from the real-reality-isn't-good-enough-anymore dept.
Google is partnering with HTC and Lenovo to produce standalone (no smartphone or tether) virtual reality headsets. The headsets could cost around $500-$700, comparable to the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. As they will have less computational/graphics power than flagship smartphones or desktops, Google has developed a rendering system that they claim can compensate by decreasing the amount of polygons needed to render a scene (related video):
Meanwhile, a rendering system called Seurat — named after the pointillist painter Georges Seurat — is supposed to offer image quality that rivals what you'd get on a high-end PC. Andrey Doronichev, Google's director of product management, describes Seurat as "computational magic." It takes a rendered three-dimensional scene and samples shots of it from many different angles. As seen [here], Seurat uses these images to assemble a facade that drastically reduces the number of polygons the headset needs to render, without a visible loss of quality.
Google can also use the same Daydream user interface it's been fine-tuning for the past year on phones. A software update codenamed Euphrates will add the features you need for devices that users can't just pop apart and use as a phone, like a full-featured web browser and a dashboard for accessing settings and other non-VR parts of Android.
To make VR more transporting, and AR more convincing and useful, everything behind these experiences must improve: displays, optics, tracking, input, GPUs, sensors, and more. As one benchmark, to achieve "retina" resolution in VR — that is, to give a person 20/20 vision across their full field of view — we'll need roughly 30 times more pixels than we have in today's displays. To make more refined forms of AR possible, smartphones will need more advanced sensing capabilities. Our devices will need to understand motion, space, and very precise location. We'll need precision not in meters, but in centimeters or even millimeters.
Both the Rift and Vive have 2160×1200 displays. Roughly 30 times more pixels would mean a resolution of around 11880×6600, or 16704×4698 (32:9 aspect ratio).
Facebook has cut the price of the Oculus Rift for the second time this year. It debuted at $800, was cut to $600 in March, and is now $400. Is there real trouble in the virtual reality market, or is it just a normal price correction now that early adopters have been served?
It means that the Rift now costs less than the package offered by its cheapest rival, Sony, whose PlayStation VR currently totals $460 including headset and controllers.
Even so, it's not clear that it will be enough to lure people into buying a Rift. A year ago, our own Rachel Metz predicted that the Rift would struggle against Sony's offering because the former requires a powerful (and expensive) gaming computer to run, while the latter needs just a $350 PlayStation 4 game console.
Jason Rubin, vice president for content at Oculus, tells Reuters that the reduction isn't a sign of weak product sales, but rather a decision to give the headset more mass market appeal now that more games are available. Don't believe it: this is the latest in a string of bad news for the firm, which has also shut down its nascent film studio, shuttered in-store demo stations of its hardware, and stumped up $250 million as part of a painful intellectual property lawsuit in the last six months.
Here's a February story about the Oculus demo stations at Best Buy stores being shut down.
Bloomberg reports that Oculus (Facebook) will unveil a standalone VR headset that does not require a tether or smartphone:
Facebook Inc. is taking another stab at turning its Oculus Rift virtual reality headset into a mass-market phenomenon. Later this year, the company plans to unveil a cheaper, wireless device that the company is betting will popularize VR the way Apple did the smartphone.
Currently VR hardware comes in two flavors: cheap headsets that turn smartphones into virtual reality players (like Samsung's $130 Gear VR) and high-end gaming rigs (like Facebook's $400 Oculus Rift) that hook up to $1,000-plus desktop computers. Facebook's new headset is designed to bridge the gap -- a device that will sell for as little as $200 and need not be tethered to a PC or phone, according to people familiar with its development. It will ship next year and represent an entirely new category.
Like current Oculus products, the new headset will be geared toward immersive gaming, watching video and social networking, said the people who asked not to be named to discuss a private matter. Code-named "Pacific," the device resembles a more compact version of the Rift and will be lighter than Samsung's Gear VR headset, one of the people said. The device's design and features aren't finalized and could still change, but the idea is that someone will be able to pull the headset out of their bag and watch movies on a flight just the way you can now with a phone or tablet.
