Zuckerberg Demos Oculus VR Gloves, by Mathew Humphries

Consumers are still getting to grips with virtual reality and trying to decide whether to jump on board yet. Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg is keeping a close eye on what the research arm of Oculus is up to, with the latest R&D project being virtual reality gloves.

Right now, there’s the Oculus Rift headset and Oculus Touch $199.99 at Amazon controllers, which allow six degrees of motion tracking for your hands. What the Oculus Research lab in Redmond, Washington is working on is a pair of gloves that bring the full movement range of your hands and fingers into a virtual world. By wearing them, you’ll be able to type on a virtual keyboard and draw with a high degree of accuracy.

As the image above shows, these prototype gloves aren’t hooked up to the Oculus tracking system yet. Instead they rely on an array of trackers focused on the area where Zuckerberg is moving his glove-covered hands.

As TechCrunch points out, the VR gloves probably aren’t brand new tech Oculus developed internally. Oculus acquired Pebbles Interfaces last year, which already had a virtual reality hand tracking system in development. This is likely an extension of that tech.

Zuckerberg also points out that the research lab is working on reducing the size of the headsets to glasses we can carry anywhere. He also mentions “advanced optics, eye tracking, mixed reality and new ways to map the human body” in his Facebook post about the lab visit.

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Boris FX Releases Mocha VR

Still Frame from IGN’s Scripted VR Series ‘Augmented.’

GUILDFORD, U.K. — Mocha VR is a groundbreaking new software tool bringing high-end visual effects and post-production workflows to 360°/VR filmmaking. Based on Imagineer’s Academy Award-winning planar tracking algorithm, Mocha VR is also the first plug-in to bring native 360° optimized motion tracking, masking, object removal, and horizon stabilization tools to host applications Adobe Premiere Pro CC, Adobe After Effects CC, Avid Media Composer, The Foundry’s NUKE, and Blackmagic Design Fusion.

Mocha VR marks the first foray into the quickly expanding 360° filmmaking community by parent company Boris FX, the leading developers of creative VFX plug-ins including flagship products Boris Continuum, Mocha Pro, and recently acquired Sapphire.

“Emerging 360°/VR content creators want to produce Hollywood style visuals and use high-end finishing techniques to make their 360° videos more impactful,” said Ross Shain, Chief Marketing Officer. “However, the equirectangular format brings technical challenges to the artists tasked with delivering high quality deliverables. Mocha VR introduces an efficient, time-saving post-stitch workflow for editors, compositors, and finishing artists. We are excited that Mocha’s famous planar tracking can now be used to fix many problems associated with 360° post, such as removing cameras and stabilizing aerial footage.”

“Avid is committed to working with third-parties to offer the most comprehensive tools and workflow solutions to create, distribute, and monetize media,” said Kate Ketcham, Product Manager, Avid. “Boris FX has extensive experience creating high-quality plug-ins for Avid Media Composer. The new Mocha VR AVX plug-in is notable for being the first third-party 360° video tool designed to support the Avid editing workflow.”

Early Mocha VR beta testers have reaped the benefits of the powerful new 360°/VR workflow.

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Valve: Wireless high-end VR is a solved problem, by Jeff Grubb

Above: Wireless VR should make a huge difference to comfort. Image Credit: TPcast

Those cables that are holding you down in virtual reality may soon go extinct.

Valve expects wireless technology to come to the HTC Vive and the wider, high-end PC-powered VR market this year. Devices like the TPCast already exist. This is a dongle you add to the Vive that wirelessly beams the HDMI signal to the VR head-mounted display and powers it with a battery. It isn’t on sale yet, but Valve thinks that will change soon — and then the company expects that tech will end up as a standard feature in future headset iterations.

“Wireless is a solved problem at this point,” Valve founder Gabe Newell told a roundtable of developers at the company’s headquarters in Bellevue, Washington. “So my expectation is that it will be an add-on in 2017, and it will be an integrated feature in 2018.”

Losing those cables will enable more freedom for people playing room-scale VR experiences in the Vive. It should also aid with presence for people who don’t want a tether reminding them of their connection to actual reality.

SubVRsive Secures $4 Million Funding For VR and AR Production, by Charles Singletary

360-degree media production companies are becoming more and more important as companies reach out for creative ways to market their products, share their creative visions, and even educate their employees. SubVRsive, a team that has worked with MTV and has even earned an Emmy nomination for their collaboration with Showtime, announced that they’ve completed a series A funding round, acquired $4 million, and appointed former Hulu SVP Johannes Larcher as their new CEO.

