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Is Disney Planning to Stream Virtual Reality Movies?

Is Disney Planning to Stream Virtual Reality Movies?

DisneyVR

April 3rd, 2016

Disney has filed applications with the US Patent and Trademark Office to stream Virtual Reality videos according to a report here from Stitch Kingdom, a news website for the Walt Disney Company. The report states two applications so far have been published that involve the streaming, playing, browsing, and delivery of digital and virtual reality content. I was not able to confirm these applications in my search with the US Patent and Trademark Office but the application serial numbers are reported to be 86957194 and 86957196. There is no official word from Disney yet.

 

 

This would continue Disney’s investment into Virtual Reality, which already includes their investment in Jaunt, a service that has claimed they want to become the YouTube for VR videos. Disney led the way with the $65 million in funding Jaunt raised back in September. They currently have a video where you can take part in a celebration on Disneyland’s Main Street as part of their 60th Anniversary festivities this year. A clip of the video is shown below:

 

 

Disney also created a 360-degree video experience where Goofy takes you on a tour of the Disney World Resort that was launched last November. This is viewable on either Google Cardboard or the Gear VR. They made an additional 360-degree video experience for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this year, Disney unveiled they are working on two VR projects. Trials of Tatooine will be a cinematic VR experience and Star Wars Battlefront will be a virtual reality game made exclusively for the PlayStation VR. Currently, they are simultaneously launching a 360-degree video and a virtual reality experience for the recently released remake of the Jungle Book. The virtual reality experience is playing in select IMAX and AMC theaters but you can view the 360-degree video here.

 

 

With the different Virtual Reality ventures Disney has already invested in, it is easy to see them wanting to go further with this medium, which is good news for VR. The size of Disney‘s fan base and the tremendous influence the company has in popular culture makes this a great opportunity to introduce VR to an audience that extends far beyond early adopters. It is a good sign for the Virtual Reality industry but, for now, we will have to wait and see what they come up with.

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StJudesCancerVR


Hospitals Use Virtual Reality So Kids Battling Cancer Can See the World

Hospitals Use Virtual Reality So Kids Battling Cancer Can See the World March 29th, 2016 Dream Adventures is a pilot program launched by Expedia that uses Virtual Reality to allow the children at St Jude Children’s Hospital to travel the world. Most of the children at St Jude’s battling cancer can be there for months

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Hospitals Use Virtual Reality So Kids Battling Cancer Can See the World

Hospitals Use Virtual Reality So Kids Battling Cancer Can See the World

StJudesCancerVR

March 29th, 2016

Dream Adventures is a pilot program launched by Expedia that uses Virtual Reality to allow the children at St Jude Children’s Hospital to travel the world. Most of the children at St Jude’s battling cancer can be there for months or years, and they do not have the opportunity to travel. The Dream Adventures program uses special rooms, 360-degree cameras, and live-streaming to transport kids from their hospital room in Tennessee to see wild horses in Argentina, dig for Dinosaur fossils in Talampaya National Park, or explore the depths of the Ocean by the Great Maya Reef in Mexico.

 

 

The program started with four children at the hospital who were able to view live tour guides who were on the scene in each of the travel locations. So, not only were the children able to walk around a room immersed in their location but they could also interact and ask questions in real-time with the guide on the scene. Expedia has set up this site for Dream Adventures where you can get more information and watch videos of the kid’s adventures. Expedia plans to build a permanent installation at the hospital and bring the experience to more children. You can watch the documented story of one of the children’s adventures below.

 

 

Another hospital using Virtual Reality for their patients is Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The Samsung Gear VR and Oculus DK2 headsets are used in their patient treatment and therapy programs. The VR applications include a flyover trip to Iceland, an art studio where patients can make a painting, and an underwater experience where they can swim with dolphins and other sea creatures. Cedars-Sinai is taking the program a step further by analyzing results with their patients afterwards to see how VR can be used to improve the patients’ hospital experience and recovery process.

 

 

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan is yet another hospital using VR headsets to transport kids from their hospital rooms into virtual reality experiences as shown in the video below. It is obvious the benefits that travelling to another place in virtual reality can bring to patients who are trapped in hospital rooms for long periods of time. It is wonderful to see them adopting these uses so quickly to improve the quality of life for these patients.

 

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Gear VR Now Has Native Screenshot & Video Capture!

Gear VR Now Has Native Screenshot & Video Capture!

