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Inside VR (Oct 17th, 2019)

1. Varjo is releasing two new high-resolution VR headsets aimed at enterprise customers. The XR hardware developer will be conducting hands-on demos of the VR-2 and VR-2 Pro at this year's Augmented World Expo Europe, which runs today and tomorrow. The HMDs are capable of rendering at 4k per eye resolution, which Varjo claims does away with any "screen door effect" (where the fine lines separating pixels become visible in the displayed image up-close) as well as 20/20 Eye Tracker technology. Varjo’s VR-2 Pro also features built-in Ultraleap (formerly Leap Motion) hand-tracking technology that removes the need for physical controllers altogether, allowing for more intuitive and seamless interaction with VR environments. The headsets are available for purchase on Varjo's website ($4,995 for the Varjo VR-2 and $5,995 for the VR-2 Pro) and are compatible with SteamVR content as well as the OpenVR development platform.  – VRSCOUT   

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2.  Google officially discontinued its Daydream VR headset as mobile VR fizzles out. The company confirmed that its new Pixel 4 phone won’t support Daydream and that it will no longer sell the Daydream View mobile headset, although it says it will continue to support the app on older phones for existing users. Google had long stopped supporting updates on the device, prompting previous partners such as Hulu to also drop integration with the Daydream as part of a larger trend away from mobile VR. “There hasn’t been the broad consumer or developer adoption we had hoped, and we’ve seen decreasing usage over time of the Daydream View headset,” a Google spokesperson confirmed, adding that although the system had shown potential since its launch in 2016, asking people to put their phone in a headset and lose access to the apps caused too much friction. – THE VERGE

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3. Throwback Thursday: 3D TV

While 3D cinema is still a thing, especially in Asia, major manufacturers such as Samsung have pulled 3D TV from its offering, signaling the demise of the once-promising format. The buzz around 3D TV hit its peak around 2010, with companies hailing its immersive powers as the future of entertainment. And the fact that all that investment turned into one massive flop has fueled arguments by VR naysayers who are keen to draw parallels between the two. 

There are certainly some lessons to be learned around the fact that no matter how cool a technology might be if it doesn't hit a sweet spot between practicality, price, and compelling content, it won't snare consumers - certainly not in the numbers needed to make it "the next big thing." However, the straight-up comparison is rather unfair if we look at the broader spectrum of immersive technology (i.e. XR and Spatial Computing rather than narrower AR/VR applications) as opposed to 3D TV's very narrow utility scope. 

Given the fact that a lot of the companies involved in developing these 3D display technologies are also involved in making AR/VR headsets, we are also likely to see some of the key innovations "recycled" into new products. It is difficult to envisage a future where we are still buying giant screens to put into our homes for much longer, however, when displays are already emerging that allow for high-resolution immersive content to be consumed anytime, anywhere.

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4.  The Void's new Avengers experience will debut tomorrow. Running at around 20 minutes, "Avengers: Damage Control" is the longest VR experience that Disney and its development arm ILMxLAB, have undertaken to date. It is set after the events in "Avengers: Endgame," with players guided by the Black Panther's sister Shuri (played by Letitia Wright), who has devised arguably the coolest superhero suit ever, blending her brother's uniform with Iron Man's tech from Stark Industries. The experience also features several famous voices from the Marvel universe such as Benedict Cumberbatch and Paul Rudd and incorporates haptic effects such as wind, heat, and smell. Although he would not disclose the production's budget, ILMxLAB senior producer Shereif Fattouh told CNN there was "no holds barred in delivering on the fantasy." The experience will be available for around $40 at the Void's Anaheim location starting tomorrow. – CNN  

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5. You can explore a 17th-Century sunken ship in a Virtual Reality dive. Discovered by local divers in 1992, the Dutch smuggler vessel Melckmeyd" ("Milkmaid") is Iceland's oldest shipwreck, yet it has remained remarkably preserved since it sank during a storm on Oct. 16, 1659. In 2016, Kevin Martin and other researchers from the University of Iceland and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands set about conducting high-resolution scans of Milkmaid, generating a digital model of the 108-foot-long ship. They then used that data to create a VR dive experience where users can explore the underwater environment around the wreck as if they were diving, looking around in 360 degrees as the camera "swims" over and past the wreck. This approach, Martin says (apparently without intending a pun) serves to maximize immersion. – LIVE SCIENCE

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6. Gideon Blumstein argues that there is increasing evidence that VR should play a pivotal role in addressing training shortfalls for surgeons in this piece. The surgical resident at UCL participated in a recent study funded by Osso VR which found that students using the surgical platform improved performance by as much as 230 percent compared with traditional training methods. A University of Michigan study found that 30 percent of surgeons couldn’t operate independently after residency, and with a strained surgical-education system and pending surgeon shortage, VR may offer an important educational tool to avoid a looming healthcare provision crisis. Gideon adds that today’s rapidly evolving surgical landscape requires new ways to provide access to experiential surgical education that also allows for a more formalized approach to technical assessment that accurately and objectively measures a surgeons’ capabilities to ensure consistency in the surgical workforce. – HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW  

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7. New leaks strengthen speculation that Valve is developing a Half-Life VR game. Valve has been teasing fans for years with promises of three upcoming AAA VR titles, but so far the company has refused to flesh out any details, leaving the community to feed on rumors. Ben Lang reports on the latest fan-led research by Tyler McVicker, who runs the popular Valve News Network YouTube channel, which boasts nearly 300K subscribers. In his latest video, McVicker trawls the source code of Valve’s publicly released games and game tools and dissects clues that apparently point to the development of an ‘HLVR’ project. He believes the title will be a single-player, story-driven game with 12-16 hours of gameplay, and expects it to launch no earlier than 2020. – ROAD TO VR  

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This newsletter was written and curated by Alice Bonasio, a journalist and consultant obsessed with the immersive technology space, including AR/VR/MR/XR and any other acronyms that fit into the realities spectrum. Over the past 15 years, Alice has advised a wide range of start-ups and corporations on digital transformation and communication strategy and is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Tech Trends. She also regularly contributes to publications such as Quartz, Fast Company, Wired, Playboy, The Next Web, Ars Technica, VRScout and many others. Follow her on Twitter @alicebonasio

Editor: David Stegon (senior editor at Inside, whose reporting experience includes cryptocurrency and technology).

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