This crazy week of VR: Microsoft, Sony, Vive and Daydream updates!

After some boring weeks, last days in VR have been pretty crazy, with updates from almost any major platform! I thought to talk about these updates on my weekly newsletter (subscribe using the form on the right to receive a weekly recap of the best VR news!), but they’re too many and too important, so I decided to dedicate a complete article to them. This way if in the last days you have disconnected, you can catch up just by reading a single article!

Ready, go!

Oculus

Oculus this week has announced nothing important. The reason for this is pretty simple: next week there will be the Oculus Connect 4, so they’re sparing the best shots for their yearly conference! I’m pretty excited… I hope they’ll reveal some new hardware…

HTC Vive

After the Oculus Summer of Rift, Vive market shares have lowered, so the company is thinking about various strategies on how to sell more devices. The first move has been a $200 price slash performed on the headset. The second one, revealed some days ago, is that for every new Vive purchased, a copy of Fallout 4 VR will be offered for free. Fallout is a very popular brand and is surely able to attract some fan to the VR ecosystem and offering it for free can be a nice move for gaining some new customers. Furthermore, this is an AAA-game and in VR there are few games with that quality (maybe Robo Recall and few more). Nice move by Vive, even if being the most expensive headset on the market remains one of its major pain points.

fallout 4 vr vive free
Fallout 4 VR included with every Vive… wow! (Image by HTC)
Sony PSVR

Sony PSVR has been the most sold headset on the market (due to its low price and compatibility with PS4), but it is also the roughest among the tethered headsets models.

SuperData research VR market
Sales of virtual reality headsets according to SuperData (Image by Wall Street Journal)

That’s why Sony is going to update its device. But we aren’t going to see a PSVR 2 device for a while: at the moment we’ll just see a PSVR 1.1. Their strategy seems in line with the one adopted by HTC, that has released various updates (like the Deluxe Audio Strap, for instance) to the device without actually releasing a Vive 2 device.

So, what will be the differences between the PSVR 1.1 and its predecessor? According to Road To VR, the added features will be:

  • Integrated audio (that since Oculus adoption, seems a must-have for a VR headset);
  • Slimmer connection cable;
  • Native support for HDR pass-through: currently to have HDR in your PSVR device you have to mess with cables or external switchboxes, while now it works out of the box;
  • Updated PlayStation Move controllers with micro USB and a longer battery life.

As you can see, these are just little incremental change, that’s why I gave it the nickname of PSVR 1.1. It should be released in Japan on October, 14th. There’s not a clear release date for the West, yet.

Sony PSVR update 1.1
The new PSVR 1.1 device: as you can see, there will be integrated audio (Image by Sony)
Microsoft

Release date of Microsoft Mixed Reality (actually: VR) platform for PC is approaching, and Microsoft is moving pretty fast. During an event held at October, 3rd they made a big amount of announcements, so I’ll split this section into some subsections.

Software

One of the greatest problems of Microsoft’s new platform was the lack of content, but they’re solving it with various partnerships and with the upcoming support for SteamVR, thanks to which all Steam games will be playable on Microsoft devices.

Microsoft is pushing hard on some of its best brands: Minecraft will be ported to MR (Microsoft Mixed-Reality) platform; and there will also be a Halo experience, called Halo Recruit. Before your jaw drops, beware that this is not Halo VR. It’s just a little experience in VR that can make Halo fans happy. According to a review found on Road To VR, it is a short action game where you can see some Halo creatures at their true scale in front of you and then on the screen starts a simple shooting experience. Looking the video, I wasn’t attracted to it at all (I find it dummy to shoot at a 2D screen while in VR…), but the journalist has said that fans like him will find it interesting. Ok.

Microsoft claims that there will be 20000 Mixed Reality apps when the store will be opened. Let me clarify you that these won’t all be VR apps: it’s just that every UWP application can run inside the Windows MR ecosystem. So, you can play 20000 2D games in VR… seems cool 😀

What could lack from Microsoft platform was a social VR experience. But this won’t happen. With a very strategical move, Microsoft has acquired the dying social space Altspace VR, saving it from hell. At MR headsets release date, October 17th, their users will be able to meet in VR with other users of all other headsets inside Altspace VR and live the amazing experience of presence with other people that only social VR can offer.