Statue of Liberty

March 20th, 2016

The update to Gear VR this week has finally added the long-awaited native screenshot and video capture options. The screenshots and videos are captured in single perspective with a flat 1024 x 1024 resolution as opposed to the dual-perspective fishbowl captures from each eye that people have been using as a workaround with third-party apps. Both the Statue of Liberty and Golden Gate Bridge pictures in this article were taken using screenshot feature inside the Streetview VR app.

 

Golden Gaet Bridge

 

To use the screenshot feature from within an app, click the Back button on the headset to pull up the Settings menu. Then, on the right side of the menu, click in the Utilities icon. From here, you can choose either Screenshot or Capture Video.

 

If you choose Screenshot, the device will go back to the app and there will be a blinking red dot toward the upper right-hand corner of the screen. The blinking will increase in speed right before it takes the screenshot, and you will hear a camera shutter sound when the screenshot is captured. You have about 3-4 seconds to frame your image before the screenshot is saved.

 

Instead, if you choose the Video Capture option, the device will go back to the app and the recording starts right away automatically. It will continue to record everything you do until you hold the Back button on the headset again long enough to go back to the Settings menu. Any screenshots or videos you take will be visible in the phone’s Gallery section.

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Hyperloop Working on Augmented Reality Windows for Passengers

Hyperloop Working on Augmented Reality Windows for Passengers

Hyperloop

March 15th, 2016

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) is currently working on a way to liven up the journey for its future passengers using Augmented Reality. CEO Dirk Alhborn gave a talk at South by Southwest this week demonstrating the concept according to this article by Karissa Bell at Mashable. A video of the idea is shown below.

 

Another look at Hyperloop’s augmented reality window concept, Ahlborn says it could include ads #SXSW2016 pic.twitter.com/ahHobjdx4D

— Karissa Bell (@karissabe) March 13, 2016

 

For those that don’t know, the Hyperloop is a high-speed transportation system where capsules blast through tubes on an air cushion at proposed speeds of 760 mph. It was originally put forth by a team working with Elon Musk. The design could get a person from LA to San Francisco in about 30 minutes.

 

Travelling through enclosed tubes could get pretty boring and induce claustrophobia in some people. A big part of reducing these effects while travelling is the ability to view the scenery and landscapes a person is travelling though. The technology HTT is working on would not only have a digital display on the window but it would also have head tracking. This allows the scene to change as your head moves around to mimic a person looking out of a real window. This gives a more natural look and feel. HTT said it could also be used for advertising opportunities and the video seems to demonstrate other potentially important travel data displayed on the window.

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Meta 2 Launches Preorders

Meta 2 Launches Preorders

Meta_2_Development_Kit

March 4th, 2016

The second iteration of Meta’s augmented reality glasses opened up for preorders on March 2nd, and the response from people who have been able to use them so far has been impressive. There has been such a significant advance with Meta 2 compared with their previous version that their main engineer has stated he uses the glasses as his main display. He codes for Meta inside Meta.  The preorders launched at $949. Their launch video is shown below.

 

 

At $949, they are much less than Microsoft’s Hololens, which go for $3,000. Meta is tethered though, and it needs a PC to run the glasses while Hololens is a standalone device. Its resolution is 2560 x 1440 and it has a 90-degree field of view (FOV), much larger than the FOV for Hololens. As a comparison, the Gear VR has a 98-degree FOV while the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive both have a 110-degree FOV. The FOV can be much more important in augmented worlds compared with virtual worlds. This is because in an augmented world, you will still have your natural field of view and objects will disappear as you turn your head when they should still technically be in view. However, in a virtual world the graphics take up the entire view, and outside of this there is just darkness that is tuned out. There is no overlay of other noticeable objects making you aware your FOV is limited.

 

 

Meta 2 is also equipped with a 720p front-facing camera and a 4-speaker near ear audio system. It also has a sensory array for hand interactions and positional tracking. There are demo videos of users wearing the glasses and passing a holographic object back and forth to the holographic image of a another person seen through the glasses. The ability to interact with the objects is much cleaner and more intuitive than the previous Meta version and this includes actions such as moving objects around, spinning them, resizing them, and handing them off to others.

 

There is no approval process for the Meta 2 and you can preorder it here. Shipping is expected to being in the third quarter of 2016.

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How Will the Virtual Reality Industry Evolve?

How Will the Virtual Reality Industry Evolve?

