Inside VR - February 13th, 2020

Inside VR (Feb 13th, 2020)

Mobile World Congress Canceled Due to Coronavirus / Oxford VR Gets $12.5 Million Investment / Multi-Sensory Spa

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The present and future of virtual reality news and technology

1. Mobile World Congress (MWC) has been canceled due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. Following a week in which companies and exhibitors (including Ericsson, LG, Nvidia, Intel, Sony, Amazon, Cisco, and Nokia) pulled out of the world's biggest phone show, organizer the GSM Association (GSMA) said in a statement that travel concerns and other circumstances made it impossible for it to hold the event, adding that "Our sympathies at this time are with those affected in China, and all around the world.” MWC (which was scheduled to take place in Barcelona between Feb. 24 and 27) was set to feature a big Chinese phone maker presence, with all of the country’s major smartphone brands set to appear at the show. In recent years, MWC had also become an important date in the immersive tech calendar, with the HoloLens 2 being unveiled at last year's event. It is now expected that any announcement companies such as Microsoft, Sony, Unity, and Facebook have to make will be pushed to the Game Developers Conference (GDC), which is set to take place in March. It remains to be seen whether the coronavirus disruption extends to that event as well. – THE VERGE

2. VR therapy start-up Oxford VR has secured a landmark funding round of $12.5 million. Led by Optum Ventures and supported by Luminous Ventures, the sum is the largest investment funding for VR therapy in the UK and Europe to date. Founded in 2017, the company is a spinout from Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry and builds on two decades of research by Professor Daniel Freeman investigating VR’s potential to create automated psychological treatments. Oxford VR’s first clinical trial for fear of heights, which was published in The Lancet Psychiatry, showed how automated VR therapy can produce large clinical benefits. The trial also demonstrated automated VR therapy’s potential to transform mental healthcare by helping overloaded providers expand access to standardized clinical treatments. – FORBES

3. Acer has discontinued the development of its ConceptD OJO Headset. Ben Lang obtained official confirmation from a spokesperson that 10 months after announcing its latest VR headset, the company has decided to cancel it. Although no explanation was offered as to what prompted the decision, it might signify a broader shift away from VR, as this is not the first time the company has shelved a promising HMD, Lang writes. The ConceptD OJO was expected to be based on the same WMR tracking and software ecosystem as its predecessors, and touted some impressive specs: 2,160 × 2,160 resolution per-eye (matching the HP Reverb) with hardware IPD adjustment, a detachable visor, and a revamped head-mount with integrated audio. While a price for the headset was never announced, it was expected to compete with the HP Reverb and be priced similarly at around $600. – ROAD TO VR  

4. Author Jamie Feltham looks back at four of the worst VR commercials. Although he concedes that the temptation to exercise some artistic license is justified when depicting a medium that often had users running into walls or getting twisted up in wires, Feltham argues there is a limit to how much you should stretch the truth before it becomes downright misleading. "There’s overpromising, and then there’s overpromising on something you wouldn’t even want in the first place," he writes of the 2016 trailer for Intel’s Merged Reality platform, questioning "Why, exactly, would this sort of vapid, elitist gathering be my first destination inside VR? Is it everyone’s dream to live out some sort of dated male fantasy; to create a life full of such repugnant self-worship and decadence you dare not remove your headset ever again?" It’s a grim assumption of what people really want out of VR, he concludes. – UPLOADVR

5. Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef Aquarium in Las Vegas is getting a Virtual Reality experience. MGM Resorts International is working with UK-based Immotion Group on a 36-seat motion-platform theater exhibit expected to open next month next to the aquarium. The "Ocean Explorer" exhibit will feature two six-minute films, one about humpback whales and one about sharks. The Immotion experience will be at Mandalay Bay for a minimum of 18 months and will be the largest the company has ever built. "With this immersive and interactive experience, visitors can discover and appreciate our oceans and animals in a whole new way,” says the aquarium's director Adrienne Rowland. – LAS VEGAS SUN

6. A spa in Brooklyn is using immersive technology to create multi-sensory relaxing experiences. "The Oddly Satisfying Spa" offers up a strangely effective mixture of plush robes, mint green tea, and VR demos, reports Darragh Dandurand for VRScout. Featuring works by almost 20 artists and a variety of emerging technologies including "meditative mixed reality" bioacoustic harmonics and organic ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) sound baths, the aim is to curate a space that "pushes as much relaxation as possible,” says Ed Fernandez, the spa’s manager and motion graphics designer. Guests can book tickets online for two-hour sessions starting at $40, Thursday through Sunday, and only 20 people are allowed in per session. For VR creators and artists interested in featuring their work, Luxury Escapism has an open call for collaborators. – VRSCOUT

7. Ubisoft is creating a VR escape room based on "Prince of Persia: The Dagger of Time." The co-op adventure is based on the classic 1989 Prince of Persia video game and is the third location-based VR escape room from the French video game publisher.  In the story, players are summoned by Kaileena, the Empress of Time, to help her stop the evil plans of a mage to restore the sands to the Hourglass of Time and create an army of sand monsters. The "Dagger of Time" VR experience will debut this spring in more than 300 locations and will allow two to four players to work together to solve puzzles and find their way out of a reimagined Fortress of Time. – VENTUREBEAT

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.

Edited by Beth Duckett, staff writer at Inside.

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