A final notice on Microsoft ecosystem: its vision is that the VR headset is perceived by the operating system just as a simple screen, so something that is abstracted by the OS, but it seems that at least at the beginning, all the MR experiences won’t be available for all other headsets owners. Maybe they’re delaying a bit the abstraction to convince more people to buy their devices.

SteamVR support

There’s been a bit of confusion about SteamVR support for Microsoft Mixed Reality Headsets. Now things are a bit clearer. For consumers, the support will come in an undisclosed date before the end of the year. But for developers, the support is already there, in beta version.

SteamVR Microsoft Mixed Reality headsets support
Windows environment, with SteamVR beta running (Image by Valve)

This is because Microsoft wants to ensure that SteamVR developers add compatibility to Microsoft Platform to their games, as they are already making with Oculus Rift and Vive. This way, when the SteamVR support will be rolled out to consumers, they will be already able to find a lot of compatible games. Furthermore, while trying to port the game, developers can spot bugs and problems of the SteamVR implementation and help Microsoft in solving them.

If you’re a SteamVR developer and want to try out the integration, you can find the Windows Mixed Reality SteamVR preview on Steam. On Microsoft Dev Center, instead, you can find a short guide on how you can install and activate the preview, along to instructions on how to use that and how to solve some common errors.

SteamVR integration is a great news for all the MR headsets owners since this means access to a very big list of games. And if ReVive guy makes a Revive porting for MR platform, MR users will be also able to play Oculus exclusive games! :O

SteamVR Microsoft Mixed Reality headsets support
SteamVR adds other six headsets to the list of its supported devices. Previously they were three: Vive, Rift and OSVR HDK. With 9 devices supported it is the most open ecosystem in VR. Doing this way, Valve is ensuring that its Steam store will remain the leader even in the VR market (Image by Valve)
Samsung Odyssey

All the upcoming Microsoft Mixed Reality headsets are made by partners with a reference design provided by Microsoft. This means that the specs are the same for all the headsets and what changes is basically only the exterior design and some minor features. The general impression while looking all these devices is that they are “good-enough” VR devices, that are ok for the general consumers. But some characteristics, like the FOV of only 95°, are a killer for us VR innovators, and the price of only $50 less than the awesome Rift (apart from the Acer and Lenovo headsets, that cost $100 less) doesn’t make them that compelled to be bought. That’s why Microsoft surprised us all deciding to release a premium headset: the Samsung Odyssey.

Samsung Odissey Virtual Mixed Reality headset
Samsung Odyssey headset with its controllers (Image by Road To VR)

Odyssey is a premium headset that offers the best that the Mixed Reality platform can offer. This includes:

  • A beautiful design
  • Great comfort
  • Non-spherical Fresnel Lenses, so better lenses than all the other MR devices
  • AMOLED displays, as Rift and Vive. Other MR devices use LCD displays that are a bit worse for VR experiences (Notice that this headset uses a screen for each eye and not a single screen split in two)
  • A field of view of 110° (as the Rift and Vive), that is higher than other MR headsets (that have 95°)
  • A resolution of 1440×1600 pixels per eye, that is higher than all its siblings (other MR headsets have 1440×1440) and much higher than the Rift and Vive (1080 x 1200)
  • Integrated AKG audio headphones (as the Rift and the Vive Business), something that no other MR headset has
  • Volume adjustment, a feature that no one currently has
  • Integrated mic (as the Rift and Vive)
  • IPD (Inter-Pupillary-Adjustment), as Rift and Vive. Something that all other MR headsets lack and is useful for a proper VR experience
  • More comfortable controllers. Controllers are the Achilles heel of MR devices since they are far less comfortable than Oculus Touch and they’re not tracked when not in view from the user. Samsung has been able to slightly modify the controllers’ design that this way are a bit more comfortable than the other ones. Still worse than Oculus Touch, though.
Samsung Odissey Virtual Mixed Reality headset
Odyssey features mechanisms to change IPD and to set the volume of headphones. So comfortable (Image by Engadget)

As you can see, we’re talking about a device far superior to all the other MR headsets, for only $50 more! It costs $499, as the Oculus Rift: but compared to Facebook’s device, it offers superior visual features and the comfort of using inside-out tracking. I think that this device will give hard times to Rift and Vive. But I especially think that this device will give terrible times to its siblings. Apart from the Acer device that is a very cheap device with a nice toaster face and from Lenovo one, the other MR headsets cost only $50 less and offer far less than Samsung one… honestly I don’t know why people should buy them. To me this seems a weird move, as the one made by Apple when announced the iPhone 8, just to make it immediately old with the release of the iPhone X.

