Growing Pains: VR Ecosystem Changes for 2019

In the first four months of 2019, we have already seen significant changes within the virtual reality ecosystem. Although there is much anticipation and excitement for the Oculus Quest standalone headset (releasing on May 21st), other developments have raised warnings and concerns about VR in general.

The first of these concerns relates to social VR. Both High Fidelity and Sansar have decided to back off from VR in their respective platforms. Many VR enthusiasts believe that social VR is critical for the creation of the “metaverse” — essentially a virtual reality version of the Internet, where people will communicate, work, and play in VR.

Not all social VR platforms are going away. AltSpace VR, Bigscreen Beta, RecRoom and VRChat are still active at the moment. Facebook also remains committed to its social platforms such as Oculus Rooms and Oculus Venues.

Changes are also happening for Mobile VR. Since the release of the Oculus Go standalone headset last year, the appeal of smartphone-based VR has steadily declined. Mobile headsets such as Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR have essentially gone by the wayside. Originally a stop-gap solution, they inevitably became obsolete when the all-in-one mobile headsets became available.

Gear VR2

Finally, Facebook continues to make changes in their management team, while remaining enthusiastic for standalone VR (and possibly re-thinking their approach for high-end tethered headsets such as the Oculus Rift S.)

All of these changes are essential growing pains for a technology that is still seeking its “sweetspot” with consumers. Perhaps the Oculus Quest will be the device that finally causes VR to go mainstream. If not, it’s only a matter of time before there will be another.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

Oculus Quest Review Round-up

The Oculus Quest standalone VR headset will be available on May 21st. Many reviewers have already given their take on this exciting new device. See below for a collection of the latest reviews:

c|net: Facebook’s new VR headset it the best thing I’ve tried this year

Digital Trends: With the cord-free Quest, Oculus finally makes high-quality VR easy

Engadget: Oculus Quest review: VR freedom comes at a cost

Game Informer: Oculus Quest review: The next step for VR

GameSpot: Oculus Quest review: No PC? No problem

IGN: Oculus Quest review: A new reality

Mashable: Oculus Quest review: A new milestone for VR

PCMAG.COM: Oculus Quest Review and Rating

PIVIRAL: The Best VR Headset of 2019

Pocket-lint: A cable-free VR experience that’s surprisingly satisfying

RoadToVR: Oculus Quest Review: The First Great Standalone VR Headset

TechRadar: Oculus Quest review: An all-in-one virtual reality system for everyone

Tom’s Guide: Oculus Quest Hands-on: The New King of Mobile VR

Trusted Reviews: The Oculus Quest offers an exciting future for VR after shaking free its wired shackles

The Verge: Oculus Quest review: a great system with a frustrating compromise

Wareable: Goodbye wires, hello total freedom

WIRED: Oculus Quest review: VR has never felt this free

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

 

Gymnasia VR Review: Unique and Creepy Stop-Motion Puppetry

Gymnasia, the latest project from Felix & Paul Studios, recently debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. It’s also available for viewing at home on Oculus VR headsets, for the price of $4.99.

Clocking in at around six minutes, this short film is strange but engaging, presented in a gothic style that is creepy but not scary. Fans of Tim Burton will definitely enjoy the experience, but it’s worth seeing by anyone interested in cinematic VR and/or animated films.

Although there is not much of a plot, this VR experience is very atmospheric and effective. Set in an abandoned school gymnasium, creepy music plays while children’s shadows appear on the walls around you. Soon a basketball starts bouncing on its own, followed by many more of them, as their sounds reverberate from the walls. Eventually, you are introduced to a pair of animated dolls dressed in gothic outfits, who engage in a bizarre musical performance.

Gymnasia

As with any stop-motion projects, it’s clear that a lot of time and creative energy was spent on this project. The attention to detail of the miniatures is remarkable, and VR enables a close-up view of the artistry at work. I only wish it was longer, with more of a story. Hopefully there will be more to come in the future.

Here is a behind the scenes look at the making of this project:

More information is available at the Oculus Store:

Step into the stillness of an abandoned school and enter GYMNASIA, a place where the ghostly ephemera of a lost childhood await you. Recall the particular sights and sounds of a child’s world through the echoes of ball games, school lessons and choir recitals. GYMNASIA reanimates the memories of those forgotten days.