Even $400 is not low enough.
The China-based VR company Pimax has launched a Kickstarter for what they call "8K" and "5K" VR headsets. The cheapest version of the "8K" headset is listed at $500 and the company has more than quadrupled its funding goal. The Pimax 8K has a 3840×2160 resolution per eye for a total resolution of 7680×2160 and 32:9 aspect ratio (an actual 8K resolution would be 7680×4320). The field of view (FOV) for the headset is 200°, and is similar in design to the StarVR headset which has an FOV of 210°. By comparison, the latest HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headsets have a 110° FOV.
While the headsets have a listed refresh rate of 90 Hz, Pimax claims that its "Brainwarp" software technique can effectively double the perceived frame rate:
You may be asking yourself how a VR-ready gaming computer could possibly drive these sorts of graphically demanding resolutions. Pimax's answer is a software technique they call 'Brainwarp', which renders a 4K image only on a single display at time, doing it 150/180 times per second. Pimax says users "perceive a complete 8K at 150/180 Hz with high frame rate," and that it "boosts refresh rate, reduces latency and decreases GPU pressure for Pimax 8K."
Facebook is attempting to make virtual reality a mainstream product, and hopes to reach one billion VR users "one day":
In its continued effort to take virtual reality mainstream, Facebook has announced Oculus Go - a standalone headset that will be released in 2018. Mark Zuckerberg said the device, priced at $199, would be the "most accessible VR experience ever".
Sales of the company's VR hardware have been slow since launching the first Oculus Rift headset in March 2016. "If VR doesn't go mass market at this price point, I think we can conclude that it never will," said John Delaney, an analyst with IDC. Facebook's previous budget VR product, Gear VR, is $129, but requires a high-end Samsung smartphone in order to work. Speaking at Facebook's yearly virtual reality developers conference in San Jose, Mr Zuckerberg acknowledged the slow adoption of the technology to date. But he said his company's goal was that one day, it would get one billion people into VR.
Oculus Go is not being sold anytime soon, and the Oculus blog warns that "Oculus Go is not, and may not be, offered for sale or lease, or sold or leased, until [FCC] authorization is obtained". Facebook says that the devices will be sent to developers within the next 12 months. Specs and battery details are also unknown (maybe they need to use one of these for you to feel safe strapping it to your head).
Previously: Google Partnering With HTC and Lenovo for Standalone VR Headsets
Virtual Reality Audiences Stare Straight Ahead 75% of the Time
Google Bisects VR
Facebook/Oculus Reportedly Working on $200 Standalone VR Headset
HTC has officially revealed the Vive Focus, its all-in-one VR headset. As previously announced, the Vive Focus runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip and uses inside-out positional tracking. It should be the first standalone six-degrees-of-freedom VR headset to see release, though HTC isn't saying exactly when it'll be available.
[...] HTC has only announced plans for the Vive Focus in China just yet, and even then there aren't any details on pricing or a release date. If you were holding out for that Vive-branded standalone Google Daydream headset, meanwhile, there's bad news — HTC and Google have cancelled their plans to bring it to the US.
Google said today that it'll be shutting down Project Tango next year, on March 1st. Project Tango was an early effort from Google to bring augmented reality to phones, but it never really panned out. The system was introduced in 2014 and made it into developer kits and even a couple consumer devices as recently as last year.
But those devices required special sensors. And in the meantime, Google (and competitors, like Apple) figured out ways to bring AR features to phones with just the hardware that's already on board. Google introduced a new augmented reality system, known as ARCore, in late August. It just brought that system to the Pixel and Pixel 2 in the form of some augmented reality stickers — immediately opening AR features to more people than Tango is likely to have reached in its lifetime.
Related: Google's Project Tango Coming to 12 More Countries
Google Tango Means You'll Never Get Lost in a Store Again
Google Announces "Lens" Augmented Reality Service
Google Partnering With HTC and Lenovo for Standalone VR Headsets
HTC Cancels U.S. Release of a Google Daydream VR Headset, Reveals Own Standalone Headset