I’ve read some reviews on this new headset, along with the TESTED video.

All these reviews are very positive. The only issues, when compared to the other MR devices, are that this one is slightly bigger and heavier and that it has not the flip design (so you can’t just flip up the headset… you have to remove it if you want to interact with the real world). Engadget highlighted how, thanks to improved resolution, screen door effect was absent, but Road To VR journalist said that the screen door effect was present and much more visible as he expected, maybe because of the Pentile structure of the Samsung screens. Honestly, I believe more Road To VR, since if screen door effect is noticeable on the 4K-per-eye Pimax device, it is surely noticeable on this one, too.

Samsung Odissey Virtual Mixed Reality headset
Samsung headset while in use (Image by Engadget)

What seems the real issue is controllers’ tracking. As you all already know, it does not work when the controllers are not in the field of the view of the user (and this can give weird results when the avatar of the user is shown inside a social VR application); furthermore, the tracking sometimes fails. Road To VR says that it seems working 98% of the time and that 2% of the time when there are tracking jumps, the use becomes a bit frustrating, especially during multiplayer games. When I talked with Matteo Lana of Tiny Bull Studios, he told me that in his opinion, inside-out tracking of this headsets is great, but still not perfect and smooth as the outside-in of top-notch VR systems like Rift and Vive.

Samsung premium headset really interests me. It will give a little advantage to its competitors by launching a bit later than the others, on November 6h. If you want to pre-order this device you can go to Samsung store, or on the VR page of the Microsoft Store, where you’ll be able to also buy all the other Mixed Reality devices. I’m happy that devices like this one and the Pimax 8K are fostering competition in the VR environment, that soon won’t be a Vive-vs-Rift-only place.

Samsung Odissey Virtual Mixed Reality headset
Interior of the Samsung Odyssey headset. It seems very comfortable (Image by Engadget)
Google

Google has held an event on October, 4th and introduced some interesting news in AR and VR, that has also summarized in this blog post. All this happened together with the launch of the new version of its flagship phones: the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. They’re awesome phones, but they’re not very cheap: Pixel 2 costs $649 and Pixel 2 XL costs $849 (€989 in Italy!).

New Google VR Daydream View Pixel 2
Pixel 2 XL phone. Seems very cool (Image by Google)
Daydream

Google has announced the second version of its Daydream View, that surprisingly is still called Daydream View and not Daydream View 2, just to make things confused. The new headset is very similar to the previous one: Gear VRs are evolving very slowly, and Daydream seems to have taken the same approach. This similarity makes sure that new phones can work with old View headsets and old phones can work with new View headsets.

Here you are the differences with the old device:

  • A new material that makes it look more modern;
  • Three new colors: fog, charcoal, and coral. Let me translate these names for all the other men out there that like me only see 16 colors, as the first Windows operating systems: light grey, dark grey, and pink;

    New Google VR Daydream View Pixel 2
    New Daydream View color! Pink and Grey (Image by Google)
  • Improved comfort: there is a top strap that helps in distributing the weight better and this is noticeable especially after a long usage. Furthermore, also the facial interface has been made more comfortable (I already found super-comfortable the first edition… this should be really lovely!). They tested the new setup with lots of people of different ages, genders and ethnic groups so to make sure that the device fits well with all people. Some people had comfort issues with the previous version of the View and Google says that now they’re all solved;

    New Google VR Daydream View Pixel 2
    As you can see, the head strap is completely different from the first model and also the foam has changed (Image by Road To VR)
  • Newly improved lenses: new lenses are Fresnel ones, with a custom design to make them optimal for VR usages. According to Road To VR, “Google says they used the immense power of their data centers to simulate quadrillions of rays passing through various lens designs to find the ideal design.”. Wow! The results of this crazy simulation is that now the FOV of Daydream 2 is bigger than its predecessor by 10 degrees;

    New Google VR Daydream View Pixel 2
    Custom lenses of the new Daydream headset (Image by Road To VR)
  • Improved heat dissipation: new headset design includes a “heat sink” that makes the phone dissipate heat in an optimal way, guaranteeing that the phone remains at rather-low temperatures so that it can maintain peak VR performances for a longer time. What’s cool (in every sense :P) is that the sink works so well that the phone dissipates better the heat inside the VR headset than with standard usage when the phone has all surrounding air cooling it (as in GearVR, for instance)!

