The Ghost Howls’s VR Week Peek (2019.11.11): Cardboard becomes opensource, HoloLens 2 and nreal shipping and much more!

It’s Chinese Single Day and I wish the best to all the single people that are reading this article: I hope you are all on Taobao or Aliexpress buying super-discounted items! (Personally, I’ll do that in a few hours :D)
 This has been a pretty good week for me:

  • I have become a technical advisor of Australian no-profit Wise Realities, that, under the guide of Ali Fardinpour, helps elderly and people with mental issues using virtual reality;
  • I have developed an opensource plugin to write curved Text Mesh Pro texts in Unity: if you need it, you can find it on GitHub;
  • I’m preparing myself for the Global MR Bootcamp that will be in my city, Turin (Italy) next Saturday. If you will be in Italy, please come visiting me! (Here you are the Eventbrite page)
  • I can’t wait to see who will win the VR Awards tomorrow! Having been one of the judges, I’m curious to see which companies will get the awards!

There’s a lot to say about me, but I think you are more interested in the weekly roundup of news, so…

Top news of the week
(Image by Google)
Google completely opensources Cardboard

With a surprise move, Google has announced with a blog post that it ha opensourced completely Cardboard. Some time ago, it had already released the public specifications for the headset, and so many 3rd party vendors had been able to design and sell their viewers, but now even all the software has been released on GitHub.
Regarding what components have been opensourced, Google states that “The open source project provides APIs for head tracking, lens distortion rendering, and input handling. We’ve also included an Android QR code library, so that apps can pair any Cardboard viewer without depending on the Cardboard app.”. That is, all the software layer of Cardboard is public domain now.
Google affirms that Cardboard has been a huge success to introduce people into VR, and more than 15 million headsets have been distributed. But now the time of mobile VR is over, and these headsets are always less used, so Cardboard is becoming always less important. Google has already abandoned all its VR projects (e.g. Google Jump, Daydream), and Cardboard is the last one of a long list. This departure marks the final end of Mobile VR, which is now officially over: all the headsets that have made its history: GearVR, Daydream, and Cardboard have all been abandoned by the respective owners.
But this time, Google has understood the educational potential of this framework, so instead of abandoning it, it is gifting it to the community, that can so carry it on. Google will continue contributing to the Cardboard SDK itself, and so will become the guide of the community that will make Cardboard carry on.
This is a great piece of news. First of all, analyzing the source codes, many developers could understand how to create a VR viewer. And then, many makers will be able to customize the cardboard to their needs, and so add features to it, or also make it compatible with devices that hadn’t been taken into consideration until now (e.g. tablets). I really can’t wait to see what the community will create!

More info

Other relevant news
(Image by Eurogamer)
Is Apple partnering with Valve on AR?

A report by DigiTimes claims that Apple is partnering with Valve for the production of its AR glasses. According to the same report, the glasses should be released around Q2 2020, and Taiwan’s ODMs Quanta Computer and Pegatron should handle the assembly job.
The news would be incredible: Apple is a company that knows how to create something usable and cool to see, while Valve has a long expertise in experimenting with AR and VR. Together, they could create a device that would be fantastic.
But the partnership seems pretty weird: the two companies have very different visions of the world, and it is not clear how they could partner in that, also because they both have their own store (Apple Store and Steam) that for sure they want to take to augmented reality. Many industry analysts are so skeptical about it, and personally I’m doubtful as well. But I think that there could be some truth in it, like for instance Apple looking for licensing some patents by Valve on AR glasses.
In the end, the best comment on the news comes directly reddit user Drexill_BD: “I don’t make enough money to get excited about this”

More info (Apple and Valve partnering)
More info (Road To VR’s skeptical editorial on the news)

Microsoft ships HoloLens 2, nReal gets ready to do the same with its glasses

Great times ahead for augmented reality! After a long wait, finally Microsoft is shipping its HoloLens 2 headset. The device will be available for $3500 in United States, Japan, China, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Australia, and New Zealand, the same countries where it was previously available for pre-order. This is the enterprise version of the headset: the dev version, that has also an optional rent priced at $99/month, is still to be released.
That’s a piece of fantastic news for all those enterprise companies that plan in implementing augmented reality in their production processes. HoloLens 2 is an amazing device, with a decent FOV, eye tracking, and hands tracking, that for sure will make many companies happy.
At the same time, the Chinese maufacturer nReal is finally ready to ship its devkits to the first batch of developers. Considering the trendy design, I see it as having a very strong potential for marketing installations, for instance for fashion brands. The fact that it is finally shipping to devs means that we will finally be able to understand the true possibilities of this headset. Shipping to consumers is expected for 2020.
(BTW, If you’re a company and want to implement AR for marketing or productivity, feel free to contact me and I will help you for sure!)