This ground-breaking, cinematic VR experience is the first collaboration between the National Film Board of Canada, Felix & Paul Studios and Clyde Henry Productions. Blending 3D 360-degree video, stop-motion, miniatures and CGI, GYMNASIA pushes the art of puppet animation into uncharted territory. The first VR experience to induce the elusive anxiety that occurs when the lines between what’s real and unreal are blurred beyond belief, GYMNASIA is a dark dream–unsettling and weirdly wonderful. Duration: 6 minutes 29 seconds.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

 

Lucid VR Review: A moving tale of human connection

Lucid is a cinematic virtual reality story, currently available via VeeR on multiple platforms. It’s a short but effective tale about a young woman’s attempt to connect with her mother, who recently suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Told via computer generated imagery (CGI), it’s essentially a 360-degree animated experience told from the point of view of Astra, a young woman whose mother is in a coma from a recent car accident. Astra is working with a medical technician in a near future hospital, where she is engaged with a brain-computer interface, trying to make contact with her mother via an electronic link-up.

There are short scenes in which Astra enters various fictional worlds created by her mother (a children’s book author) and eventually establishes contact in a touching and effective way. The VR experience is mostly passive, allowing the viewer to look around in any direction, but not interact with any characters or objects in the scene. The camera is always placed within arm’s reach of the main characters, as if you are another person in the room observing the story.

Lucid was an official Selection of the 75th Venice International Film Festival. According to director Pete Short:

Lucid was an opportunity to explore the fading imagination of a beautiful mind. This is a topic very close to my heart because of personal experience with dementia. I wanted Lucid to be an appreciation of the happiness, joy, and love of a person’s life rather than a somber farewell. The story is set inside the mind of a children’s book writer, which lends much of the piece an innocence and cheeriness, even though it’s dealing with an extremely difficult topic. I have been waiting a long time to tell this story. VR finally allows me to tell it in a way that does it justice. The audience is granted access to Eleanor’s mind to share the final, intimate moments between a mother and daughter. As the audience find themselves immersed in the magical worlds of children’s books, I hope they will let themselves be swept away by the story.

Despite the limited interactivity, Lucid is an excellent example of VR storytelling. Well worth the price of $1.99, Lucid is representative of the high quality immersive content that continues to be available at VeeR.

VeeR

VeeR is a global VR content platform and community where users can create and share the next generation of media. It’s available on all major VR devices, providing a large library of free and paid content.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

Sansar and High Fidelity Back Away From VR

Two of the major social virtual reality platforms, Sansar and High Fidelity, have decided to pull back from VR as a primary technology for their respective applications.

Previously reported at RoadToVR, each of the social platforms has cited “slow growth” as the reason for their decisions.

High Fidelity:

Philip Rosedale, CEO of High Fidelity and founder of Second Life, announced at a High Fidelity community meeting recently that the company will be scaling back their VR efforts, focusing more on improving their PC and Mac performance. The company has also shut down all first-party user spaces and associated servers except for a single orientation room, which will be used for new users only.

Sansar:

Speaking to New World Notes at GDC 2019 in March, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg says the company’s latest platform has always been a majority desktop experience ever since it went live back in 2017, and it seems he doesn’t expect that to change in the near term. “Statistically, it’s always been a majority PC, desktop. I don’t know what the exact numbers are: 75/25, 80/20, of […] desktop versus VR. And so you’ll probably be seeing us less pitching it as a VR thing,” Altberg told New World Notes.

This is disheartening for fans of social VR, but several other social platforms remain committed to their VR plans:  AltSpace, RecRoom, and VRChat. All three of these applications are likely to be available on the upcoming Oculus Quest standalone headset, available later this spring.

Sansar and High Fidelity, perhaps due to higher graphical requirements requiring a desktop computer, have not made plans for availability on the Oculus Quest.

See below for more details at RoadToVR:

‘High Fidelity’ shifts focus towards non-VR due to slow growth

Linden Lab CEO: ‘We’re pitching ‘Sansar’ less as a VR platform now’ 

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

 

Brie Larson rocks “Beat Saber” with Jimmy Fallon

Earlier this week, Brie Larson (star of Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame) was a guest on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” where she and the host took on the popular virtual reality game “Beat Saber.”

