Tag Archives: Oculus Rift

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.

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VR and AR catch-up

Oculus Touch: shipping December 6yh, price: US $199.00

Oculus Touch: shipping December 6th, price: US $199.00

It’s been a while since I’ve covered anything in the VR and AR markets, so here’s a very quick catch-up on the main products I have been following on-and-off in these pages, and about which I’d been meaning to write about during October / November.

Oculus Rift: Touch and AWS

In October 2016, Oculus Rift opened the doors to pre-orders of the Touch, their hand controller system, due to start shipping on December 6th, 2016. The Touch price point is US $199.00 (approx. £189 / 187 / AU $265), which includes of Toybox, the multiplayer sandbox application designed specifically to show-off the controllers, and five Touch-ready game tiles.

Alongside of the Touch, Oculus announced additional Rift sensors would also be shipping on December 6th, 2016, at a price of US $79 (approx. £62.55 / 74.18 / AU $106.47), offering similar room-sized scanning capability as the HTC Vive. A new earbud system, designed to replace the earphones on the headset for a more immersive sound experience, was also made available for pre-order (again shipping on December 6th, at a cost of $49 (approx. £38.81 / 46 / AU $66).

Oculus Rift

Oculus Rift

As a rough-and-ready price comparison. The HTC Vive, which includes a headset with front-mounted “see-through” camera, two controllers and two room sensors for tracking) is prices at about US $800. The Oculus Rift (which ships with one sensor) + touch + and additional sensor comes to roughly US $877, with some recommending two additional sensors offer optimal scanning bringing that total to US $956. Obviously, the latter package also includes a hefty amount of additional software, including Toybox.

On November 10th 2016, Oculus VR confirmed they were lowering the minimum specification for hardware needed to run an Oculus VR experience  comfortably, as a result of something called Asynchronous Spacewarp, or AWS.  The announcement came with a long and involved description of what AWS is, which the press announcement summarised down to a TL;DR summary:

Oculus is releasing a new technology aimed at reducing system hardware requirements while maintaining content quality across a wider array of hardware. Asynchronous Spacewarp (ASW) is a frame-rate smoothing technique that almost halves the CPU/GPU time required to produce nearly the same output from the same content. Like Asynchronous Timewarp (ATW), ASW is automatic and enabled without any additional effort from developers.

In other words, and to summarise the summary, AWS allows VR experiences remain fluid to the eye by “making up” the “in-between” animation frames, reducing the demand of continued, heavy processing on the part of the CPU / GPU.

On the left, a game with every frame directly rendered at 45fps by the GPU. On the right, the same game using software AWS to render some of the

On the left, a game with every frame directly rendered at 45fps by the GPU. On the right, the same game using software AWS to render some of the “in-between” animation frames, where the direction of the fox’s motion is “known”. Credit: TechRadar

This is turn means that “lower end” systems can now in theory run VR experiences which incorporate AWS. Although it has to be said that “lower end” must be approached with something of a caveat: it reduces the GPU requirement from a minimum of a NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD Radeon R9 290 and  Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater to a NVIDIA GTX 960 / AMD Radeon RX 470 or greater and Intel i3-6100 / AMD FX4350 or greater – which some might consider a small move of the needle.

Finally, Oculus VR is working on an untethered version of the Rift headset, currently called Santa Cruz. It appeared in prototype form in October 2016, and includes a built-in processing system mounted with the headset, removing the need for it to be connected to a PC. Initial reports from those able to try the prototype were mixed, with several reporters noting their evaluations were carefully controlled, and that Oculus engineers were evasive when asked about the actual processing power and performance of the headset.

HTC Vive

On November 11th, 2016, HTC announced pre-orders were open for a “tether-less” kit for the Vive headset, produced by TPCAST, a Vive X Accelerator invested company. The kit comprises a wireless relay unit and battery pack to power the headset, bot of which attach to the headset harness, removing the need to connect it to a PC via USB cables. In difference to claims that wireless is “unsuitable” for VR due to factors such as latency, TPCAST is said to have no “noticeable difference” when using it with a Vive headset when compared to using the headset tethered directly to a PC.