More info (HoloLens 2 shipping)
More info (Cool sample app on HoloLens 2)
More info (nReal teasing the shipping of its glasses)

Don’t hope in perfect AR glasses soon

As you’ve just read, it is a great moment for augmented reality, with some interesting devices finally arriving in the hands of developers. But augmented reality has still a long road to go before arriving at the final sunglasses-form-factor that we are all hoping for.
Display expert Karl Guttag has just written a series of two posts to open our eyes on the fact that to have very light augmented reality glasses that can provide us believable images we will probably need 5 to 10 years. And 5G will help, but it won’t be enough. The problem is in the was of physics of the optical systems: it is not possible to create such a device, and even the spirit of Steve Jobs can’t help, because with current technology, it is just impossible. And also Jeri Ellsworth, when I interviewed her, confirmed this prediction.
AR and VR will take time, I keep repeating it. We have to be patient.

More info (Karl Guttag’s article 1)
More info (Karl Guttag’s article 2)

Adobe releases AR authoring tool Aero

Adobe has finally released its Adobe Aero tool. If you still don’t know what it is, well, it is a program that lets creative people create simple augmented reality apps without knowing how to code. It works only with iOS phones, and support for Android will come only in the future. It has also been released an associated beta desktop application.
There are already various tools that claim to let people create AR applications without coding, so you may wonder why I am giving that much importance to this news. Well, the great news comes from the Adobe brand. All creative people of the world use the applications of the Adobe Creative Suite, may it be Photoshop or After Effects, and all these people now will have in their hands a tool to create AR applications. And this tool will be connected with the Adobe Cloud, meaning that one artist may create a drawing in Photoshop, and then import it easily in Aero and create an AR experience out of it. Aero, in fact, has already various presets to import 3D and 2D elements created with the other Adobe tools, and so an image made in Photoshop may be showcased in AR with all the layers separated a bit to create a 3D effect on the fly.
An army of creatives is getting AR super-powers. Let’s see what they will create with them.

More info (Adobe launches Aero — TechCrunch)
More info (Adobe launches Aero — Upload VR)
More info (Cathy Hackl explaining the huge potential of Aero)

Boneworks launch date has been revealed

If there is a VR game that really intrigues me, that game is Boneworks: it has a semi-realistic physics engine that makes you use in the game the weapons and the objects like in real life. For instance, you can use a two-handed weapon that behaves differently depending on where you put the two hands.
The game has also strong Half-Life vibes, and in the gameplay video that has just been released, they are clearly visible. If you like shooter games and you like Half-Life, this is the game to keep an eye on, until Valve actually announces its long-awaited flagship game.
Boneworks is slated to be a huge success, and it is coming on December, 10th on Steam, with support for all major platforms. There will be also an associated Oculus Quest game, but it won’t be actually revealed until 2020.
The hype is rising…

More info (Boneworks launch date)
More info (Boneworks on Quest)

News worth a mention
(Image from Amazon)
HTC is now selling certified refurbished Vive HMDs for $400

HTC has started selling again the OG Vive headset, but this time selling second-hand devices. Given the still strong success of the original Vive, which is one of the most beloved headsets by makers, the Taiwanese company has decided to sell on the marketplace previously owned headsets, that have been refurbished. The company guarantees that the headset has been carefully checked and that they work well. The systems will have 1 year of warranty and will cost $400.
I think it is a very good move since many people are still looking for the original Vive. This also means that HTC is not abandoning the headset and so it will be easy to find second-hand replacement parts, something that is not possible for the Rift CV1, for instance. My only critic is on the price: considering that a new Rift S is priced at $399, maybe a price of $300 for a used Vive would have been perfect.

More info

Vive Cosmos Wireless Kit is finally available

Continuing talking about HTC, this week the company has also released the wireless kit for the Vive Cosmos, that will let you play with this innovative headset without the hassle of the cable. If you already have the Vive Wireless Adapter, you will have to buy an additional compatibility kit, that includes a more powerful battery to take in count the bigger power requirements of this device.
The full price of the wireless kit is $350.

Skarredghost XR consultancies

More info

Oculus Link is coming soon

In the latest runtime of the Oculus Rift available on the Public Test Channel, there are already various mentions to the Oculus Link. This may only mean one thing: this solution is close to be released!

More info

Sansar is now being managed by a little crew

Bad news for social world Sansar: its company, Linden Labs (the same that manages Second Life), has just laid off 20 more people, and now, what should have been the next-gen Second Life, is just being managed by a bunch of people. This comes after the news that Sansar will now pivot more towards hosting events in Virtual Reality.
The company claims being committed to Sansar, but this virtual world, like many others, is struggling. Ryan Schultz has written a very complete article on the topic, highlighting all the problems of social VR environments: many of them have few users, and the ones that have many users still don’t know how to monetize them.

More info (Sansar struggling)
More info (Ryan Schultz on social VR)

A new idea could help amusement parks in adopting VR

Amusement parks currently have problems in adopting VR because it introduces too many complications and especially it makes waste time for each user: every user should fit the headset, and then the headset should be sanitized before the successive usage. That is why when I visited Disneyland in Shangai, I found no VR headset.
Canadian startup Dreamcraft Attractions has created a solution to help in this: the headset gets split into two parts: a rigid facemask, and then the classical headset that can be attached to the facemask thanks to magnets. When the users wait in line, they are already given the rigid facemask, that they can fit to their face. When it is the turn to try the VR experience, the real HMD gets inserted in the facemask, and since the facemask had already been fit to the user, the device is already ready to be used. After the use, only the facemask gets sent to sanitization, and the headset is already ready for the next user. A very smart idea.

