Celebrate Thursday and the approaching weekend with the latest edition of the VRTV roundup covering all the hottest news from the past seven days. This week sees some news from Microsoft, Google and Oculus.
The last week has seen details of the upcoming updates and enhancements to Google’s Daydream platform which is incorporating social features like YouTube co-watching, plus Microsoft researchers producing a prototype of AR glasses that don’t look silly. Oculus is also working on an update for Gear VR that will bring in a new dashboard and also an upgrade for Oculus room-scale support.
Kenzan Studios, based in Geneva, Switzerland, was founded in 2006 by Pascal Conicella. Having begun as a company the developed showcase materials for retail environments, the studio has since grown to encompass a number of different technologies. The latest of which is virtual reality (VR), including the recently revealed Kenzan Arena franchise.
Backed by the success of the hugely popular Teo and Leonie franchise, Kenzan Studios’ prototypes for augmented reality (AR) and VR technologies and experiences lead to two investment rounds in 2016, totalling $9.87m USD. The company now employees more than 40 professionals across its two locations, ranging from creative directors and developers to visual artists and animators.
Kenzan Studios was awarded a grant from Epic Games for “outstanding work”, and featured at SIGGRAPH 2015, the Hollywood Summit 2016 and Silicon Valley Virtual Reality (SVVR) Conference & Expo 2017. The company’s latest project, Kenzan Arena, will feature as part of Coop’s 2017 Virtual Reality Roadshow.
The aforementioned Teo and Leonie franchise has already benefited from AR experiences, with more content on the horizon. The recently announced Kenzan Arena franchise will bring large-scale multiplayer VR to consumers across the globe, which has already begun with installations in Coop venues across Switzerland.
Kenzan Studios currently has a number of VR projects in development, including Holiday Break VR, Starpirates VR, EnigmAttic VR and The Lost Pit. You can find out more about these projects and the company’s VR ambitions in the links below.
Chinese director and filmmaker Zhang Yimou, probably best known to western audiences for his work on House of Flying Daggers is launching a new collaboration with his company Sky Limit Entertainment and French film group MK2 to create So Real, a venture designed to cross-licence virtual reality (VR) content and hardware.
So Real will be the first distributor to licence titles from MK2 Films and VR. Those titles will be showcased at sky Limit Entertainment’s location-based VR them park in Beijing. Also part of the deal will be Sky Limit setting up a new VR venue in Paris under the So Real banner, which will feature VR space exploration, videogames and other VR experiences.
MK2 films have been heavily involved in VR content creation for quite some time, having created a sales division to curate director-driven VR content and also been involved in the creation of Europe’s largest VR facility in Paris, which has hosted 15,000 visitors since it was opened in December 2016. MK2 are also bringing two VR films to Cannes Film Festival this year, with Planet, directed by Momoko Seto and a 360-degree documentary film titled Dolphin Man 360.
“SoReal and MK2 will continue to share their cultural legacies and technical prowess in order to bring VR technology both in China and France to the international spotlight and to expand their business in France and Europe,” said Elisha Karmitz, the co-CEO of MK2 said when speaking to Variety.
VRFocus will keep you informed of never developments in VR licensing and content.
UK clothing brand Topshop are welcoming in the warm days of summer with the introduction of a 360-degree virtual reality (VR) experience at the company’s flagship store in London’s Oxford Street.
Visitors to the store will be able to don an Oculus Rift headset and take a trip down a waterslide that takes them on a trip around a recreation of Oxford Street on a blue slide that loops through the London landmarks, with some Topshop advertising in place along the way. The VR experience forms part of an ‘interactive pool scene’ that will be present in the store windows.
In addition, a branded Snapchat lens will be available until 27th May to support to advertising campaign and Topshop will be using scent pods to pump the smell of suncream through the store, as well as hosting pop-up events such as an ice-cream store by Milk Train.