Brie was the clear winner of the VR rhythm game contest, as she adeptly performed the required moves to slash objects using virtual light sabers.

“Beat Saber” is one of the most popular VR games around today, available for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets, as well as PlayStation VR. It will also be available on the upcoming Oculus Quest standalone headset, available later this spring.

Watch Jimmy and Brie in action on YouTube:

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

Best of Sundance AR and VR Experiences

The 2019 Sundance Film Festival is over, but there were plenty of high quality virtual reality and augmented reality experiences. The Verge has published their list of the best AR and VR from the festival. Among their top selections:

BEST AUGMENTED REALITY: A JESTER’S TALE, created by: Asad J. Malik

BEST 360-DEGREE VIDEO: 4 FEET: BLIND DATEcreated by: María Belén Poncio, Rosario Perazolo Masjoan, Damián Turkieh, Ezequiel Lenardón

BEST VR ANIMATION: GLOOMY EYEScreated by: Jorge Tereso, Fernando Maldonado

BEST SOCIAL EXPERIENCE: MECHANICAL SOULScreated by: Gaëlle Mourre, L.P. Lee

BEST INTERACTIVE MECHANIC: THE DIALcreated by: Peter Flaherty, Jesse Garrison

BEST WRITING: DIRTSCRAPERcreated by: Peter Burr, Porpentine Charity Heartscape

BEST INSTALLATION: SWEET DREAMScreated by: Robin McNicholas, Ersin Han Ersin, Barnaby Steel, Nell Whitley

The complete article with full reviews can be found here.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

 

 

How to Train Your Dragon VR Skydiving Experience!

It is now possible to fly with dragons in virtual reality! At iFLY Indoor Skydiving locations, there is a new How to Train Your Dragon VR experience.

Using the latest VR advances along with their patented wind tunnel technology, iFLY provides several immersive skydiving experiences at over 50 locations worldwide. At iFLY you can “float atop a rush of air and be completely immersed in footage from an actual skydive or atop a dragon, while wearing our state-of-the-art VR helmet and headset.”

How to Train Your Dragon VR allows you to experience the movie in a whole new way:

This fully immersive, highly exhilarating experience takes flyers inside the mythical Viking world of Berk.

  • Spread your wings with two new virtual reality flights, choosing from either Hiccup or Astrid and soar like a dragon alongside Toothless.
  • Wearing a VR equipped helmet, flyers are guided by instructors through a breathtaking journey!

The new VR experience is currently available, launching in conjunction with DreamWorks’ latest animated feature How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.

Check out a preview below:

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

Experience Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in Virtual Reality

You can experience a modern performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet today in virtual reality. Currently available for free at the WGBH YouTube channel, the new 360-degree video performance is called Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit.

Best experienced in a VR headset (such as Oculus Go or Google Daydream View), this one-hour experience provides an intimate first-person perspective of the performance. The New York Times has provided an in-depth article about the performance, excerpted below:

The film plays out in a single location, at the center of a large, run-down hall with a stage to one side. It is a cavernous room outfitted with lamps, a collection of shabby and ornate furniture, a patchwork of rugs and an old car.

Actors moves around the room, encouraging viewers to explore the space. Sometimes a sound that seems to come from over your shoulder is a prompt to turn around.

The 360-video can also be viewed in a standard web browser:

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

Disney Working on a Secret VR Project

According to CNET, the Walt Disney company has greenlit a new “top secret” virtual reality project. Little is known about this new project, other than it will be produced by Jeff Gipson, the director of Cycles (the latest VR short film from Disney Animation Studios).

“What Cycles is proving is VR is something the studio wants to explore,” said Nicholas Russell, one of Cycles’ producers and the head of the Disney professional development program that created it in four months. “The fact that they greenlit another one this quickly is proof that they might not know exactly what tomorrow looks like for Disney and VR, but we’re going to keep exploring.”

Since Facebook purchased Oculus in 2014, virtual reality has been struggling to achieve mainstream adoption. Despite promising developments in location-based VR such as the VOID, and new standalone headsets such as Oculus Quest, there is much doubt about whether VR will ultimately be successful. It’s critical that major media companies like Disney continue to create content in VR, to ensure the future of this promising technology.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

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