More info

New software solutions claim to improve visuals in VR headsets

This week, two software solutions have claimed to improve the visual quality inside VR HMDs.
The first one is called Almalence and is a Unity plug-in (already available on the store) that should improve the clarity of images inside the Vive Pro Eye. Exploiting eye-tracking, the plugin improves the image perceived by the eye, considering its current position.
The second one is called DiCE and is a research project aimed at improving contrast in the VR visuals by exploiting optical disparity. It is interesting that while most of the other solutions aim at making the left and right images consistent to provide stereo vision, this plugin would make the two images actually slightly mismatch in colors, and this should make the perceived contrast bigger.

More info (Almalence)
More info (DiCE)

Machines can now see through walls

A very interesting research project employs machine learning and radio waves to make machines see through walls. After having been trained using visible light and radio waves, the system can operate in dark scenes or even see through walls (that are able to go through objects). It is just a research project, but it is very fascinating.

More info

Google machine learning can help in creating AR apps

Google has just announced an update to its AutoML service, that is now also available for Android and iOS phones. AutoML is, of course, a machine learning solution, and can be used out-of-the-box to detect objects with our smartphone. It comes with already included the training to detect 400 categories of objects. You could use it for your AR apps, and in fact a company has already used it to make people try-on jewelry items on their hands.

(Thanks Tom Emrich for this news and for your cool AR roundups in general)

More info

Oculus provides some details on controllers tracking

In a new blog post, Oculus gives some more technical details on how it is able to create such an effective controllers tracking. If you’re a nerd like me, give it a read.

More info

Survios talks about how to succeed in LBVR

The best interview I have read this week is the one of VentureBeat with one of the cofounders of Survios, one of the most successful VR indie game studios. In this interview, the company talks about how it is an indie game studio and how to create a successful business in games for LBVR locations. If you are in a game studio, this is a must-read.

More info

Black Friday is coming for VR as well

This week I have found two upcoming VR deals:

  • PSVR + 5 games will be at only $200 at Target during Black Friday and Cyber Monday;
  • Oculus Quest is discounted at £22 on e-Bay. This is not a big deal, but it is the first time that we see the Oculus Quest being discounted :O

More info (PSVR deal)
More info (Oculus Quest deal)

Pistol Whip is finally out!

Cloudhead games’s Pistol Whip has been released on November, 7th. After that day, I’ve read countless reviews and opinions, and I understood this is a game that many people are loving. On the web are now being published many mixed reality videos of people playing this rhythm-and-shooting game. It is not perfect, though, and some people are for instance criticizing that it only features 10 songs to play.
If you love fitness, this game will mainly train your legs. Some people suggest to train your upper body with Beat Saber and your lower body with Pistol Whip. Finally we can have a complete fitness solution while having fun.

More info (Review on Upload VR)
More info (Review on Road To VR)
More info (Review and analysis of level design on TESTED)
More info (Pistol Whip is your leg day game)

The third episode of Wolves In The Walls has been released

Wolves in the Walls is one of the best storytelling experiences that I have ever tried. This week, it has finally been released on the stores its third and last chapter, which makes the story come to an end. Download it from Oculus Store (it’s free), play it and thank me later. This is a true masterpiece.

More info

Watch this cool creation with the Looking Glass

Azad Balabanian, a guy making cool photogrammetry creations, has made some little experiments with the Looking Glass device that are overly cool. Check them out!

More info

Some news on VR content

Some important news on VR content from this week:

Cave Digger VR
Cave Digger VR
  • The most important one is Disney announcing a VR experience associated with Frozen 2. While this may not seem a big deal, personally I love it. Frozen is mainly loved by little girls, that are almost never directly targeted by VR experiences and games. So, Frozen VR, if compelling enough, can help a new category of people in getting interested in VR;
  • Beat Saber in the end on the 7th has released nothing special, just a music pack made in collaboration with Rocket League;
  • Angry Birds VR will add a level builder so that everyone will be able to create his/her own levels of this game;
  • Minecraft Earth is now available in UK, plus other countries;
  • Ready At Dawn has announced that Echo Arena won’t be available on Quest until 2020.

More info (Frozen 2 VR)
More info (Beat Saber + Rocket League)
More info (Angry Birds VR level builder)
More info (Minecraft Earth in UK)
More info (Echo VR for Quest delayed)

Some XR fun

Neo and Agent Smith, seen as a meme

Funny link

Dogmented reality is here

Funny link

Letting someone use your Quest for the first time

Funny link

Don’t donate on Patreon to support me

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(Header image by Google)

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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'm not giving up: I've started an AR/VR agency called New Technology Walkers with which help you in realizing your XR dreams with our consultancies (Contact us if you need a project done!)