While virtual reality is not quite taking over the living room just yet, the experience is quickly finding its place in arcades and theme parks. With this in mind, Sensics is finally releasing its VR headset for public venues. The design of these goggles reportedly brings a more hygienic and comfortable experience while also sporting a higher resolution than consumer headsets.
Sensics, co-founder of Razer’s Open Source Virtual Reality, had certain features in mind in order to differentiate their public headsets from the consumer-grade HDK 2. First and foremost is hygiene. In a public setting, headsets come into contact with a lot of different faces. Not only does Sensics include a machine-washable, hypoallergenic face mask, it also is designed to physically separate from the display. This allows attendees to strap in and get comfortable before clipping into the display portion. This cuts down on time spent cleaning the headset between uses since the display attaches to each individual strap. Then, as the attendee enjoys the virtual world, the used straps can be properly sanitized. No longer will users have to don a wet headset after a particularly sweaty round.
Sony has today announced not just a new camera, but a new type of camera in the form of the RX0 – an ultra-compact, robust and waterproof device with an unconventional set of features including support for multi-camera setups.
Featuring a 1.0-type stacked sensor similar to those found in the company’s highly regarded RX10 and RX100 series consumer cameras. However, the RX0 is instead a device aimed more at professional users who want to create VR and ‘bullet-time’ effects using much smaller and more flexible setups than the huge multi-camera rigs currently required to produce such effects.
Ricoh has revealed a brand new version of its Theta 360-degree camera: The Theta V, which upgrades the video capture quality to 4K resolution, adds live streaming support, and immersive “surround” sound audio recording. It takes over as the flagship Ricoh 360 camera, adding some much-appreciated modernized touches to one of the oldest and best-loved lines of consumer 360 cameras around.
The Ricoh Theta V also has a new high-speed wireless radio for faster data transfer, boosting it up to 2.5 times faster vs. the existing version. It also includes improved exposure and white balance accuracy, and boosted dynamic range, which Ricoh says should result in far better image quality in all lighting situations. The improved imaging tech was borrowed from the Pentax line of DSLRs, the company says.
PlayStation VR may be the least expensive way to enter the world of virtual reality, but it still isn’t cheap. Previously, the headset sold for $400 in addition to the mandatory PlayStation Camera for an additional $60, but that changes this week with the newest PlayStation VR bundle.
Starting on September 1, the PlayStation VR’s standard bundle will come with a PlayStation Camera for $400, effectively giving customers a $60 discount. Sony says that this will be the “core” PlayStation VR bundle moving forward, so if you already own the camera but haven’t picked up the headset yet, you might want to act quickly.
In addition to the $400 option, those looking to also pick up a game with PlayStation VR can check out the $450 PlayStation VR Worlds bundle — previously called the “launch bundle” at most retailers. The package contains everything from the standard bundle and adds two PlayStation Move controllers and the PlayStation VR Worlds game. Coming with several different mini-games, including The London Heist, Danger Ball, and the enthralling Ocean Descent, it’s a great way to get introduced to VR technology, though not all of the games are created equal. VR Luge is a pretty mediocre racing game, and Scavengers Odyssey is all but guaranteed to make you queasy.
The appeal of VR content lies in its ability to endow the viewer with a sense of agency and a sense of immersion. Well-executed experiences completely surround the audience, with no bezels or screen borders to remind them they aren’t actually in some far-off world.
Which is why I was so impressed by The Dome, an all-encompassing theatrical experience that has been popping up at recent iterations of the Panorama and Coachella music festivals. Think: A planetarium on steroids, where visitors are free to look around and immerse themselves in an environment, without actually being bogged down by a physical VR headset.
“The 180-degree screen surrounds the audience with up to 25 million pixels in each frame,” says Bobo Do, creative director for Dirt Empire and co-writer and co-director of The Ark. “To give a sense of how big that is, standard HD is a little more than 2 million pixels. So the visual fidelity is much better than any VR set available today, by an order of magnitude.”