Sheena Sauvaire, global marketing and communications director at Topshop, said to The Drum: “Topshop Oxford Street has one of the most prominent store fronts in the world and we are excited to offer our consumers the opportunity to be part of it with an exhilarating VR experience. As VR technology continues to advance our desire was to blend it with retail theatre to create an immersive and shareable experience for our consumers, as a fun way to celebrate the start of summer.”
Topshop have previously experimented with VR by broadcasting its London Fashion Week show to the Oxford Street store in 360-degrees back in 2014. The new VR experience, titled ‘Topshop Splash‘, was developed by You Studio and Fat Unicorn and will be available from 25th May until 4th June, 2017.
VRFocus will keep you informed of other new developments in VR marketing.
Haptic feedback is one of the toughest challenges for general-purpose VR input, but for the driving simulation genre, dedicated controllers have been addressing the problem for over two decades. Now that ‘cockpit view’ makes so much sense for VR racing, many newcomers feel the pull to ditch their gamepads and invest in more realistic input devices for driving. Here’s where to start.
Update (5/24/17): Article now covers the TS-PC Racer from Thrustmaster, and the CSL Elite range from Fanatec. The new hardware fills the gap between the Thrustmaster TX/T300RS and the Fanatec CSW V2.5. Latest prices update.
At the bare minimum for serious VR sim racing, you’ll need a steering wheel with an appropriate clamping surface (e.g. a desk) and a pedal unit that rests on the floor.
While there are basic sets priced similarly to gamepads, these typically have vibration motors instead of true force feedback (where the steering wheel actually pushes back against your grip), and lack the durability and quality necessary for a good experience. At the other end of the scale, professional-grade devices worth many thousands of dollars deliver astonishingly realistic performance, used by hardcore enthusiasts and motorsports teams for driver training.
For those drawn to the world of sim racing thanks to the immersive power of VR, we’ve put together the following recommendations which are sensible starting points for the newcomer.
Want the quick and dirty? Here’s a glanceable list of great choices to match your budget. Following the list we’ll tell you what you need to know about mounting your new VR steering wheel. If you want more detail, read further for a deeper dive of each recommendation.
A quick note: most of these wheels are sold under two names (like T150 and TMX), that’s because there’s usually a version made for the PS4 and a version made for the Xbox One, however both models connect via USB and are compatible with Windows. So unless you specifically want the PS4 variant over the Xbox One (or vice versa), consider buying whichever is cheaper (if you find a price difference). You’ll see us refer and link to both variants with a slash (like T150/TMX) so that you can find the best deal.
Thrustmaster T150/TMX (~$170)
The Thrustmaster T150/TMX is a reasonable entry point for beginners, with a straightforward option to upgrade the pedals and add a shifter at a later date. But some might be disappointed by the materials and steering mechanism.
Logitech G29/G920 (~$300)
The Logitech G29/G920 steps up the build quality significantly; the force feedback information is clearer, and the pedals are excellent.
Thrustmaster T300RS/TX (~$300)
The Thrustmaster T300RS/TX (~$300) uses a more realistic force feedback solution, but you’ll need at least the T3PA (~$150) pedals and one of the optional rims in order to bring the full package above Logitech’s quality, which is why we recommend checking out the Alcantara Edition / TX Leather Edition (below).
If ‘hand presence’ is important to you in VR, the T300/TX has the clear advantage over the T150 and G29/G920 thanks to its easily-swappable rims. For example, you could use the 30cm Alcantara rim (~$180) for road cars and the Ferrari F1 wheel add-on (~$150) for race cars, depending on how best your hands align to the virtual avatar. 27-28cm rims tend to align better with ‘formula’ cars, and may seem rather small for road cars.
Fanatec CSL Elite range (~$500 and up)
Fanatec’s new CSL Elite wheel base is another jump in quality, delivering much stronger and smoother feedback than the T300/TX. Fanatec also offers a wide range of optional compatible hardware, but these products are generally more expensive than Thrustmaster’s ecosystem. The CSL Elite pedals have a load cell brake option, which is highly recommended.
