Archive for the ‘VR’ Category

Oculus Quest review: 2019’s best new gaming system is wireless, affordable VR

April 30th, 2019
The Oculus Quest, as enjoyed by an invisible model.

Enlarge / The Oculus Quest, as enjoyed by an invisible model. (credit: Oculus)

I can take the Oculus Quest with me practically anywhere, pull it over my eyes, map out a VR space with my hands, and quickly start playing some of the best VR games currently on the market. That "anywhere" includes, for instance, the bathroom in the food court beneath Valve Software's headquarters.

Today is a big news day for Oculus, the Facebook-owned virtual reality headset manufacturer. The company's two recently announced VR headsets, the $400 Oculus Quest and the $400 Oculus Rift S, now have release dates (May 21), pre-order announcements (right meow, right here), and a review embargo lifted after nearly two weeks of hands-on time.

But as you may have seen, there's other VR news today: review embargoes for the Valve Index, which you can also read about on Ars today, have been lifted, too. Thanks to those neighboring testing periods, I did, in fact, get an opportunity to test one of Oculus Quest's use cases in the heart of one of its main competitors. It ended up being a pointed comparison. While the Index builds upon the home VR ecosystem as we know it—the cables, the connected "gaming" PC, the exterior sensors—the Oculus Quest throws all those requirements in the trash.

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Posted in Features, Gaming & Culture, oculus go, oculus quest, oculus rift, oculus rift s, virtual reality, VR | Comments (0)

Vacation Simulator review: Slap on some SPF %number%, have fun with VR robots

April 9th, 2019
What happens when your virtual vacation's metrics go awry? Find out in the delightful, aimless <em>Vacation Simulator</em>.

Enlarge / What happens when your virtual vacation's metrics go awry? Find out in the delightful, aimless Vacation Simulator. (credit: Owlchemy Labs)

When I think about the history of virtual reality as viable, consumer-grade tech, I think about a certain "game jam" in early 2015. Valve had been putting the final touches on its first SteamVR system, and the company invited a wave of interested developers to get in on the ground floor and make whatever weird demos they wanted, all in order to promote the nascent concept of "room-scale VR."

Four years later, those early efforts remain some of VR's must-play games, apps, and experiences. Chief among those is Job Simulator, a hilarious mini-game reaction to the idea that the rise of VR and robots would lead to a future in which humans forgot what real jobs were like.

That absurd premise was met by a quality still unmatched by most VR games: if you can reach for something in an Owlchemy Labs game, you can grab it, play with it, use it, throw it, juggle it, and more. The game's designers built a world whose best quality was somewhat invisible and therefore often overlooked: you likely won't realize how awesome Job Simulator is until you boot into another VR game and yell at its static, dead environs. Like, why can't I pick up that animal, throw it into a microwave, nuke it, put it between two pieces of bread, add some cheese and sauce, lift that sandwich to my real-life mouth, eat it, and see my VR avatar puke up the result?

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Posted in Gaming & Culture, htc vive, oculus rift, owlchemy labs, steamvr, virtual reality, VR | Comments (0)

Accidental Steam store post shows new look at Valve Index VR

April 1st, 2019

Monday afternoon, Valve briefly posted and almost immediately took down a series of work-in-progress Steam store pages for its recently revealed Valve Index VR headset. But that was enough time for Twitter's Wario64, members of the ResetEra forums, and other sources to view the page online and capture the scant information available on the still-incomplete, lorem-ipsum-laden pages.

(Yes, we know today is April 1 and that all online information is inherently suspect today. But if the brief store postings apparently seen by multiple independent sources were a joke, they are an incredibly subtle one).

The most interesting bit from the posting is the apparent front-on view of the headset itself, which show's a set of flip-up, over-ear headphones hanging down from either side. That style of integrated headphones was a big distinguishing features on the Oculus Rift, but has been removed from the upcoming Rift S in favor of subtle near-ear speakers in the headband.

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Posted in Gaming & Culture, Steam, Valve, valve index, virtual reality, VR | Comments (0)

Space Channel 5 VR hands-on: Ulala’s back, and I met her

March 28th, 2019

BOSTON—It's been nearly 20 years now since swinging space reporter Ulala made her stylish, retro-futuristic, musical-theater melodrama debut in Space Channel 5 for the Dreamcast. In the years since, we've only seen her and her crew in an underpromoted sequel and a handful of Sega-centric cameos.

