News, tests, book I have read or videos I have seen.

Impressions – Unexpected S6 Exposure

Today I had a chance to take a quick look through the Gear VR lenses of the S6 edition.

The resolution of the device makes an incredible difference. What I saw were about 10 seconds of a video before I passed the device on to the next person. It did not occur to me that I should pay attention to the field of view … so unfortunately I did not.

There were obvious artifacts during the video playback which are hard to describe. I guess they looked like a seam that travels through the screen. I have seen a more extreme version of those in the Oculus 360 Photos app (with several such seams at once) a few times after the Lollipop update. Maybe it is a different problem altogether though. The video quality was dangerously awesome, so maybe it was simply a frame update problem.

I was blown away by the picture quality. What I found interesting was the opinion of a colleague who did not seem impressed and was mostly confused about the Gear VR concept … namely that it is not a stand-alone device.

I suppose the whole way the devices were demoed by Samsung was a bad approach. There was little information given if you did not ask questions. I think it is important to state explicitly that the Gear VR hardware should be seen as an accessory for people who buy the phone. The Samsung people said you have to buy the phone and the Gear VR separately. It is obvious how the Gear VR makes sense if you follow the developments, but it sounds scary if all the facts are news.

Then there were the usual people (like my superiors) who just had to be jerks and mock the Samsung guys by asking (in the most obnoxious way possible) if the device works with their iPhones.

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.



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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.

First Observations – Part 2

Gear VR – Performance

The processing power and the battery life seem to be extremely limited. Most of the effort will probably go into performance tuning. I should already do the math in the concept stage. There is a rough rule of thumb that says 50.000 – 100.000 quads or vertices are fine.

Of course there should be as few draw calls as possible. I know that from Android experiments that I did a long while ago.


Gear VR – Mobile SDK

I have downloaded the SDK now and have started reading the Mobile SDK Documentation.

I have not actually progressed all the way to the interesting parts, but I know now that I can use Eclipse. That is a plus. I still have to decide how I will develop. I might still go for Unity, after watching an interview. Oculus encourages users to use Unity. A lot of the setup steps sound familiar.

It always feels a little wrong when there are parts in the toolchain that you are not familiar with. The whole Android plugins, toolkits and simulators … those things hurt the overall impression of the development process. I hope I will reach the point where I do most of the work in Eclipse and those things vanish in the background.

At least I was greeted by a friendly message.

Thank you for joining us at the forefront of virtual reality!

That is a lot cooler than the shockingly unfriendly ChallengePost presence.


Gear VR – Content

I am really curious how cool the coolest entries for the challenge will be. I think many studios and people struggle a lot with the platform limits.

On the other hands I am sure there are great applications and games begging to be programmed. I love how this is not just about man power and experience. Creativity is certainly the key to success.

If your angle is getting the idea that you have on the device, chances are you will be disappointed because you need to compromise. The Oculus demo projects for the Unity integration underline this. What they call cool looks pretty plain to anybody … even me and I am easily impressed.

I am trying to find interesting projects on Twitter, Tumblr and Google+. So far nothing really stood out.


Random Thoughts

The little math I did indicates that a voxel editor might make sense, but a game using voxel sprites would have to be extemely performance optimized by the artist as well as the engine.

I might go for a concept with low poly models and baking textures for detals. Fortunately the challenge motivates me more than the fact that those limits exist drags me down.

For the Mobile VR Jam contest I might do a low poly only game using Unity or the voxel editor using the Native Development Kit.

First Observations – Part 1

My Situation

This was a bad weekend after a bad week, at least as far as progress in the VR department is concerned.

I had reserved a Note 4 and got the confirmation that I can pick it up at a store. At the store they told me that there is no Note 4 left and that they do not know anything about such a reservation. Summary: one more time that o2 produces a huge disappointment. The only reasons I decided to order it there are:

  1. … because I can pay in installments …
  2. … and because I can choose to pick it up at a store. There is no way for me to be around for any other form of delivery.

Well, the next chance will be on Saturday, two weeks from now. I will try ordering on Friday. Maybe the system just needs a little time … and I guess I will need to get lucky to a certain degree.


The Limits

I decided to look at available resources to get more excited about Virtual Reality. Of course I picked the exact wrong material and achieved the opposite. Here is my advice: no not look at the Oculus Best Practices guide unless you need a downer when you are hyped.

So far I thought that Virtual Reality will start strong and be a decent consumer product right away, while Augmented Reality will get there in around 5 years. Now I fear that Virtual Reality might need quite a few more years before it is ready for a mass market.

Maybe the limitations sound worse than they actually are. I might do a series of experiments that show how bad violating those best practices actually is.

What disturbs me most about quite a few of those warnings and rules is that they are not in place because the technology is not quite ready. They are encouraged or even enforced because this is just how Virtual Reality works – when there is a mismatch between what the actual body does and what the eyes see, this seems to lead to problems. Here are the ones that bother me most:

  • Watching stereoscopic movies is not recommended (probably not even feasible), unless you can look around freely in the scene. When people move their heads the environment needs to respond accordingly. There will be cinema apps. Not sure if those will support 3D movies any time soon.
  • Strafing and walking backwards are discouraged
  • Acceleration is evil (when the body stays still) and only partly okay if the user controls it

The last point is bad. So far I am not interested in actually moving around physically. I will be sitting and controlling the experience with a gamepad. I always assumed that scripted camera flights are fine and that those will be the coolest content out there for quite a while.

Well, there are plans for VR tourism and drones recording stereoscopic videos for VR headsets. Maybe it is just a matter of resilience


The Tools

The next thing I will look at is the Mobile SDK. It seems as if there will be a lot more programming on a lower level than I thought. I got this impression by reading the Best Practices document, though. I have yet to read the Mobile Development Documentation, which is on the top of my todo list.


There are also less resources about developing for the Gear VR than expected. Maybe I need to search differently.

Another thing that worries me is that we have a commons problem … yeah … a problem with the commons. I will elaborate another time, but basically what I am saying is that the Open Source community does not offer the libraries and tools that I would love to work with.