On the company’s blog post about the funding, they wrote of the potential of VR and AR when it comes to providing the best content for their clients:

If our experience in immersive storytelling has taught us anything, it’s that Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are fundamentally redefining the ways in which brands connect with their audiences. While the sight, sound, and motion of traditional video allow brands to explain their benefits to consumers, the immersive nature of Virtual Reality allows consumers to experience those benefits for themselves – and that experience is captivating. We are convinced that Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will continue to push the envelope of storytelling and will offer brands more and more effective ways to deepen their engagement with their audiences.

The funding round was the result of investments from a single participant, the WPP, which is one of the world’s leading communications service companies.

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HOW ESCAPE ROOMS AND LIVE THEATER ARE PAVING THE WAY FOR VR, By Bryan Bishop

Immersive entertainment is bigger than a headset

 

Modern virtual reality has been hailed as the future of Hollywood entertainment, our science fiction fantasies come to life. But there’s an ongoing problem: most VR experiences just aren’t that interesting. Hampered by evolving hardware and a medium with no set rules or audience expectations, most virtual reality experiences come off as either glorified tech demos, or simulacra of other, more established types of content. They’re usually riffing on stories that would be better told as short films or traditional games.

It’s partially a matter of storytelling conventions. Cinema has had more than a century to develop its own language of shots, cuts, and transitions, while storytelling in VR is still in its infancy. Creators are still figuring out what the medium can even do, let alone how to best take advantage. But virtual reality is only one small sliver in the much larger continuum of immersive entertainment. Real-world entertainment experiences have been evolving in their own right, developing their own unique approaches to storytelling. In the process, they aren’t just engaging audiences — they’re showing the way forward for virtual reality.

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VR In the Real World: How an Emerging Technology Could Change the World, By Sarah Rafksy

“Chasing Coral”

The Sundance Film Festival has long included documentaries that tackle hot button issues, but this year some of those films included virtual reality companion pieces in the New Frontier section. In addition to longstanding issues regarding technical, ethical and narrative complexities of telling stories with new technologies, these VR additions raised serious questions about the capacity for the medium as an agent of change.

Environmental issues were at the forefront of this year’s festival, and two of the most prominent climate documentaries, “An Inconvenient Sequel” and “Chasing Coral,” presented VR shorts as well. “An Inconvenient Sequel” shows how grave the climate change crisis has become since Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” debuted a decade ago. In the companion piece, “Melting Ice,” Gore and the film’s creator Danfung Dennis take us on a 360-degree tour of how rising temperatures have wreaked havoc on the climate of Greenland.

The VR short opens with the viewer peering up as Gore’s small plane noisily descends onto the barren white landscape. After observing a brief conversation between him and the scientist stationed there, who explains how dire the situation of melting ice sheets and rising sea levels has become, the film mostly dispenses with any narrative. The viewer is instead placed below collapsing glaciers, alongside gushing muddy rivers and inside boats languidly paddling through bodies of water strewn with ice melt detritus. The long, uninterrupted shots of the expansive landscape are beautifully rendered — so much so that, were it not for the intermittent voice-over narration by Gore warning of an imminent climate refugee crisis, the film might feel like a well-executed tourist video, rather than environmental horror tale.

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Ambarella’s New 4K and 8K Imaging Chips Could Have Big Benefits for VR

Ambarella has carved out a niche in video compression and image processing chips, generating $100 million a quarter in revenue. And today, the company is launching three new chips that will bring next-generation imaging features to cars, drones, virtual reality, and sports cameras.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Ambarella showed off the three new chips at CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas this week. Ambarella’s chips are already used in a lot of high-end drones from companies such as DJI and Yuneec, and the company has also supplied a lot of chips to makers of action cameras, like GoPro, as well as home security cameras.

“We’ve captured high-market share in the drone business, or, as we call them, flying cameras,” said Chris Day, vice president of marketing and business development at Ambarella, in an interview with VentureBeat. “Now we’re moving into our first electronic mirror application.”

The first chip being introduced today is the A9AQ, which can be used in electronic mirrors in cars. The chip is a camera system-on-chip (SoC) that can process 4K images from multiple still cameras or video recording systems. The A9AQ features an 800-megahertz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 central processing unit (CPU) to handle imaging tasks in modern cars, from advanced driver assistance to user interface and wireless networking. The chip comes with a companion Serdes chip for high-performance video camera applications.

