XING: The Land Beyond (2017), a puzzle-adventurefrom White Lotus Interactive, is set to ship today—a good 4 years after they initially launched their Kickstarter and successfully stretch-goaled their way to include Oculus Rift support.
Of course, back then the team was targeting the Oculus Rift DK1, and with only $30K at their disposal, the lengthy development period must have been a labor of love. The game is now fully optimized for current-gen room-scale VR, with motion controller and gamepad support for both HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
Set after your own death, you journey across a series of mysterious lands in the afterlife that are filled with the thoughts and personalities of those dearly departed. On a quest to follow these forgotten stories, you collect artifacts, solve puzzles, and discover secrets, promising to let you ‘make your own adventure’ along the way.
We’ll be going head-first into XING: The Land Beyond in our full review due out soon. Whatever the result though (we haven’t played it yet), we applaud the team for their continuous updates, tenacity for developing on a shoestring budget, and for finally delivering to their backers.
Oculus and HTC have already reduced the prices of their respective headsets, with the Oculus Rift now selling for $500 and HTC Vive for $600. While graphically-capable PCs are cheaper than ever thanks to new GPUs and software optimizations, you still need to pony up the cash for a min-spec system ($699 for an OEM-built machine). HTC hopes to address this in China with a new partnership between Dalian Television and Beijing Cyber Cloud to offer a set-top, cloud-based box—meaning you don’t need a traditional VR-ready rig to run VR games.
According to a report by Engadget, HTC will be trialing the new project in Dalian, China where it will offer access to games hosted on a digital marketplace separate from Viveport. While it only hosts “a few dozen” games, apps and a library of 360 videos at the moment, HTC says more content will be added over time, of course sourced from Viveport.
The service, which also includes is a 60 Mbps broadband connection, is positioning itself as a consumer streaming solution not unlike Spotify. Unlike Spotify however, HTC is also renting out the Vive alongside the set-top box, making for an all-in-one deal that gives newcomers everything they need to start experiencing virtual reality.
The set-top box and Vive bundle is reported to cost a one-time, refundable deposit of ¥3,000 yuan (~$455) including a monthly fee of around ¥500 yuan (~$76). Because the deposit is refundable in full, this essentially lets Dalian-based residents test out the headset at home before putting down the big bucks. The company also offers the choice to outright purchase a Vive with a one-year subscription to the service for ¥6,688 yuan (~$1,015). Considering the Vive’s unusually-high price in China, costing around $200 more than most other regional markets, the savings are apparent for customers still unsure about VR.
HTC Vive China Regional President Alvin Wang Graylin admits however some latency is to be expected, saying it would be “ok for most non-twitch apps.” There’s no word if the service can provide what’s largely considered the minimum acceptable latency at 20ms motion-to-photon.
Yes, some minimal added latency, but ok for most non-twitch apps.
This comes as a part of a larger trend by HTC to make Vive usership less financially daunting. The company already offers a game subscription service via Viveport that includes a collection of hundreds of games at $7 per month, and also maintains a similar subscription program (including headset) for location-based entertainment faculties like arcades or theme parks. Called Vive Arcace, this was also a ‘China-first’ program that latter went global.
One thing is for certain though: a the success of a streaming service like this highly depends on a fast, near latency-free connection—something countries (including the US) have to address before taking the digital plunge.
Apple’s newest iteration of the iOS mobile operating system is here, and with it comes the ability to turn your iOS 11 compatible device into an honest-to-goodness augmented reality viewer. Thanks to a few months of lead time with Apple’s developer tool ARKit, the App Store already has plenty of useful apps and interesting games boasting AR capabilities.
One of the most talked-about ARKit apps is here, IKEA Place. Letting you virtually ‘place’ IKEA products in your home to figure out if they actually fit, the app features everything from the company’s unpronounceable sofas to it’s equally unpronounceable coffee tables. If only it included a flatpack model that showed how big the damn box was before trying to fit it in your car.
Zombie Gunship Revenant is a unique zombie shooter where you take control of a heavily-armed helicopter gunship and obliterate zombies from the sky as they run around a military complex. Complete with fake heatmap and plenty of radio chatter, it’s amazing how realistic it all looks.