They’re already home to two of Europe’s most vibrant film industries. Now France and Britain are leading the way in the region in creating VR content.
Between them, the two countries have eight of the 22 titles competing in the upcoming Venice Film Festival’s new virtual-reality section — the world’s first competitive VR strand at a film festival. Add in an entrant apiece from Italy and Denmark, and the number of European titles in the competition exceeds that of the U.S.
“The VR industry is booming in Europe, which is great for all of us,” said Sol Rogers, CEO and founder of Rewind, the British creator of “Ghost in the Shell VR,” with U.S. banner Here Be Dragons, and “Home: A VR Spacewalk,” which just picked up an award at Cannes Lions.
A report in August identified 487 virtual-reality companies operating in Europe, up from the 300 recorded in February.
But in contrast with the U.S., where virtual-reality creation is mainly being funded by deep-pocketed corporations and private investors, the VR industry in France and Britain is being driven in large part by public broadcasters, TV channels, government institutions, independent producers and tech studios.
A new paper authored by researchers from Disney Research and several universities describes a new approach to procedural speech animation based on deep learning. The system samples audio recordings of human speech and uses it to automatically generate matching mouth animation. The method has applications ranging from increased efficiency in animation pipelines to making social VR interactions more convincing by animating the speech of avatars in real-time in social VR settings.
Researchers from Disney Research, University of East Anglia, California Institute of Technology, and Carnegie Mellon University, have authored a paper titled A Deep Learning Approach for Generalized Speech Animation. The paper describes a system which has been trained with a ‘deep learning / neural network’ approach, using eight hours of reference footage (2,543 sentences) from a single speaker to teach the system the shape the mouth should make during various units of speech (called phonemes) and combinations thereof.
Below: The face on the right is the reference footage. The left face is overlaid with a mouth generated from the system based only on the audio input, after training with the video.
When I first met Jeff Olm, he told me about Under the Canopy, a VR film that was shot using moving cameras and drones in the Amazon. It felt surreal to mount the VR headset and descend into the rainforest, in full stereo might I add. I asked to learn more about the production and Olm sent me a series of links. I especially loved going behind-the-scenes with a sloth in VR.
Jeff Olm is a VR/AR creative director and also co-chair of the VR/AR Association’s Stories and Audiences Committee. Together with several other industry thought leaders, we recently published the Top 10 Virtual Reality Best Practices in an effort to capture into one source the rapidly evolving knowledge about VR.
The radically new experiences that the medium provides today have been decades in the making. As part of this living document, we seek to present not only our experiences with the hardware and software, but also to dig into the specifics of development and content production. This work is especially timely given that analysts are projecting VR will transform into a multi-billion dollar industry in the next decade.
In virtual reality, the more realistic the digital world, the greater the demand for fidelity. The greater demand for fidelity, the greater the demand for bandwidth. Nothing is more demanding than cinematic realism. We expect photo real worlds to have absolutely perfect fidelity. This is why realism in VR always involves a sterile space station or a desert planet. It is going to be some time before we cavort with artifically intelligent characters in Westworld or The Matrix.
Augmented Reality will soon be more than cartoony Pokemon and Snapchat Filters (and Facebook’s coming Camera Effects Platform). It will soon feature realistic holograms of people, too. “VR has given birth to a process at the intersection of games and movies,” said James George, co-founder of DepthKit.
Here Be Dragons, an immersive production studio focused on virtual reality content, has closed a $10 million Series A round led by Discovery Communications with participation also coming from David Droga and David Jones. The raise sets the virtual reality studio’s valuation at $55 million pre-money, the company confirmed to TechCrunch.
As part of the round, Discovery exec Rebecca Howard will be joining Here Be Dragons’ board of directors.
While content bets are never all that simple (let alone ones focused on emerging technologies like VR), Here Be Dragons CEO Patrick Milling-Smith believes his company is in a great place after reaching profitability and working with partners like Nike, Samsung, The New York Times and GE.
The Series A raise will go toward building out some of the various divisions within the studio, Milling-Smith tells me, with a particular focus on creative development.