FutureGearVR

February 24th, 2016

“The VR Opportunity” was a forum at the Mobile World Congress this week in Barcelona centered on how Virtual Reality will evolve in the marketplace. This is a topic I like to discuss, and I am in the camp that feels gaming will lead the early adoption phase but within just a few years the market will consist mostly of interactive non-gaming entertainment “experiences”. A report by iDigitalTimes revealed that current industry experts are unsurprisingly divided on how they expect the industry to evolve.

 

One executive at the forum felt that gaming companies are in the best position to leverage their brands and gaming is what will grow VR while anther executive stated cinematic entertainment is what will mostly drive industry expansion.  Many mobile companies see cell phones playing a large role in VR adoption while the CEO of Avegant states the future of VR is in retinal displays that shoot light directly onto a person’s retina.

 

My personal opinion is that gaming will drive the industry at first. This is because gamers are the consumer base willing to pay the high prices for early tech adoption. And, right now, it is still too expensive for the casual consumer to invest in such a novelty item. Additionally, many in the gaming community will already have some of the necessary parts needed to invest in VR experiences such as the faster GPUs and processors required. Even if they were to upgrade, it can be rationalized as an upgrade they would eventually be doing anyway.

 

Phones will help the casual consumer get into VR because of the smaller barrier to entry. The Gear VR is very impressive and it’s pretty cheap if you already have the required Samsung Galaxy or Note phone. You do not need to purchase any more processing power than the phone, and the VR headset is only $99. You can also use the Gear VR without wires and without a messy set up, adding to the ease of use for a casual VR user.

 

However, as the adoption grows, it will be all of the other non-gaming VR experiences that capture the attention of the casual user. This will include, the movies, shows, social experiences, music videos, simulations, meditative experiences, etc. In my opinion, the VR experience by itself has such a wow factor right now when you initially use it that you do not need the experience to be too intense. In fact, you probably do not even want the experience to be too intense because it will be jarring. You need the movement to be slower, you need less to focus on, you need less to do. You still want the VR experience to be interactive but this means that most VR experiences are better when they require more passivity. This allows the user to focus more on enjoying the experience through exploring the new world they are surrounded by. This is where I see the future of mass VR adoption.

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Hulu Investing Heavily Into VR

Hulu Investing Heavily Into VR

Hulu vr

February 19th, 2016

Add Hulu to the list of companies getting bullish on Virtual Reality. Ben Smith, Hulu’s Head of Experience recently told Variety they are “spending a lot of time on virtual reality.” The company has been working on an app for the Gear VR that was originally slated for last fall. It is now expected to be ready by this Spring. The app is reported to have different virtual environments to transport to where you can enjoy regular Hulu content. In addition to their normal 2-D offerings, the company is also working on VR content, including a short film titled “The Big One.”

 

Some of the delay in offering the app seems to come from the time they are investing in making sure the content is something people will want to use on a regular basis. Smith stated they are looking to see what works and what doesn’t work in attempts to create something people will want to do every day. Personally, I like this perspective as there are several VR experiences that are incredibly impressive as a first time experience but do not really have a lot of value in repeated experiences. At this point, you still see a lot of VR users seeking out new content after new content as explorers while the apps they like to use on a regular basis are still few and far between. This puts Hulu in a desirable category of content creators looking for quality instead of being another company testing the VR waters out of novelty.

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What is Foveated Rendering?

What is Foveated Rendering?

Foveated Image

January 23rd, 2016

One of the main issues with processing images for Virtual Reality is the intense workload it places on the computer’s GPU. With current steroscopic VR setups, there are two slightly different copies of each video image rendering each frame. One image is sent to one eye while the other image is sent to the other eye to get the 3D effect. Additionally, these images have to be refreshed a very high rate to keep the experience smooth and without judder. For VR applications, the refresh rate has to be even higher than normal because the image takes up our whole field of view and immerses us in the environment. This causes us to notice much more subtle differences that can lead to VR sickness. The goal for most VR companies has been to render both images at 90 Hz, which would mean 90 frames a second for each image. This is what the consumer version of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive will be running at. Needless to say, running two images, one for each eye at 90 frames per second is very processing intensive for a GPU. This is also the reason, the spec requirements are so high for the computers needed to run good VR headsets. The high specs and extra costs keeps VR out of the hands of many consumers.

Foveated Rendering looks to solve this issue by greatly reducing the processing power needed by the GPU to render the two images at 90Hz. The idea behind foveated rendering is that only the area the eye is focused on is rendered in full resolution. A bigger area surrounding the focused area is rendered in just a medium resolution, and the remaining areas of the screen are rendered in a low resolution. This enables the GPU to very rapidly render the low and medium resolution areas while only spending time to render the high resolution areas on a small portion of each image. The image above provides a example of the different layers of resolution that would be rendered for the image. This technique simulates the way we use our eyes where the area we are focused on is clear while our peripheral vision is blurred.