Ok, so there’s also some pretty silly AR apps too. Exhibit A: Follow Me Dragon. Although we can’t say how long something like this will actually be fun (especially for $2), there is an undeniable novelty in owning your own dragon that’s too hard to turn down. You can poke him, make him do tricks, take selfies with him, change his skin color and a bunch more basically useless things that will make your kids giggle.
Art is everywhere with World Brush. You can create and post your 3D paintings anonymously at the approximate GPS location you created it. To combat the inevitable onslaught of phallic artistry, users have the ability to like, dislike and report paintings The app also uses a scoring algorithm that combines popularity and time of creation so you can always view the best stuff at your location.
IKEA Place is great, but if you’re looking for something a little more generic, Housecraft has a wider selection of 3D models to choose from if you’re planning out a new space including the ability to save the whole room configuration for later viewing.
Featured onstage at the iPhone X unveiling was Directive Games’ AR real-time strategy game, The Machines, featuring a PvP arena and a selection of robot warriors. Playable online or in the same room as your friends, The Machines is basically the game we all wanted when we were six.
Finding stars in the sky is easy. Just look up. Figure out the names and constellations is another matter entirely though. With Sky Guide AR, identifying stars, planets and satellites is easier than ever.
Intel is exploring an interesting approach to making VR less expensive and more accessible. The company’s so-called ‘Portal Ridge’ system streams SteamVR content to a smartphone-based headset over WiFi while using the Vive Tracker and controllers for tracking of the headset and input.
At an Intel event hosted in San Francisco, I got to see the Portal Ridge proof of concept for myself. The system was composed of a powerful host computer running Steam, a Pixel smartphone, Daydream headset, as well as the Vive Tracker and controllers. The host computer was rendering the experience which was being streamed as a video over the phone’s built-in 5GHz 802.11ac WiFi. The Vive Tracker, attached to the front of the Daydream headset, allowed for full positional tracking and the controllers worked just like you’d expect for input.
Inside the headset the image showed clear signs of compression, and the latency left a good bit to be desired, but on the whole the system did its job well as a proof of concept, allowing me to play through The Lab just as I’d expect to do so on the Vive. With some additional optimization, the potential here seems promising, potentially offering end-users a high-end taste of VR at a fraction of the cost of buying a high-end PC headset. And while many of the cost savings come from relying on smartphone hardware that many already own anyway, Intel’s approach could also ease PC hardware requirements.
Intel wouldn’t be the first to think of streaming VR content to a smartphone. VRidge is one example that does just that. But Intel’s system takes things one step further by offloading some of the VR-specific rendering work to the phone itself, meaning that the host computer doesn’t need to be quite as powerful to provide the same experience.
Kim Pallister, Director of the Virtual Reality Center of Excellence at Intel, told me that the company worked with Valve to get access to the rendered VR frames on the host computer, prior to any distortion. Those raw, pre-adjusted frames are streamed to the smartphone where they receive their final treatment, like barrel distortion, chromatic aberration correction, and timewarp.
Pallister admits that those adjustments account for a small portion of the overall VR rendering workload when considering the power of a high-end gaming PC, but says that, for less capable computers, offloading that work could represent more significant gains in efficiency, thereby lowering the hardware bar for a VR-capable system.
While the proof of concept system I tried relied on the Vive Tracker and controllers (and necessarily, the SteamVR Tracking basestations) for positional tracking and input, Pallister says that future smartphones with built-in inside-out tracking technology could eliminate those added costs.
One vision of such a productized version of this tech might be a PC client / smartphone client application pair which would talk to each other. A relatively inexpensive mobile shell headset to house a smartphone already owned by the user, with the phone providing both inside-out tracking and hand-tracking, thereby eliminating the need for dedicated controllers. That could be a great, inexpensive starting point for VR, possibly with an option to upgrade to dedicated controllers for added precision for specific gaming tasks.
Intel says that they aren’t planning to productize this tech (as is tradition), but they are open to talking with potential partners.