The TPCAST wireless kit mounted on an HTC Vive

The TPCAST wireless kit mounted on a HTC Vive. Credit: HTC / TPCast

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CtrlAltStudio issues Oculus CV-1 update

CAS-logoOn July 18th, 2016, Strachan Ofarrel (Dave Rowe) released an updated Windows version of his CtrlAltStudio viewer. Version 1.2.6.43412 Alpha use Oculus Rift SDK 1.5.0 and so should support the Oculus CV1, DK2 and DK1.

The release has been made to provide a level of Oculus HMD support in Second Life and OpenSim following the Lab’s decision to withdraw their own project viewer support for the Rift, after significant issues were found with the July update to that viewer.

However, as Strachan states in his blog post on the release, the CtrlAltStudio Windows update is presented “as is”, and still utilises the Firestorm 4.6.9 code-base, which is itself running well behind current releases, and therefore lacks functionality users might otherwise be familiar with in more recent versions of the SL viewer. This means CtrlAltStudio doesn’t support recent HTTP updates, inventory improvements or the TLS 1.2 update (so the built-in web browser will not work with things like Marketplace transactions when using the built-in browser).

Stratchan also warns that it is unlikely that users will get the level of recommended frame rates for CV1 use (which is something the Lab were stating prior to the release of their update), although he notes – again as did the Lab – that the experience should be enough to get a feel for what user-generated VWs are like in immersive VR.

Windows CtrlAltStudio users should be able to install this version over the 1.2.5 Alpha and 1.2.4 Alpha versions if they have either already installed. Those with older versions of the viewer should carry out a clean install (and can always back up and restore their settings before / after doing so). Note that if you install over the top of a previous version you may need to press the “Reset” button next to the “UI depth” Display Output option.

To overcome issues of the viewer failing to recognise very high perfromance GPUs, CtrlAltStudio 1.2.6.43412 includes and Enable All GPU Features option to force enable all graphics settings (e.g. Basic Shaders, etc.)

To overcome issues of the viewer failing to recognise very high performance GPUs, CtrlAltStudio 1.2.6.43412 includes and Enable All GPU Features option to force enable all graphics settings (e.g. Basic Shaders, etc.)

The full set of updates in this release are given as:

  • Updated to Oculus Rift SDK 1.5.0 so that the viewer works with the Oculus runtimes supporting the CV1 as well as the DK2.
  • Fixed the “UI depth” display setting to work for both DK2s and CV1s.
  • Added an “FOV multiplier” display setting that decreases or increases the field of view with respect to the Rift-recommended value.
  • Added a “Pixel density” display setting that decreases or increases the number of pixels rendered in the process of calculating the Rift display output.
  • Removed the following display options which are no longer available in the Rift SDK: “Low persistence”, “Dynamic prediction”.
  • Fixed crash at start-up if Rift display output is enabled but no Rift is connected and turned on.
  • Updated the GPU table.
  • Added an “Enable All GPU Features” display setting that enables all graphics settings that may otherwise be limited if a new, high performance GPU is not listed in the GPU table.
  • Added a “Combine Xbox One triggers” joystick setting that combines the left and right trigger values of the Xbox One controller into a single value like the Xbox 360 controller outputs, thus letting the triggers be used to fly up and down.

It is worth noting that when in Riftlook mode, the cursor is only visible in the left eye. This is intended behaviour, allowing the cursor to hover over UI elements and in-world objects correctly without having to use additional and complex code to calculate what relative depth should be used to place the cursor in a stereo rendering.

Release 1.2.6.43412 also includes a new FOV Multiplier and Pixel Density display settings to adjust the displayed field of view and number of pixels rendered in the Rift images. Depending on your graphics card capabilities, these may provide improved visuals when adjusted upwards (at the cost of FPS). Reducing the settings will improve FPS. Both require a viewer restart after adjustment

Release 1.2.6.43412 also includes a new FOV Multiplier and Pixel Density display settings to adjust the displayed field of view and number of pixels rendered in the Rift images. Depending on your graphics card capabilities, these may provide improved visuals when adjusted upwards (at the cost of FPS). Reducing the settings will improve FPS. Both require a viewer restart after adjustment

Ai Austin has provided a blog post on his experiences in using this viewer, and I would recommend it for further reading, particularly in you are new to using the Rift with Second Life, as Ai provides point-by-point sets on getting started.

