Monthly Archive: May 2015

First Impressions – Part 3

Gear VR Development

I wrote about this at Ocuvelop.com, but development for the Gear VR is harder than I expected. I still consider experimenting and figuring this out, but I want to actually develop at some point.

I fear I can not go for a significant project if I invest half a year simply in learning and experimenting.

 

Android Update

The Lollipop update destroyed a lot of the magic of the Gear VR. Nothing “just works” anymore. Even in the panorama photo app there are weird display effects from time to time and the stereoscopic images crash the application more often than not, probably because there is less memory available.

Fortunately most of the apps still run in principle. The performance has become an issue, though … and I cannot get most of the Mobile VR Jam entries to run.

That is extremely unfortunate because everything was working so nicely … and I fear Oculus will not be able to fix all the problems and Google will not fix the Lollipop problems and Samsung will not roll out a version of Lollipop that allows me to install the VR Jam entries (there seems to be a known bug in the Android 5.0.1 version that Samsung rolled out: https://forums.oculus.com/viewtopic.php?t=22617).

I could test a few apps, though.

 

VR Jam entries

I managed to try DRIFT, which I think has a lot of potential but was too frustrating for me.

I played Atop The Wizard’s Tower until I got the “Need To Cool Down” message. I think a bug messed up the 3rd wave. The enemies were stuck at the spawn locations and at some point “suddenly” Wave 4 almost began. It would be nice without the Cool Down problem.

I rode the VR Coaster several times and love it, except for extreme lag at a certain point which occured every time I tried it.

Captain Clark Adventures is a lot too bumpy. I may be spoilt, but the way you go from scene to scene and do not find anything to do in most of them was not a fun experience. The graphics are great, though.

My favorite so far is the Castle VRuin entry. Photogrammetry was used to create a realistic model of a castle (Hohenrechberg, with shots from a UAV). In the menu the castle is shown as a 1:100 model, slightly too close to the camera for my taste. Then you can actually explore the castle in a first person view experience. Like in the VR Coaster entry, there are many little details to enjoy.

 

Thoughts

The troubles with the Lollipop update are bad. It almost feels like a Google move to fight a certain Cardboard competitor.

I could imagine that strategic moves are discussed at Oculus. I would not be surprised if there are talks with Samsung about the state of Tizen … or decoupling the Oculus mobile experience from the Android development fragmentation somehow.

If they plan to stick with Android, I am not so sure that this would be good news either. While the potential of mobile VR has become more apparent, I am not as confident that Oculus will be able to fulfill the potential in the mobile world. I am afraid that they might pivot and focus on desktop hardware and software eventually.

First Impressions – Part 2

During the week I managed to spend some more time with the Gear VR.

 

Gear VR Development

I also set up a developer website at Ocuvelop.com where I can keep track of my findings during research phases, manage my projects and write articles that might help other developers at some point. It seems as if Oculus is not betting on many developers showing up that will actually use the native development tools. Probably I will mostly be writing for myself, there … but that is fine. I need both a Blog and Wiki for my Scrum based development workflows,

I also watched the whole keynote “The Dawn Of Mobile VR” now, and there were a few small details that I thought were interesting. Especially the controller topic is a huge one. Even Carmack says he is glad that he is not in charge in that department. My personal strategy will be developing for the good old Gamepad for a while.

 

Software Updates

The Gear VR software has been updated. The library has gotten a lot cooler, but now two taps are required (taps … I keep thinking “clicks”) to actually start a program.

I tried some games now and they are … well … okay. The potential is obvious, but they did not blow me away yet.

I have yet to actually use a Gamepad, so I have not tried HeroBound. I did check the shop description of “HeroBound: First Steps”, though and was pleasantly surprised when the Shop Background changed and looked undescribably stunning.

Oculus chose a pretty boring and weird looking default home background, though. I hope they will use a different one soon or let us pick one (actually I should check if that is already possible somehow).

 

Comfort

For me personally, something about Rocket Toss makes it a not 100% comfortable experience. I did play it for quite a while without actually having to stop playing it, so it is not a serious problem. ( I personally hate that the rockets fly if you miss with your last ring – it is confusing. The rocket should fall into the hole instead 🙂 ).

Interestingly I tried some of the videos and the 360° storytelling program. Watching the photos can be weird and slightly unpleasant for certain indoor perspectives. I was surprised by how much my brain responded to a part of a video (Walking The Nile) where “the viewer walks” downhill. That got unpleasant for a few seconds, but again not in an alarming way.

 

SD Card

Finally I also had a chance to check out the content on the SD Card. I love how well the stereoscopic effect of the Patrick Watson video and the Cirque Du Soleil demonstrations works. Oculus is really good at choosing the right content (with the exception mentioned above).

There are also quite a few more photos and videos. The Pacific Rim one looks great, but there I really miss some kind of force feedback device. I can not wait for technology that will allow the average person to capture 360° content.

Still, my favorite is the cinema. I keep rewatching the 3D trailers. The multi screen feature is intriguing. I just cannot get over how cool the cinema is.

First Impressions – Part 1

Status Update – I Have One, I Testet It 😀

I finally got the Note 4 and the Gear VR together in one room and put the one into the other.