Thrustmaster TS-PC Racer (~$500 + pedals)
The new PC-only flagship wheel base from Thrustmaster finds itself in direct competition with the Fanatec CSL Elite. The TS-PC Racer is the latest evolution in Thrustmaster’s belt-driven force feedback technology, and performs like a much more powerful and higher quality T300/TX. You’ll need to add pedals, either from the T-Series or standalone USB.
– – — – –
Mounting Your VR Steering Wheel
There is nothing worse than your controls slipping in the middle of a race, particularly in VR. You’ll want to ensure the wheel and pedal units are secured in a comfortable driving position, to give yourself a reliable reference point that you can operate entirely by feel (while wearing your VR headset).
Every product that we’ll detail below, aside from the Thrustmaster T150/TMX, has hard mounts for bolting the wheel bases to a platform, and all include desk clamps for less permanent mounting. For pedals with more realistic brake resistance, such as the G29, T3PA and CSL sets, you may need to consider locking castors or some kind of floor brace (if you’re using a typical office chair) to avoid sliding backwards.
A popular mounting solution is the Wheel Stand Pro (~$180), as it is more convenient than repeatedly setting up hardware at a desk, and can be configured in a more realistic driving position. A dedicated sim rig is even better, but that discussion is for another time!
PC sims are very flexible when it comes to input devices; many racers opt to use higher-end standalone USB pedals for example. They have become much easier to configure too, with sims like iRacing, Project CARS, and Assetto Corsa using smart calibration wizards. Plus, there are many dedicated sim forums full of useful information if you want to fine-tune the hardware. Expect a learning curve, particularly for adjusting to pedal sensitivity, but you’ll soon wonder how you played VR racing games any other way.
Mozilla’s mission statement is to ensure that the Internet remains a global public resource, open and accessible to all, and they’ve been helping to bring VR to the web for the past three years. A-Frame is an open source framework for creating WebVR content that has gained a lot of momentum over the last year with more participants on the A-Frame Slack channel than the official WebVR Slack.
LISTEN TO THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST
I had a chance to catch up with A-Frame core developers Diego Marcos & Kevin Ngo at the IEEE VR conference in March to get an overview of A-Frame, and how it’s driving WebVR content and innovations in developer tools. Mozilla is also planning on shipping WebVR 1.1 capabilities in the desktop version of Firefox 55, which should be launching later this year in August.
Mozilla believes in open source and the open web, and they have a vibrant and very supportive community on the A-Frame Slack that is very helpful in answering questions. Ngo has been curating the weekly highlights from the A-Frame community for over a year now posting the latest experiences, components, tools, and events in his Week in A-Frame series on the A-Frame blog, which has helped to grow the A-Frame community
A-Frame uses a entity-competent model that’s very similar to Unity’s model where you spatially position 3D components within a scene, and then you add behaviors and scripts that drive the interactive behavior. There’s a visual editor to move objects around in a scene, and a VR-editor is on the roadmap to be able to put together WebVR scenes in A-Frame while being in VR. There’s an open source collection of components that is being officially curated and tested in the A-Frame registry, but there’s also various collections of interesting components on GitHub repositories such as these Awesome A-Frame components or this KFrame collection of components and scenes. collection of components and scenes.
Google even announced at Google I/O that they’re using A-Frame in order to rapidly prototype Google Expeditions experiences. WebVR and A-Frame is a perfect combination to serve Google’s mission of trying to organize all of the information in the world. The strength of the open web is that you’re able to mash-up data from many different sources, and so there are going to be a lot of educational and immersive experiences focusing on mental presence built on top of WebVR technologies.
In my interview with WebVR spec author Brandon Jones, he expressed caution of launching the Google Chrome browser with the existing WebVR 1.1 spec because there were a lot of breaking changes that will need to be made in the latest “2.0” version order to make the immersive web more compatible for both virtual reality and augmented reality. Because Chrome is on over 2 billion devices, Jones said that they didn’t want to have to manage this interim technical debt and would prefer launching a version that’s going to provide a solid future for the immersive web.