That long absence will finally end later this year with Space Channel 5 VR: Kinda Funky News Flash for PlayStation VR. I was one of the first people to try the game out at PAX East this morning and the demo was a welcoming, familiar, and all-encompassing jump back into the series' unique world.

First things first—no, you don't get to play as Ulala. Instead, you're a similarly outfitted, silent cub reporter shadowing her for a day on the job (as a 36-year-old man, looking down at that provocative outfit from my first-person VR perspective is... interesting, to say the least). Ulala's voice is noticeably different from the original games—her original voice actress has been notoriously hard to track down—but the sound-alike is close enough to not be distracting.

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Posted in Dreamcast, Gaming & Culture, playstation VR, Sega, Space Channel 5, VR | Comments (0)

Hands-on with the new $399 Oculus Rift S: More pixels, zero webcams, better fit

March 20th, 2019
Behold, the Oculus Rift S, the VR company's newest wired PC headset produced by Lenovo. From this angle, you can see four of its five built-in sensing cameras, including two in the front, two on the sides (slightly pointing down), and an upward-facing sensor.

Enlarge / Behold, the Oculus Rift S, the VR company's newest wired PC headset produced by Lenovo. From this angle, you can see four of its five built-in sensing cameras, including two in the front, two on the sides (slightly pointing down), and an upward-facing sensor. (credit: Kyle Orland)

SAN FRANCISCO—One thing was conspicuously missing from the Oculus demos at GDC 2019: cameras.

You need at least two (if not three) of the company's signature webcams to run its PC headset, the Oculus Rift. Those cameras are not great. They come with funky, oversized stands. They're not as effective at sensing a headset as the HTC Vive's "dumb" infrared boxes. And they must be plugged into a PC, which creates a certain kind of cord hell and requires a PC with plenty of spare USB 3.0 slots.

So, as we filed into this week's demo center of mock "living room" spaces, complete with VR headsets, the lack of Oculus cameras was apparent. Indeed, it was a statement.

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Posted in Features, Gaming & Culture, GDC, gdc 2019, htc vive pro, oculus quest, oculus rift, oculus rift s, virtual reality, VR | Comments (0)

Corporations, not consumers, drive demand for HP’s new VR headset

March 19th, 2019
Corporations, not consumers, drive demand for HP’s new VR headset

Enlarge (credit: HP)

HP was one of the many companies that built a VR headset for the Windows Mixed Reality platform which launched back in 2017. Microsoft provided a SteamVR-compatible software platform, controller design, and inside-out, six-axis, positional-tracking technology; hardware companies like HP provided the rest, greatly reducing the price of PC-attached virtual reality.

Today, HP is launching the Reverb Virtual Reality Headset Professional Edition. As the name might imply, the audience for this isn't the consumer space; it's the commercial space. The headset will have a near-identical consumer version, but HP's focus is very much on the pro unit, because that's where the company has seen the most solid uptake of VR tech. The big VR win isn't gaming or any other consumer applications: it's visualization, for fields such as engineering, architecture, and education, and entertainment, combining VR headsets with motion-actuated seating to build virtual rides. The company has also found that novelty items such as its VR backpack have also found a role in the corporate space, with companies using them to allow free movement around virtual worlds and objects.

Accordingly, HP's second-gen headset is built for these enterprise customers in mind. Their demands were pretty uniform, and in many ways consistent with consumer demands too, with the big ones being more resolution and more comfort. To that end, it now has a resolution of 2160×2160 per eye, using an LCD with a 90Hz refresh rate. The optics have also been improved through the use of aspherical lenses, for a 114-degree (diagonal) field of view. AMOLED screens are common in this space, but HP said that it preferred LCD because LCD panels use full red, green, and blue subpixels, rather than the pentile arrangement that remains common for AMOLED.

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Posted in Gaming & Culture, hardware, headset, HP, mixed reality, Tech, VR, wearables, Windows | Comments (0)

How OpenXR could glue together virtual reality’s fragmenting market

March 19th, 2019
OpenXR is like a girl reaching for a moon, or something...

Enlarge / OpenXR is like a girl reaching for a moon, or something... (credit: Khronos)

Consumer-grade virtual reality (and, to a lesser extent, augmented reality) is only a few years old, but it’s already an extremely fragmented market. Wikipedia lists almost 30 distinct VR headsets released by dozens of hardware makers since 2015. Creating a game that works seamlessly with all of these headsets (and their various runtime environments) can be a headache even for the biggest studios.