An interesting broader note in Ai’s post is with regards to using the HTC Vive with CtrlAltStudio – a questions which has been raised a a couple of “Meet the Lindens” sessions. In this regards, Ai:

Some users have reported that the CtrlAltViewer set to use the Oculus Rift works with the HTC Vive using LibreVR/Revive. This is a compatibility layer between the Oculus SDK and OpenVR. It allows you to play Oculus games on your HTC Vive.

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Second Life Oculus Rift support suspended

Development of Oculus Rift support within the official Second life viewer has been suspended.

Development of Oculus Rift support within the official Second life viewer has been suspended.

On July 1st, I blogged about the new Oculus Rift project viewer designed to support both the DK-2 and CV-1. The release, coming almost two years after the initial project viewer was made available, had been long anticipated among Oculus Rift HMD users in SL, and so the response was initially enthusiastic in terms of people downloading  it.

Unfortunately, as I subsequently reported, thanks to feedback from TTech, Ai Austin, Rai Fargis – who raised BUG-20130 on the viewer (still open at the time of writing, although that may change) – and others, the new project viewer had more than a few issues with it, and was seen as something of a step back in terms of general usability.

Now it seems that the Lab have – for the foreseeable future, at least – decided to cut their losses in developing Second Life viewer support for Oculus Rift. Posting in the Oculus CV-1 forum thread, Oz Linden announced:

Thank you for experimenting with our Oculus Rift Project Viewer and offering your feedback. Unfortunately, the Project Viewer that we recently made available didn’t meet our standards for quality, and so we’ve now removed it from the Alternate Viewers page.

By definition, Project Viewers aren’t ready for primetime. The purpose of these experimental Viewers is to share with you the earliest possible version of what we’re working on, so that you can see what we’re up to, help discover problems, and provide feedback. In this case, though, we’re not ready for that, as those of you who tried it have seen.

We can’t say at this point when or even if we may release another Project Viewer for experimenting with the Oculus Rift in SL.

We want to prioritise our development efforts around initiatives that we know will improve the virtual world and bring more value to SL Residents, and due to some inherent limitations with SL, it may well not be possible to achieve the performance needed for a good VR experience. (In fact, this is one reason why we’re creating Project Sansar a new, separate platform optimized for VR).

We greatly appreciate the interest in trying SL with the Oculus Rift and are grateful that several of you took the time to try the Project Viewer. We regret that the quality was not up to our standards, and we will of course keep the community posted if we release a new Project Viewer for VR in the future.

Providing support for high-end HMDs within Second Life was always going to be problematic; most of the content found in-world is unoptimised (and our avatars even more so), so producing the means by which the viewer could comfortably meet the levels of performance required for such HMDs, such as a consistent frame rate of at least 75 fps (DK-2) or 90 fps (CV-1), was always going to be doubtful.

However, the Lab has remained reasonably bullish through about trying to offer an acceptable level of HMD support within Second Life – albeit it with caveats. For example, speaking at the TPV Developer meeting on Friday July 1st and just ahead of the Oculus Rift project viewer appearing, Oz said that offering HTC Vive support at some point for Second Life was something the Lab  “would like to be able to do”.

So what went wrong?

Well, we don’t actually know. Interestingly, most of the issues experienced with the new project viewer weren’t performance related, but focused on general usability: as UI problems, rendering issues, image resolution problems, etc., all of which had been acceptable on the previous release of the Oculus rift project viewer. Whether these point to something being fundamentally wrong with the viewer build, or whether there have been some intrinsic changes to the Oculus SDK software (the latest version of the viewer have leapt forward significantly in SDK support when compared to the last viewer)  which are not limiting options for integrating it into the viewer is hard to say.

All we do know is that from Oz’s forum comment, it would seem that fixing the problems which have been encountered would seem to be a non-trivial task – and once of potentially questionable value when compared to the possible return in terms of benefits to a broader cross-section of users other SL improvement initiatives might bring.

Does this mean the end of all attempts to provide HMD support in Second Life?

Again, that’s hard to say. In the short to medium term, I’d say most likely it does insofar as the Lab is concerned, given the general thrust of Oz’s comment. but that doesn’t mean a third-party developer might not be sufficiently motivated to at least take up the challenge and see how far they can get. Longer term, however, the door might not be so firmly closed.

HMD technology is still in its infancy. so who knows what might come down the road in a couple of years time, and how it might influence the Lab’s thinking with regards to Second Life? Time ell tell on that one.

With thanks to Baz DeSantis for the nudge.