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.
When I first put on the Mira Prism augmented reality headset, I was skeptical. AR is a proven concept in fields like surgery and mechanics, but nobody’s made a good pair of glasses for everyday use. They’re not cheap enough, they’re not sleek enough, and there’s not enough to do on them. But as I was surprised to find, Mira isn’t just another company with a clunky proof of concept and some big promises. Yes, the Prism is as weird-looking as lots of AR headsets — and for most people, it’ll be more novel than useful — but it’s the first headset I’ve seen that won’t charge you hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for that novelty.
The Mira Prism doesn’t contain any electronics. It’s a shell like Samsung’s Gear VR or Google’s Daydream View, but for augmented reality. To use it, you open a Mira-enabled app on your iPhone, then slide it into the Prism. The screen faces away from you and toward a transparent visor, which reflects the image back across your vision. Objects appear to float in front of you, rendered in stereoscopic 3D. The experience is very different from “mixed reality” that pipes a camera feed into a VR headset, because you’re seeing the real world at full resolution through your own eyes.
And things will get exciting again, sooner than you know it. This Fall, Apple is expected to reveal a 10th-anniversary iPhone, Google will likely reveal a revamped Pixel smartphone, and Microsoft is expected to hold another one of its regular late-October Surface computer press conferences.
In the meantime, there’s not much to do but reflect on what we’ve learned so far this year about the future of tech. And beyond the hype and the hyperbole, we’re starting to see the very earliest stages of a battle for the next phase of computing.
Because while Apple and Google may dominate the smartphone market today, technologies like augmented reality present whole-new platforms where there’s no clear winner. So Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook, having missed out on owning a mobile platform, are doing their damndest to hasten the end of the smartphone — and the end of Apple and Google’s duopoly, while they’re at it.
Apple has often been accused of acting like it invented things that others have been doing for years. That complaint is not without merit, however Apple can lay claim to transformingexisting things into mainstream successes, which takes no small amount of invention in its own right. Fingerprint authentication and contactless payments are just two recent examples, having both existed in Japan and on niche devices for over a decade before Apple raised them to global prominence with the iPhone.
Next up on Apple’s agenda is augmented reality, the act of superimposing digital data and visuals atop a live video feed of your surroundings — something that Google, Microsoft, and many others have been experimenting with for a long time. Apple is far from being able to claim it invented AR, but its new ARKit in iOS 11 is already showing signs to suggest that Apple will help bring AR into the mainstream faster and better than anyone else.
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.
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.
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.
Last month, HTC quietly announced a peripheral called TPCast that professed to provide wireless functionality to the Vive VR headset, which ordinarily requires you to be tethered to a PC with a thick, lengthy cable. Designed and built by a startup inside HTC’s Vive X accelerator program, it’s only available to order in China for now, but it’s coming worldwide soon and is at CES this week. I just tried it out. Does it work? Yes.
Because of the immense bandwidth required just to get a high enough framerate on the Vive headset itself, I was expecting wireless VR to be quite a bit further away than this — even wireless monitors aren’t really practical just yet. But the TPCast works without much, if any, noticeable lag. There were occasional skipped frames, but that could have been down to tracking interference in a crowded demo area; I sometimes see similar minor glitches with my own Vive setup at home. The best thing I can say about the TPCast device is that, through a series of varied Vive demos from an educational science app to a fast-paced first-person shooter, I often forgot I was using it.
The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has served as a good way-point for VR’s progress over the years. With CES 2017 kicking off next week, here we take a look back at the highlights (and low-lights) from 4 years of VR at CES to gauge how far the industry has come and look for clues as to where it goes from here.
Wedged somewhat inconsiderately at the very start of every year (it’s OK CES organisers, no one in the tech industry have families they want to spend time with), the annual Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas is still the biggest event for hardware in the world. A swirling mass of corporate marketing excess and the single platform showcasing the best (and worst) new gear from around the world expected to vie for our attention in 2017 and beyond. Virtual reality has figured prominently at the event in recent years of course, quickly rising to become one of the shows hottest technologies. With that in mind, and with CES 2017 imminent, we thought we’d take a look back at the notable VR events from past shows, charting VR’s progress to the present day.
CES 2013 / 2014: The Early Years
From the advent of the Oculus Rift in 2012, we saw Oculus attend the show for the first time in 2013 to show off their pre-production Rift headset prototype ahead of the DK1 launch, following their wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. Press response to the closed-doors meetings was almost universally positive. Road to VR was still in its infancy at the time, but Tested.com went hands-on with an interim Rift prototype at the show along with giving us a glimpse at the near-complete Rift DK-1 design that would ship to Kickstarter backers later that year. The demonstration included the now familar Unreal Engine 3 powered citadel scene, one which would become the setting for one of the most famous early VR applications of all time, Rift Coaster. The Rift had of course been covered by media before, most notably when Id co-founder John Carmack at E3 2012 showed an early, modified Oculus Rift prototype sent to him by the device’s inventor (and future Oculus VR founder) Palmer Luckey. CES 2013 however gave us the first glimpse of Oculus VR operating as a company.
Microsoft on Wednesday morning said PC OEMs will soon be shipping VR headsets that enable virtual reality and mixed reality starting at $299.
Details of the hardware and how it works were sparse, but Microsoft said HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer will be shipping the headsets timed with its upcoming Windows 10 Creators Update, due in spring 2017.
Despite the relatively low price, the upcoming headsets may have a big advantage over HTC and Valve’s Vive and Facebook’s Oculus Rift: no need for separate calibration hardware to function. Both Vive and Oculus require multiple emitters on stands to be placed around a room for the positioning to function.