In addition to the rendering technique, foveated rendering also requires eye-tracking technology. As the user’s focus moves around a screen, it is neccesary to see where the user’s eye is focused so the system knows where to render the medium and high resolution areas. Obviously, you can imagine the eye-tracking and the rendering need to both happen very quickly to pull this off. Earlier this month, SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI), a German company specializing in eye-tracking technology has introduced their consumer-ready eye-tracking platform with the ability to do this as 250Hz, or 250 frames per second. Oculus has already reported they are working on eye-tracking technology for their 2nd generation headset, and I would expect to see foveated rendering incorporated. If so, this will go a long way in allowing more detailed graphics to be displayed but also in reducing the required specs a computer needs to display VR. This would make VR accesible to even more people. The video below gives a more detailed look at SMI’s foveated rendering in action.

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Virtual Reality Takes Over CES 2016

Virtual Reality Takes Over CES 2016

Gear VR Still1

January 16th, 2016

Attack of the VR…it’s everywhere!

Virtual Reality has been at CES before. It has also been at several other conventions over the past couple of years as an emerging technology. But 2016 is VR’s coming out party to consumers, and it had a dominating presence this year at CES. Not only was there a large area devoted specifically to VR but there were so many other non-VR companies using it for their demos. CES had a record breaking 2.47 million square feet of exhibit space this year and you could not walk 30 feet without seeing a demo using a VR head-mounted display.

HTC This is RealAfter years of hype, VR is now real! The HTC Vive was set up outside of the convention center with lines that had several hour long waits. By 2pm each day the wait was already long enough for them to shut down the line for the day. HTC was initially primed to beat Oculus to the market with shipping dates scheduled for this past December but last month they pushed it out to April because of a “very big technological breakthrough” that reportedly renders the initial headset obsolete. The breakthrough was revealed to be the integration of front-facing cameras that can allow the userHTC 3 Hour Wait to see objects in the real world. This creates more possibilities for augmented reality in addition to virtual reality. It also allows for developers to integrate the cameras in ways to maintain a mostly virtual world while alerting also users when they are getting close to real world objects.

HTC Line

Inside the convention center, Oculus had the substantial presence that was expected. It was easily the largest area with demos taking place inside a huge structure and long lines surrounding it from all sides. The pictures below provide an example of the size of the structure and the lines along the different walls that persisted throughout each day.

Oculus Line1

Oculus Line2

Oculus Line3

Also on display at Oculus was the consumer version they just began taking preorders for. An entire Oculus system is expected to cost about $1,500 with its initial launch, which includes the cost for the PC needed to run it as well as the Oculus kit. The Oculus kit alone is $599 and will start shipping out to consumers this March. The kit will contain the head-mounted display, a sensor, a wireless Xbox One controller, and a remote.

Oculus Box

Oculus also recently announced their Touch controllers, which will not be ready until the second half of 2016, and so they are not part of the preorders. The reviews from the Oculus Touch controllers have been amazing. The pair of controllers are a mirror image of each other, one for each hand. There are sensors in them that allow the Oculus system to track your hands in the virtual world. User have reported them as being the most natural and intuitive VR controllers to date. The Oculus Touch controllers are shown below on display in the Oculus booth.

Oculus Touch

The very nature of VR and its immersive qualities inspire non-traditional controllers beyond the typical hand controllers. One of the more prominent ones is the Omni by Virtuix. The Omni is an omnidirectional treadmill for use within virtual environments. It utilizes a concave surface with shoes designed for low friction. You are strapped to a harness and can rotate 360-degrees so you are able to turn, walk, and run in your virtual worlds. The Virtuix Omni accessory is already for available preorders as well starting at $699. A picture of the Omni is shown below along with a video of it in action.

Omni1    

While Oculus and the HTC Vive start prepping for their upcoming preorders, there is one VR headset that has already hit the market. The consumer version of the Samsung Gear VR was released last November. This product comes from an Oculus collaboration with Samung. The Gear VR is much less powerful but still very impressive. The advantage of the Gear VR is that instead of requiring a PC it runs off of a Samsung Galaxy S5, Galaxy S6, or a Note 5 phone. It can only be used if you have one of these phone devices But if you do, it is only $99 and has the added benefit of being an untethered  mobile VR option.