While it’s not a spectacular deal, most GTX 1070s still tend to retail above $400, and the Founder’s Edition, with its fancy ‘tessellated’ cooler design, can be hard to come by (it is currently out of stock on Nvidia’s site).
The previous generation GTX 970 continues to be the minimum spec for the Vive, but the GTX 1070 GPU is a much better option today, with its Pascal architecture bringing various VR optimisations, giving you greater headroom for running demanding VR titles at higher quality settings. We recommended the 1070 as a great ‘mid range’ GPU option for VR in this article.
Jasper Brekelmans, a Netherlands-based 3D tech artist, has recently released a motion capture tool offering an easy way to record OpenVR tracking data from headsets, motion controllers and Vive Trackers for both Vive and Rift setups. Called OpenVR Recorder, the data collected by the program can be used for 3D animation and visual effects production, with many other potential applications in tracking and research.
As described in the video, the software can record to the FBX file format used in industry standard 3D apps, with support for up to 16 simultaneous devices, for example the headset, two hand controllers, two Vive base stations and eleven Vive Trackers.
Unlike IKinema’s Orion software, whose focus is on inverse kinematics solving for human skeletons, Brekelmans explained that OpenVR Recorder has been “designed to be more general and does not focus purely on humans.” While it can also be used for effective human motion capture, this broader approach for multiple OpenVR devices means that the tool can be used to record camera tracking or indeed any objects with Vive Trackers attached.
As it can record all movement and inputs of a VR game or application while running in realtime in the background, it can also be used as a means of assessing user behaviour during playtesting, so there are some similarities with Aldin Dynamics’ Ghostline tool. OpenVR Recorder can also enable audio and video capture from the Vive’s on-board microphone and camera.
Brekelmans’ years of expertise in professional motion capture projects lead to the development of the Brekel tool set for simple markerless motion capture using Kinect, and he has experimented with various projects in the VR/AR space using Kinect, Leap Motion and HoloLens technology.
According to the Taiwan Stock Exchange, HTC will halt trading of its stock as of September 21st, pending an unknown announcement from the company, reports Bloomberg. The move seems to lend weight to recent reports that the company is getting ready to sell off some or all of its business.
Following several years of financial difficulty, the future of HTC seems less clear than it’s ever been. While the company’s VR subsidiary, Vive, appears to be a recent bright spot, it represents a tiny fraction of the company’s overall business which is based primarily in the smartphone sector.
Bloomberg reported last month, citing unnamed sources, that HTC was “explor[ing] strategic options,” ranging from separating its VR business to a full sale of the company. Google—which is increasingly expanding its hardware business in the smartphone, connected home, and AR/VR sectors—has been fingered as one of the likely buyers.
Today Bloomberg reports that a deal between HTC and Google is drawing near, and that HTC will suspend stock trading on the Taiwan Stock Exchange as of September 21st, pending a forthcoming announcement from the company. Bloomberg’s Mark Bergen & Alex Sherman explain why Google might be interested in picking up some or all of HTC’s business:
By owning a manufacturer outright, Google could gain tighter control over production of its new Pixel smartphone and other devices, helping it ramp up sales. Those gadgets are fast becoming the pillars of Google’s strategic push to keep critical software products, such as its voice-enabled assistant, in circulation, contain costs in its main advertising business and better compete with Apple Inc.
Alphabet investors may be concerned about history repeating itself. Google has tried to buy its way into hardware twice before, albeit more expensively. Those efforts largely fell short and the associated expenses slimmed Google’s margins. But its third try comes at a very different time — when Google and its biggest rivals are more focused than ever on consumer devices built around artificial-intelligence services.
Greater control over hardware production would give Google more power over the distribution of those new services, like its voice-based digital assistant. That would fix a major obstacle its Android software has faced compared with Apple’s iPhones, and a more robust hardware division would solve a nagging problem in its internet advertising business.
What that means for Vive, HTC’s VR subsidiary, is unclear. While Google has in some ways embraced the Vive VR headset by developing a number of applications for it, a high-end PC peripheral (which is presently quite reliant on Microsoft’s Windows OS) would be uncharted territory for a company which is historically focused on web and mobile.