The single chip works with camera side-view and rear-view electronic mirrors, which show you a video of what’s behind your car as you back up. It has multi-exposure high-dynamic range (HDR) processing to provide visibility in low-light and high-contrast scenes. That means you may be able to see even if someone is shining LED headlights in your mirror. The mirrors are increasingly common in cars that assist drivers with tasks such as parking.

“It can take multiple video inputs to provide the output you need,” Day said.

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Inside IMAX’s Big Bet to Rule the Future of VR, By David Pierce

Photo: GRAHAM WALZER FOR WIRED

This is where Tom Cruise sits to review footage from his latest action epic, where Chris Nolan makes sure every soldier in Dunkirk looks exactly the way he should. Then, once filmmakers are happy with what they’ve created, it’s the job of the theater’s namesake—IMAX’s white-haired and suit-wearing chief quality officer—to replicate it perfectly in the more than 1,100 other screens it operates all over the world. Keighley is famous within IMAX for flying to random theaters on the release dates for big movies, to make sure everything’s just right.

For more than 45 years, IMAX has defined the absolute highest end of the movie-going experience by controlling every aspect of that experience, from building cameras to developing laser-projection technology to redesigning the seating arrangements so more people have better views. “Why do filmmakers come back time after time after time?” Keighley asks rhetorically. “Because they know the IMAX version of the movie is probably the best version of the movie.”

In recent months, though, IMAX has set its sights on a new technology: virtual reality. IMAX CEO Rich Gelfond believes VR is much more than a toy for gamers or a living-room furniture piece. He sees it as the future of the movie theater—even the future of movies. It’s just not the present. “Anyone who tells you that VR is ready for prime time in its current form is wrong,” says Gelfond, a stout man in his early 60s. “Wrong!”

But that’s precisely the opportunity. Virtual reality is poised to be the biggest shift in the history of filmmaking. “Everything is new, everything is fresh,” says Joe Russo, the director of movies like Captain America: Winter Soldier and the next Avengers flick. “The execution is different, the impact on the audience is different. Some people are going to take some big swings in it, and those are going to define the direction it takes.” From music to games to blockbuster movies, every aspect of entertainment will be changed by (or competing with) VR. And just as MGM and Warner Bros. made a killing at the dawn of the movie industry, there’s a gold rush happening around the future of frame-free cinema.

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‘HOLOSCOPE’ Headset Claims to Solve AR Display Hurdle with True Holography, By Dr. Oliver Kreylos

Holo-this, holo-that. Holograms are so bamboozling that the term often gets used colloquially to mean ‘fancy-looking 3D image’, but holograms are actually a very specific and interesting method for capturing light field scenes which have some real advantages over other methods of displaying 3D imagery. RealView claims to be using real holography to solve a major problem inherent to AR and VR headsets of today, the vergence-accommodation conflict. Our favorite holo-skeptic, Oliver Kreylos, examines what we know about the company’s approach so far.

RealView recently announced plans to turn their previous desktop holographic display tech into the HOLOSCOPE augmented reality headset. This new headset is similar to Magic Leap‘s AR efforts in two big ways: one, it aims to address the issue of vergence-accommodation conflict inherent in current VR headsets such as Oculus Rift or Vive, and AR headsets such as Microsoft’s HoloLens; and two, we know almost no details about it. Here they explain vergence-accommodation conflict:

Note that there is a mistake around the 1:00 minute mark: while it is true that the image will be blurry, it will only split if the headset is not configured correctly. Specifically, that will not happen with HoloLens when the viewer’s inter-pupillary distance is dialed in correctly.

Unlike pretty much everybody else using the holo- prefix or throwing the term “hologram” around, RealView vehemently claims their display is based on honest-to-goodness real interference-pattern based holograms, of the computer-generated variety. To get this out of the way: yes, that stuff actually exists. Here is a Nature article about the HoloVideo system created at MIT Media Lab.

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Facebook plans to invest more than $3 billion in VR over the next decade, By Lucas Matney

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sees virtual reality as a future computing platform that his company has a chance to own, though he admits it may take 5 – 10 years to bring it to the masses.

Members of the press had a rare opportunity to get a more unfiltered view into the future of Facebook’s virtual reality ambitions as Zuckerberg took to the stands today to testify in a $2 billion lawsuit surrounding the origins of Oculus, a VR company it acquired in March of 2014.

At the heart of its case is the claim that Oculus acquired information from former ZeniMax employee and current Oculus CTO John Carmack that was instrumental to the creation of the the company’s core technology, help that ZeniMax was never compensated for.

Zuckerberg told the courtroom that the company will likely invest more than $3 billion over the next decade to bring VR to hundreds of millions of users, the NYTimes reports.

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