Some WebVR developers like Mozilla’s Marcos and Ngo argue that not shipping WebVR capabilities in a default mainstream browser has hindered adoption and innovation for both content and tooling for WebVR. That’s why Mozilla is pushing forward with shipping WebVR capabilities in Firefox 55, which should be launching on the PC desktop in August.
Mozilla wants developers to continue to develop and prototype experiences in WebVR without worrying that they’ll break once the final stable public version of WebVR is finally released. Mozilla is willing to manage the interim technical debt from the WebVR 1.1 spec in order to bootstrap the WebVR content and tooling ecosystem.
Mozilla is also investing heavily in a completely new technology stack with their Servo browser, which could eventually replace their mobile Firefox technology stack. Marcos previously told me that Servo is aiming to be built to support immersive technologies like WebVR as a first-class priority over the existing 2D web. Servo has recently added Daydream support with GearVR support coming soon. They’ve shown a proof of concept of a roller coaster Daydream app built in three.js that runs natively as a native application within Daydream.
Overall, Mozilla believes in the power of the open web, and wants to be a part of building the tools that enable metaverse that’s a public resource the democratizes access to knowledge and immersive experiences. There’s a lot of questions around concepts like self-sovereign identity, how an economy is going to powered by some combination of crytpocurrencies and the Web Payments API, as well as the concepts of private property ownership and how that might be managed by the blockchain. A lot of the concepts of a gift economy that Cory Doctorow explores in “Walkaway” are being actively implemented by Mozilla through the open source creation of the Metaverse, and everyone in the WebVR community is looking forward to a stable release later this year. For Mozilla, that begins in August with Firefox 55, but this is just the beginning of a long journey of realizing the potential of the open web.
Antilatency, which works with positional tracking for movile VR, announced it had received over two million dollars in funding in its latest fundraising efforts from IIDF VC. Funds that will be used to help bring it’s mobile VR and augmented reality (AR) solution to market the Anti-latency tracker (ALT). Which will also be at not only the forthcoming CES Asia event but this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) both of which will be next month. A demo was first shown at VRLA earlier this year.
According to the copany, which operates in both America and Russia, ALT “allows [the] user to walk around with mobile VR as opposed to existing solutions which only work with head rotations.Other benefits include movement prediction with compensation of rendering lags, wide tracking zone, multi-user mode, and outdoor functionality.”
“Inspired by the idea of a perfect tracking system, we’ve spent over two years of research on hardware, software, math algorithms, and industrial design. Today our team is testing early prototypes and our dream is close to coming true.” Explained Antilatency CTO Petr Sevostianov. “Virtual Reality powered by our tracker gives a miraculous sense of complete freedom, without wires and dizziness. And now we want everyone on the planet to be able to experience the same virtual reality as we do.”
IIDF also explained, via representative Ilya Korolev their reasons for investing: “Virtual and augmented reality is a cutting edge niche demonstrating the capabilities of advanced technologies. As the global number of active virtual reality users is forecast to reach 171 million by 2018, the industry needs the solutions to improve the user experience. We are happy to support Antilatency in bringing innovative ALT: Anti-latency tracker to the market.”
VRFocus will be bringing you more details on the ALT as it and Antilatency continues their journey.
Though virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have been getting increasing amounts of attention as the market has grown and the potential for the technology has become more common knowledge, it is still VR in videogames that are driving the growth of the VR/AR market according to a report by Future Markets Insight.
The report points to a number of factors that are driving development in the VR and AR sectors, such as the advances in smartphone technology and the prevalence smartphones encouraging companies to invest in AR and VR technologies.
The report estimates that more than one third of the AR and VR market revenue globally will be accounted for by the technology’s use in videogaming applications in 2017. However, the report projects that AR and VR in media and entertainment will rapidly catch up over the next couple of years.
