Tag Archives: oculus

Mobile VR: The future’s so bright…

I had a great time up at GDC (the annual Game Developers Conference) in San Francisco yesterday. Two things are clear: virtual reality is finally arriving, and it’s future’s so bright, we’ll soon all be wearing shades:

Tipatat_Gear_VR[Image: Tipatat Chennavasin, Creative Director at Rothenberg Ventures’ VR Accelerator checks out a Mobile VR demo from MediaSpike at VR Mixer, a meetup hosted by SFVR and SVVR.]

A few takeaways from my visit to a very VR-centric GDC:

I and many others stood in line for hours for the hottest VR demos, like the Oculus “Crescent Bay” experiences at the Nvidia booth. The highlight was “Thief in the Shadows,” a collaboration between Weta Digital, Epic Games, and Oculus, which brought to life CG assets from “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”.

As amazing as it was, it and the other high-end demos, such as the one in support of the just-announced Vive VR headset from HTC and Valve (which I heard was truly awesome), showcase a major schism in the brewing VR platform wars. The most impressive demos require high-end (and often complex) hardware that will not be within the reach of mainstream consumers any time soon. For example, “Thief in the Shadows” showcased the power of Nvidia’s just announced Titan X graphics card, the “world’s most advanced GPU,” with 12 GB of RAM and no pricing yet announced. (Assume thousands of dollars.) These high-end demos also require placement of sensors around the room, which enables position tracking, but ups the complexity greatly.

On the other side of the schism is the “Mobile VR” camp, which embraces the smartphone as the core of the experience, severing the dependence on cables, high-end PCs or consoles, and external tracking sensor arrays. Leaders in this camp include Samsung, with Gear VR (developed in partnership with Oculus), and Google, with “Cardboard” (an open-source hardware approach to creating a display that ranges in price from cheap to free). Both are very exciting, and seem certain to bring VR to millions of consumers well in advance of the high-end folks. There’s a great article today in Wired by David Pierce, entitled The Future of Virtual Reality is Inside Your Smartphone. It suggests not only that Mobile VR will go mainstream first, but that it will also drive the future, thanks to ever more powerful smartphones:

More importantly, your next smartphone is going to be really, really powerful, and it’ll probably have a 4K or better screen. The one after that? Forget about it. Mobile computing is on such an insane trajectory, says [Samsung’s Nick] DiCarlo, that you’d be crazy not to just jump on the rocketship. “It’s pretty easy to draw these curves where [a smartphone] starts being better than Xbox 360,” he says, “better than all these things we’re accustomed to, really really quickly. Stuff that is relatively new, and the phone is going to be more powerful than that in one, two, three, five, ten years.” If that’s true, he says, and all evidence supports that it is, “what else would you do?”

We are witnessing the birth of a new platform, a new mass medium. As with the web in 1994/95 and mobile and social in 2007/08, there’s a Wild West, Gold Rush excitement and energy. It’s a great time to be in Silicon Valley, and with the intensity of the competition already underway, it will be an amazing time to be a consumer of virtual reality.

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How Google’s Carboard Will Take Virtual Reality Mainstream in 2015

I’ll admit that when I first heard of Google’s virtual reality headset that is both made of and named “Cardboard,” I thought it was a joke. Literally.

In fact, until I got one a week ago, I was pretty dismissive of the project/product, despite being a passionate fan of VR since the early ‘90’s!

Now that I’ve had a few days to play with Cardboard, I’m a convert. And an evangelist. In fact, I’m so into this contraption that I carry it with me almost everywhere I go. Why? Because it’s really a delight to see friends, family, and even strangers experience it for the first time.

McCrea_Cardboard

Google’s Cardboard effort is radically accelerating the arrival of virtual reality as a mainstream medium. Yes, Oculus Rift will be a huge success, but it seems like the consumer edition won’t hit store shelves until either late 2015 – or even early 2016. And while Samsung is currently testing the waters with a limited, sold out release of an “Innovator Edition” of its very slick Gear VR offering, the consumer edition of the product is likely not coming until mid- to late-2015.

But Google’s Cardboard is here now. And it is supported by a companion app that’s already clocked over 500,000 downloads, a recently released SDK, a rapidly growing base of apps in Google’s Play Store (with new ones almost every day), and multiple “hardware” partners. Oh, and Google is adding support for VR across its product portfolio, starting with Google Earth, YouTube, and Google Camera (via the Photosphere feature), all part of the Cardboard app, and more recently with support in the Google Maps’ Street View. In short, Google is pursuing this aggressively as an ecosystem play.

Photosphere example

[Above: An example Photosphere image via Google Camera.]

Sure, the plastic lenses (together with my need for reading glasses) make for an experience that is nowhere near as sharp as strapping on the Oculus Rift DK2. And the cardboard “headset” is pretty flimsy and leaks light. But the overall experience manages to cross over the believability threshold (while somehow avoiding the motion sickness problem), such that I can’t get enough of it, and everyone I show it to is blown away.