I am actually impressed … hard.

My worries are pretty much completely gone. I realize that there will be challenges.

 

The Bad News First

The touchpad at the side and the back button are anything but optimal for an amazing first impression. A way to let owners remote control the first experiences for people who try out the headset for the first time would be awesome. Don’t get me wrong, any experienced technology user will feel right at home and might even be tempted to abort the tutorial in the middle, but it is unfortunate that there will probably be a shadow over the otherwise awesome experience when you present the Gear VR to your mom, aunt or teacher. Maybe Samsung and Oculus will pull another rabbit out of their hat for the consumer version.

The home menu is not awesome. The most recently used apps are easily accessible, but for the others you need to enter the library. Navigating the library it is pretty tedious. That will hopefully change for the consumer version at some point (I hope there will also be software updates for the Innovator’s Edition).

There is some substance to my worries regarding cameras that follow a path without the user being able to control the acceleration. The InMind experience is a very simple game that does just that. I felt pretty comfortable most of the time. My brother had a very similar response and did better than I did. Mother, sister and father all finished the whole thing. My mother struggled more with the game mechanics than with sickness. For my father and my sister it was more of a challenge. Longer and faster would be a very bad idea. I guess the roller coaster ride might be too much without some training and getting used to the sensory input. I still think as a convenient experience the genre has mass market potential.

The resolution of the 360° videos varies a lot, but the hardware needs to get better for those to reach their full potential. I think there are quite a few big players who get in the game too early, depending on what their exact plans are (Disney, Verizon, GoPro etc.).

The biggest worry is the different responses by different people. It will be extremely difficult to develop for the mass market. People will fall into different categories and many will not be able to experience all the content that is out there.

 

The Good News

I had high hopes regarding the stereoscopic effects with VR glasses because I love 3D TVs. I was totally blown away by what people mean when they say that it feels like you are actually there. It can not be described and must be experienced.

360° Photos

Even simply enjoying the 3D photos (there are quite a few of those) is absolutely awesome.

Some are in a different league than others. I assume that for some there are separate images for the left and the right eye while that is not the case for others. Maybe I am wrong there, though. Some of the photos I liked were actually renders (I love the Truck scene while my brother keeps going back to a kitchen interior.

360° Videos

They are okay, but they will probably not be the most impressive content for quite a while. They come in handy when people have gotten excited and are asking for more. There is one animation movie sample that seems sharper than the others and is more daring with the speed. I almost suspected that it is actually not a high definition video but rendered at runtime. That is impossible, judging from the way the video player works, though.

Cinema

I thought that it was a bad idea to put the user in a cinema, only to not break the rule that head movement must make a difference in what the user sees. I was curious to see what the 3D trailer looks like and did not have high hopes for that experiment. I had seen the developer resources like textures and what the 3D models look like.

The funny thing is, sitting in that cinema is almost the coolest thing I have ever experienced and I have yet to see a 3D movie in such a cinema (I have not managed to have the SD card where I need it when I need it). Just looking at the seats next to or behind you is otherworldly. It makes me want to create a drive-in cinema model and I might look into what it takes to do that.

Store

The store is pretty cool as well. There is not much content yet, but that does not bother me. There are nice free demos like Ocean Rift (Gear VR Edition) and TheBluVR which prove that it can be totally awesome when huge things are shown close to the viewer.

Battery

Oculus must have done a stellar job at optimizing for energy efficiency. If I had not read about how enormous that challenge is, I would not have suspected that there is an issue. I will have to write about future impressions. The Mobile VR Jam should provide content soon enough. I will also play with the native development samples asap and have something to write about … also relatively soonish.

Comfort

I noticed a few times that taking a break from time to time is not a bad idea. It does take some getting used to and little tings can make a difference. In the photos the camera position is not always chosen in a way that you could be a person in the scene. It is “interesting” when you float and look down for example. Acceleration that you do not control is a valid experience for many and I hope to play with that at some point, but it is not for everybody. It will be interesting to see if people can improve their resilience over time.

My main fear was that staring at an object very close to your eyes would cause troubles over time. I thought I would miss the relaxation of the eye muscles that comes with staring into the distance … and that VR would differ a lot from actual reality because your eyes do not have to adjust when you look at objects that are closer or further away. Fortunately that fear was completely shattered right away. The eyes are completely relaxed almost all the time, no matter where you look. The difference between actual reality and staring at something directly infront of your eyes does not make a difference … or at least that is how I feel.

I would love to see a version where the vision correction can be done for each eye individually. When I focus on that problem, it is pretty obvious … but after a while I keep forgetting it. Compensating seems to work pretty well, not sure if that will be the case when I am more tired and in experiences where details matter.

 

Summary

I think VR cannot possibly fail forever.

There will be many epic failures and as many or more huge successes very soon. It will not be an easy market, not because it will be hard to create great content, but because soon people will be spoilt rotten and expect greater content.

Now I am really looking forward to taking a look at Cardboard (I already have one) to see how huge Carmack’s contribution is. I suspect that even the ~$2 Billion that Facebook had to pay for Oculus would be too low a salary to be considered a just reward. The Gear VR is truly a masterpiece.