Currently, the report states, VR is the more prevalent technology compared to AR, with VR-based applications accounting for the majority of revenue in the global market. AR is expected to begin catching up soon and witness rapid growth as the technology becomes more effective. For both VR and AR, head-mounted displays are still considered the best way of experiencing the technology by most consumers.
According to the Future Markets Insight report, the market for AR and VR in the Middle East and Asis is the area that is expected to see the fastest growth over the next few years, though North America is also projected to grow at a rapid pace. The market in North America is expected to remain the dominant market, with an expected value of over $43 million by 2025.
VRFocus will continue to keep you updated on VR and AR market reports and developments.
Jaunt and Land Rover have released a 360-degree film ahead of the America’s Cup Qualifiers on Friday 26th bringing customers and fans closer to the action of this famous boat race.
The film allows viewers to jump on board as the team sail around Bermuda’s Great Sound during final preparations for the challenge. Fans are transported into a grueling gym session, dunked underwater as the 2 ½ tonne racing machine flies over head at over 50 knots and taken on a drive in the all-new Land Rover Discovery.
Shot on specialist cameras, including Jaunt ONE, the film Above and Beyond uses a combination of 360-degree video techniques to place viewers right into the Land Rover BAR team as they look to take home the prestigious title in 2017.
Mark Cameron, Jaguar Land Rover Experiential Marketing Director said in a statement: “We constantly strive to create stand-out experiences for our customers through our partnerships, and by using Jaunt’s cutting edge VR technology, we are able togive the user unprecedented access to the team and America’s Cup Sailing in a thrilling first-hand experience.”
“This collaboration with Land Rover is a flagship project for us and one we’ve been excited about since we saw the early cuts of the film,” said Dominic Collins, General Manager International, Jaunt Inc. “What has been achieved sets Land Rover and Land Rover BAR apart when it comes to creating an immersive, cinematic experience of extreme sports. VR continues to play a huge part in the future of technology and brands everywhere are looking to stand out from the crowd by creating the most compelling experiences for their audiences – this one does exactly that.”
Checkout the video below or download via the Jaunt VR App, which supports iOS, Android, Samsung Gear VR, PlayStation VR, Google Daydream, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and major desktop browsers.
For the latest announcements from Jaunt, keep reading VRFocus.
Valve’s The Lab is home to a number of fun mini-games, all of which feel like great blueprints for a full VR game. Developer Clear Ink Studios has stepped up to the plate to flesh out Valve’s unique VR ‘bullet-hell’ mini-game, Xortex, into a standalone experience dubbed Galaxis Wars.
Set to launch on Steam on May 30th, Galaxis Wars builds upon the same ‘bullet-hell’ gameplay from Xortex, but now with a more substantial experience featuring 100 waves and 20 unique upgrades.
In Galaxis Wars, your hand becomes your tiny drone ship (as if you were once again a child flying around a spaceship toy making accompanying sound effects; whoosh! pew pew pew!). Enemy ships fly all around you, firing deadly lasers which will kill you if they hit your ship. The resulting gameplay is part shooting, part strategy, and part dance, as you weave your ship through the hail of fire and try to destroy the enemy ships without getting caught off guard by a latent spray of lasers.
As you defeat enemies you’ll collect energy which can be spent to upgrade your ship. Developer Clear Ink Studios says there are “20 unique upgrades” and while it isn’t clear yet exactly what they might be, we imagine the basics: improved armor, weapons, health regeneration, etc.
If you can battle your way through the game’s 100 waves, the studio promises you’ll learn “the secret of the Galaxis Wars,” which, according to the game’s lore, you are training for via simulation.
Once you’ve conquered the 100 waves, there’s also an endless mode allowing for leaderboard competition.
Galaxis Wars is due to launch on May 30th, priced at $12. The game’s Steam page currently only lists the Vive as officially supported, though it’s possible that the developer may expend that to include other headsets over time.