OpenXR is out to change all that. With Monday’s release of the OpenXR provisional specification, Khronos’ open-source working group wants to create a world where developers can code their VR/AR experience for a single API, with the confidence that the resulting application will work on any OpenXR-compliant headset.

"By accessing a common set of objects and functions corresponding to application life cycle, rendering, tracking, frame timing, and input, which are frustratingly different across existing vendor-specific APIs, software developers can run their applications across multiple XR systems with minimal porting effort—significantly reducing industry fragmentation," Khronos said in a statement announcing the provisional release.

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Posted in Gaming & Culture, Khronos, oculus, openxr, virtual reality, VR | Comments (0)

Nintendo’s first VR product in 24 years is coming to Nintendo Switch

March 7th, 2019

Rumors of a VR-fueled Nintendo Switch app or add-on have swirled for nearly two years, with fans wondering whether such an immersive update would require more hardware or a brand-new Switch model. Turns out, the answer is something a lot simpler: a bunch of foldable cardboard.

Yes, Nintendo's build-it-yourself Labo controller series will return on April 12 with arguably its most ambitious version yet: the Nintendo Labo VR Kit. This cardboard rig will include a plastic, face-fitting mask, complete with plastic lenses, that attaches to a Nintendo Switch in "portable" mode. This mix of face-fitting mask and lenses will translate the Switch's 720p screen into two eye-fitting images that simulate VR in much the same way as Google Cardboard.

How that performance will compare to smartphones, however, remains to be seen, as the Switch's LCD panel does not include the same kinds of persistence-dampening tweaks found in VR-headset panels like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. We imagine this will all still look and feel more comfortable than Nintendo's last stab at a vision-filling headset: 1995's Virtual Boy, which was legendary designer Gunpei Yokoi's final creation for Nintendo before he left the company one year later.

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Posted in Gaming & Culture, nintendo labo, nintendo switch, virtual reality, VR | Comments (0)

To protect users’ privacy, iOS 12.2 will limit Web apps’ access to iPhone’s sensors

February 4th, 2019
A woman uses a smartphone to take a photo.

Enlarge / A user tries out features in ARKit. (credit: Apple)

The beta for iOS 12.2 contains a change to mobile Safari that could have implications for the advertising and marketing worlds, as well as for Web-based augmented or virtual reality more generally.

In the beta, a toggle labeled "Motion & Orientation Access" exists in the Safari privacy settings panel. This toggle determines whether sites visited in the mobile Safari browser will be able to access the iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad’s gyroscope or accelerometer. This setting currently defaults to "off," which means users would have to have the foresight to navigate to the Settings app and enable it before being able to use AR experiences from the Web.

Two Apple employees on Twitter elaborated on the change. Apple software engineer Ricky Mondello wrote in a tweet thread recounting the various notes in the Safari 12.1 release for iOS:

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Posted in apple, ar, augmented reality, iOS 12, ios 12.2, Mobile Safari, Safari, Safari 12.1, Tech, virtual reality, VR, web apps, web browser, WebKit | Comments (0)

26 years later, Groundhog Day gets revived as… a VR game?

February 2nd, 2019

Here at Ars, decades of cheap, poorly made movie-to-game adaptations have made us deeply skeptical of the whole concept. For every Goldeneye or Lego Harry Potter out there, there are hundreds of quick cash-ins that give the whole idea a bad name.

Despite that well-earned skepticism, we're still at least a little intrigued by Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son. That's the new VR-exclusive semi-sequel to the hit 1993 Bill Murray movie being announced today (hey, happy Groundhog Day) by Sony Pictures Virtual Reality. It's coming "this year" to Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR.

If you're hoping to see Murray reprise his role as temporally-trapped Phil Connors, be aware that Like Father Like Son instead puts you in the shoes of "the charming but arrogant Phil Connors Jr." as the publisher-provided synopsis puts it. Dear old dad appears only in an Instagram-style photo montage in the trailer and in Junior's mind as a larger-than-life role model. "Living in his shadow was kind of tough," Junior opines at one point. Still, the press release does promise that "beloved characters from the 1993 film" will be making an appearance, and a slightly off-kilter version of good old Ned "The Head" Ryerson appears in a fever dream during the trailer.

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Posted in connors, Gaming & Culture, Groundhog Day, Sony Pictures, virtual reality, VR | Comments (0)