What apps get the best reaction? Flying around Google Earth is amazing. The virtual tour of the Palace of Versailles is really cool. Any of the roller coaster apps are sure to thrill. “Sisters” was spooky enough that my daughter couldn’t take it — and got an amazing scream out of my wife. And sitting on Paul McCartney’s piano on stage in Jaunt VR’s concert app thrilled my daughter. It was so believable, that when she saw the audience, she asked if they could see her!

Google Cardboard (together with the Google ecosystem) is making virtual reality a mass medium sooner than anyone expected. When a new mass medium is born (like the web in 1994 and 1995), great fortunes are up for grabs. And those who spot the trend and move early reap some of the greatest rewards.

So, what are you waiting for? The easiest, lowest cost way to be an early mover in virtual reality is to plunk down $15 to $25 to get yourself a cardboard headset. Oh, and they make a great Christmas present – not just for your techie friends and family, but for anyone who wants to be wowed by seeing the future a little early.

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OMG. I’ve Seen the Future of Advertising (And It’s Actually Awesome)

Actually, I didn’t just see it. I experienced the future of advertising in a fully immersive and interactive way. Heck, I even took a ride on it!

The advertising I’m talking about was in a virtual reality environment brought to life by an Oculus Rift (DK 2). And it was a demo for a new capability of MediaSpike, the company that’s pioneered dynamic native advertising in mobile and social games, and is now shining a light on how their platform can power mind-blowing brand experiences in the emerging new mediums of virtual reality and augmented reality.

[Non-trivial disclosure: I’m more than a little biased on this topic; I currently head up marketing at MediaSpike. So, yes, this is definitely a “puff piece,” but it is one that is also from the heart!]

This wasn’t a totally new demo. It was one that our team had created months earlier to showcase our support for Unity, the wildly popular game development system. And that meant I was pretty familiar with the cityscape, having driven a pickup truck all around it on an iPad. Countless times, I’d whizzed past the billboards, checked out the movie theater, looked at the blimp overhead. And I’d even glided over the city, blissing out via the blimp camera view.

So, when the team said they’d gotten it working with Oculus, I thought I knew what to expect. (After all, I had tried Oculus Rift several times, and have been a VR enthusiast for more than 20 years!) And then I slipped on the headset and headphones and picked up the controller and…

…stepped inside the demo. Oh, my! It was like a dream. I didn’t dare move about; I just wanted to drink it all in from where I entered, looking every which way (by moving my head). What used to be a simple demo driving game was suddenly a real world. Okay, not “real” for real, but way more tangible, believable, and interesting than seeing it on an iPad. Instead of playing a game, I was actually in it.

When I looked behind me, I almost jumped. I was just feet away from a billboard for the Despicable Me ride at Universal Studios. You see, due to a quirk in adapting the iPad demo to the Oculus, the “camera” was floating 20 or so feet above the ground, so the billboard was at eye level instead of high above me. I was a giant! And, wow, that billboard looked awesome! So big, so bright, so wow. It was not just a secondary object I might or might not notice while driving the truck in the iPad version of the demo.

Of course, the team would go on to fix the “giant’s eye view” issue (by lowering the camera). But I’ll never forget that moment.

The next magical moment came when the team let me know they had gotten the video ad working in the demo – in full 3D. In the iPad version of the demo, by contrast, we included video, but not in a fully native way. If you clicked on a movie poster, we’d spawn the trailer full-screen. That seemed the appropriate experience for a mobile screen.

But within VR, the team wanted to go fully native, and that they did in a bold way, creating a gigantic outdoor movie screen that could be used to display any video. As I drove up to one intersection, I heard Queen’s “Under Pressure” playing in the distance and getting louder as I approached. As I rounded the corner, I saw a trailer for “Minions” (the next installment in the Despicable Me series) playing on what looked to be an 100-foot tall screen:

MediaSpike_VR_Outdoor_Movie

I could drive right up to it, and the sound got louder. The spatial sound effect also worked as I would turn my head, with the volume decreasing for the far ear. And what did I see when I looked behind me this time? A beautiful “Despicablimp” floating by overhead and a billboard for the Despicable Me ride at Universal Studios:

MediaSpike_VR_Blimp_Above

And down at street level, off to the side, I saw a glowing red area in front of a tall building, along with a small sign advertising blimp rides. I drove into the red zone and was magically transported to the building’s rooftop. The outdoor theater was still visible, but was now closer to eye level. As I looked around, the Despicablimp approached:

MediaSpike_VR_Rooftop

Using the left thumb stick, I could navigate around the roof in a way that felt somewhere between walking and gliding. (Either way, I felt human-sized, not a giant.) As the blimp descended, I walked toward it. I’ve always had a thing for blimps, and watching this airship directly overhead was jaw-dropping. I could hear the purring of its engines over the now distant sound of the trailer on the big screen.

The blimp docked at the edge of the roof, and the interior of the cabin began to glow red, enticing me to come forward. To enter the blimp, I would have to walk carefully unto the edge of the roof and cross a short air gap between me and the airship. I knew that the team had set it up such that it was possible to step off of the roof and fall to the pavement far below. And so I aimed carefully to “step” into the blimp via a small outcropping of bricks at the roof’s edge. You can see my pickup truck parked in the red zone down below:

MediaSpike_VR_Roof_Edge (1)

Once I was inside the cabin, the Despicablimp set sail, taking me on a blissful ride above the city. The engine sounds were now accompanied by the creaking of boards and what sounded like sails flapping in the wind, adding a kind of steampunk twist to the experience. Here’s the sound file we used.