    New Google VR Daydream View Pixel 2
    From this zoomed image you can see the opening of the heat sink (Image by Road To VR)
  • Buttons on the Daydream controller are more pronounced;
  • The controller does not get stored in the headset lid anymore. Now you put it in some headset strap loop.

Furthermore, Google is going to add new experiences to the Daydream marketplace, especially VR videos… and it is normal, considering that Google has to push Youtube VR platform. Now Daydream platform counts 15 compatible phones and 250+ apps on the store.

Reviews of this new headset (with the Pixel 2 inside) on Road To VR and Upload VR are positive. They especially highlight the great comfort, the great resolution and the great audio quality of this headset. Road To VR, however, has noticed the enhancement of Mura effect while using the Pixel 2 XL inside the Daydream View headset. If you don’t know what the Mura effect is, don’t worry, I had no idea as well. Mura effect is a typical effect of LCD and OLED displays and leads to non-uniform level of brightness along the display. So, pixel-to-pixel brightness and color consistency are not perfect and this creates a visual effect similar to screen door. VR headsets usually employ some algorithm of Mura-correction to solve the issue and it seems, from early tests of Road To VR, that this correction is not optimal on this new device. But I found a mention of this issue only in that article, so I can’t tell you if this is an actual issue or if the phone of the demo was having problems.

New Google VR Daydream View Pixel 2
An exaggerated example of Mura correction inside the Vive. At the left, without Mura correction; at the right, with the correction. The image conveys well the idea of what Mura is in VR. You can click on it to enlarge. (Image by Tom’s Hardware)

Anyway, this new Daydream continues being an interesting platform. If you like it, you can buy the new Daydream View for $100. Purchasing it, you will be gifted a bundle of games worth $40. Cool, isn’t it?

ARCore

Google has also talked about its mobile Augmented Reality platform ARCore. The two new phones, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL will let you use augmented reality, of course, so we have 2 new phones that are ARCore-compatible. And as their iPhone counterparts, they’ve been conceived with augmented reality in mind. Google says this in its blog post

the Pixel 2 camera is factory calibrated and optimized for AR. It enables robust tracking, even in low-light conditions, and 60 frames per second rendering of AR objects. That means you’ll be able to have really engaging AR experiences.

Wow, 60 frames per second in low light conditions using RGB cameras is a great result!

Apart from the hardware, Google has invested a lot in AR content, too: there will come out a League of Legends and a LEGO app, along with Houzz, an app that will let you furniture your house in augmented reality (since IKEA has partnered with Apple, Google is offering a similar experience with someone else).

But the AR app that I love the most among the ones that they plan to offer is AR Stickers.

It is an idea that I myself had while brainstorming about AR apps (with the difference that Google has a budget a bit bigger than mine!): adding funny 3D objects in AR to photos and videos. So, instead of adding 2D stickers to your photos as with Snapchat or Instagram, you can add 3D elements inside the scene into which you’re shooting the video or the photo. With these elements, you can express your mood (using a funny sticker, for instance, you may say that you’re happy) or be in the same photo with some of your idols (upcoming stickers will include NBA Stars and the cast of Saturday Night Live). I love this app because it really merges the physical and the virtual world, it is an app that respects the good AR app principles and has the power to become viral. Well played, Google.

Google AR Stickers
A cup from the Foodmoji pack… notice how such video is funny (Image by Google)

Anyway, no further announcements on ARCore have been made: this means that the technology is still the same and that still very few phones are compatible 🙁


And that’s it! It has been a long road with you through all these news… I had said you that they were a lot! As always, please like and share this article to support my efforts… and have a nice weekend!

(Header image by Samsung)

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Skarredghost

AR/VR developer, startupper, zombie killer. Sometimes I pretend I can blog, but actually I’ve no idea what I’m doing.

I tried to change the world with my startup Immotionar, offering super-awesome full body virtual reality, but now the dream is over. But I’ve still not waken up…