Over time, some of these aspects – especially cost – will come down, encouraging more widespread interest / adoption, especially in those markets outside of games where VR could have a real impact: education, training, simulation, design, architecture. So it is perhaps a little premature to be pointing at current sales figures and declaring VR a “fad” or similar.

Continue reading “VR and MR catch-up: March 2017”

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Cica’s Under the Sea in Second Life

Under the Sea
Cica Ghost: Under the Sea

Under the Sea, Cica Ghost’s latest region-wide installation in Second Life opened on Friday, March 3rd. It is in some ways a follow-on from her previous Frogs, in that it has a decidedly aquatic lean.

“There is a strange world under the sea,” Cica informs visitors, who arrive on a wooden platform, open on three sides and lacking a roof. A brief set of instructions are provided on how best to enjoy a visit (in short, enable Advanced Lighting Model and make sure Shadows: Sun/Moon + Projectors is active – Cica has taken care to minimise the performance hit with the latter as much as possible). Once done, follow the steps down beneath the waves, and discover that strange world.

Cica Ghost: Under the Sea
Cica Ghost: Under the Sea

Here can be found all manner of creatures, familiar and exotic. fronds of seaweed and forests of kelp undulate under the pressure of passing water; schools of fish hover at the edges of some of these copse-like knots of green, staring nervously outward. A great sea snail expands and contract, as if making its way across the sandy floor without moving. Other fish hover nervously at the empty eye sockets or under bleached ribs of even bigger creatures which have long since died, while splashes of vivid colour are offered by anemones, starfish and strange plants standing tall on cage-like roots.

Two great tanks sit on the sea floor, one with a glass panel through which you can walk. Inside are two denizens of the deep, each equipped with some rather vicious looking teeth, although both remain oblivious to visitors, content to share the tiled space with little sea horses – and you, if you opt to swim with them (touch the bed). In the tank next door, which has one end open and partially buried in the sea bed, an audience of fish floats, seemingly enraptured by the creature at the far end of the tank. Again, a bed is offered for visitors.

Cica Ghost: Under the Sea
Cica Ghost: Under the Sea

The scale here has to be seen to be appreciated. Everything is huge, with some of it a little threatening. The sabre-toothed fish, for example, may not seem interested in you, bit walk or swim close to one, and you start to wonder if it will suddenly dart forward and try to gobble you. Nor is this feeling of perhaps being a morsel in the food chain restricted to the fish; approach the great sea snail from the right direction, and you’ll feel like it is stretching its toothed maw up towards you in hope of a bite.

The entire region is fascinating to explore – swimming is by far the best way to enjoy it – and there are, as always, various points where visitors can become a part of the scene. The beds mentioned earlier offer swimming animations as well as sitting and sleeping poses, while mouse-over some of the shells and things scattered around, and hidden perches are revealed.

Cica Ghost: Under the Sea - Cica teases the giant sea snail
Cica Ghost: Under the Sea – Cica teases the giant sea snail

Under the Sea makes for a delightful visit, and will remain open through March 2017. Should you visit, do please consider a donation towards Cica’s work and don’t forget to visit her little store (LM at the landing point) should the mood take you.

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