Gear VR Still3

The setup for the Gear VR at CES was probably the rowdiest area with the most energy. There was music blasting over three rows of about 40 seats where users were taken on a roller coaster ride in the Gear VR. While it looked liked everyone using the Gear VR was having a blast, it may have been just as fun watching everyone smile and throw there hands up during the ride, blissfully unaware of everyone around them watching their reactions. Some were having more fun than others…

Gear VR Still2

Check out the video below for the full effect…

 As mentioned earlier, VR was everywhere…even in the areas where it was not the product, I was amazed at how prevalent it was at the convention for demoing other products. Denso, one of the world’s largest auto-parts manufacturer from Japan was utilizing the Oculus Rift in an exhibit to show how their technologies help with collision avoidance, road hazards, and utilize eye-tracking so the vehicle can respond to where you are looking inside the car.

VR01

There was a host of other companies on display using VR including Kia’s Drive Wise brand for self-driving cars, Intel for various products it powers, the open source OSVR head-mounted display, the Allie VR headset for streaming from its Allie portable action cameras, and Avegant’s Glyph, which won a “Best of CES” award for their portable theater that uses optics and microscopic mirrors to project images directly into the eyes.

VR02  VR05  VR07

VR06  VR08  VR09

VR03  VR10

 The 90’s called, and they’re totally jeally…

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CES – VR, Drones, & 8K TVs

CES – VR, Drones, & 8K TVs

CES

January 16th, 2016

CES 2016 was full of VR but there was plenty of other things to see there too. In fact, there was also a heavy presence of drones as well as self-driving car technology. In the TV department, companies have already moved past 4K TVs and are already selling us on 8K TVs.

 

Drone01

 

Shown above is the Ehang 184, an autonomous smart drone designed to carry a live human being. It can carry up to 220 pounds and no training or flying is required by the passenger. Upon entering the drone you input your destination and the drone autonomously flies you to where you’re going. It currently flies at 60 mph and can travel about 10 miles. Personally, I feel this is the future of travel. The powers that be are working to take our cars from us but I’ll submit to them if they trade me for a drone. Self-driving vehicles and human-sized drones are the perfect mashup for my future reality. Here is a video showing the Ehang 184 in action: 

 

 

Of course there were several other companies there with more familiar sized drones. DJI had a sizable area showing off their array of products. And with drone popularity greatly expanding, we are seeing a lot more interest taken in form design to separate companies from the pack and appeal to a broader set of consumers. Some of these designs include partially and fully covering the visibility of the propellers, which gives off a futuristic hovering effect. 

 

Drone4 Drone03 Drone02 Drone5 Drone6 Drone8 Drone7 DroneCircle

 

CES is always full of new cool concept cars as well. This year, in addition to the designs of the cars there was a lot of self-driving technology on display. It was obvious that almost all car manufactures are on board with self-driving technology and they are either investing heavily with putting more on the road in the near future or they are starting to significantly increase their research and testing in this area. Pictured below is a monitor showing off a car’s sensor ability to detect everything around it. One company that seems to be everywhere these days is NVIDIA. In addition to being all over the powerful new GPUs for VR and trying to stuff desktop GPUs in laptops, they are also hard at work in the self-driving car field. NVIDIA’s CEO and CES Keynote speaker, Jen-Hsun Huang, introduced their Drive PX2 platform with impressive deep learning technology and significant improvement of processing power over the Drive PX. Haung’s excitability and leather jacket at the announcement definitely suggest he’s ready to change the world.

 

CarRadar         NVIDIA

 

There is always a ton of new TVs at CES and this year is no different. Samsung convinced me I need to own about 80 TVs with an impressive display of their modular TV. With these TVs you can keep buying more TVs over the years to connect with the ones you already own and continually grow the size of your TV. What’s your 4K got to do wit me…I’m not tryin’ to hear that see. Moving beyond 4K TVs was a slew of 8K TVs. This is something that may seem unnecessary with TVs but I love to see this technology push the boundaries so we can get more pixels in phones for VR technology.

 

8KTV

 

In the category of random things, I was definitely far too impressed with this car driving around a record and playing the song through its ‘car speakers’. It also wouldn’t be CES if there wasn’t something from Star Wars so, of course, we had an appearance of BB-8. 

 

               StarWars

 

And I don’t know what this is but it was really cool to look at so I took a picture, and now you get to see it too.

 

Cubes

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