And on the dashboard was a can of Pepsi. (But we can dynamically change it into a Coke, a Mountain Dew, or any other brand.)

MediaSpike_VR_Blimp_Ride

And down below…whoah!

Hello, glass-bottom cabin…

MediaSpike_VR_Glass_Bottom

In short, it was a jaw-dropping, hugely fun, and unforgettable experience that gave me a strong, positive emotional connection with the upcoming Minions movie, while raising my awareness of the Despicable Me ride in the most visceral way possible.

And all of it was dynamically served and tracked end-to-end by the MediaSpike platform. And that means the blimp could easily become Goodyear, State Farm, or any other brand. The video on the big outdoor screen could be, well it could be any video. And so on.

All without any changes to the underlying game. No software release.

It’s pretty clear to me that virtual reality is going to be an amazing frontier for advertising. And it will finally deliver to digital a brand-friendly creative palette that not only matches, but greatly exceeds the possibilities of TV, allowing campaigns that are interactive, cinematic, and emotion-stirring.

I, for one, can hardly wait!

If you’d like to experience the future of digital advertising described in this post, we’ll be demoing it at the SVVR holiday party later this week.

And if you want to read more, here’s MediaSpike’s announcement blogpost (yes, also written by me), and well as coverage in VentureBeat by Dean Takahashi and in TechCrunch by Kyle Russell.

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Virtual Reality: Then and Now

[Note: Though this post touches on events in the ’90’s, it is not part of my ongoing “20 Years Ago” series. I’ll return to that in due time, but, given how hot virtual reality has become (again), I felt compelled to interrupt my narrative to share some personal experiences and thoughts on the topic.]

I am honored to have recently had the chance to experience the second-generation Oculus Rift, the magical hardware/software combo that inspired first an Andreessen Horowitz Series B and then, within four months , a $2 billion acquisition by Facebook. As you can imagine, it was truly awesome. My deeply personal reaction can be summed up in four words, “Finally, it is here.”

You see, I got inspired by the concept of virtual reality nearly 25 years ago, when in 1990, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece on the technology, featuring Jaron Lanier, the dreadlocked visionary who coined the term “virtual reality” and who created the first VR startup, VPL. The article’s headline characterized the technology as no less than “electronic LSD,” giving virtual reality a forceful send off into Phase One of the hype cycle.

Less than a year later, when I arrived in Silicon Valley to go to Stanford Business School, I made getting over to VPL my top priority. Within weeks, I had successfully tapped my fledgling network to arrange a visit to VPL for me and a few classmates, hosted by George Zachary, VPL’s marketing director (and future colleague of mine at Silicon Graphics, who would go on to great success in the venture capital business at CRV). We got to put on the hardware (headgear and glove) and become among the first humans to explore immersion in an interactive virtual reality. I brought along my 35mm film camera and had someone take these pictures of me experiencing the demo. (That’s half of George on the right in the first image below.)

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

I remember being very excited by the experience. It helped ignite a passion for interactive 3D content that would become a major theme of my Silicon Valley career (from Silicon Graphics hardware, to trying to bring 3D to the web via VRML, and all the way to my current venture, MediaSpike, focused on the biggest 3D market so far, mobile gaming). But, in hindsight, VPL was a classic false start: a concept pursued before its time, and a company that would end in bankruptcy. VPL was not just a few years too early; it was decades before its time. That first encounter of mine with a VR headset was 23 years ago, and Oculus Rift DK2, as exciting as it is, is currently just a prototype of a developer release. The consumer version is not expected to ship until sometime next year. We are only just now truly on the cusp.

So, what did I see and experience through the VPL rig? Honestly, I don’t remember the details, just the hints of magic. Fortunately, I took a photo of a TV monitor during one of the other demos that day. Here’s what we saw:

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

And, yes, somehow, I walked away from that demo more confident that virtual reality had a bright future…

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, to the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality conference at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. I had been fortunate enough to learn of the event via a Facebook post from an old friend, Tony Parisi, co-creator of VRML, who would be speaking on a panel at the conference. I tried to register, but a sign of how hot virtual reality had become (again) — it was completely sold out! Fortunately, Tony was willing to ask a favor on my behalf, and, as a result, I was able to buy a pass for Day 2 of the event.

I greatly enjoyed the first session I got into, one on game development for VR. The members of the panel were unknown to me, but not to each other – or to the crowd. There were lots of, “Your stuff inspired me” kinds of comments, along with thoughtful discussion about: the special challenges of how to develop VR content; UI paradigms; and most-needed enhancements to the current generation of development tools.

But what I was really excited about was the upcoming break at the end of the panel. When it came, I quickly exited the room and headed straight for my primary target: the expo room and the Oculus Rift booth. I don’t know if it was my speed or that fact that it was the second day of the conference, but somehow I managed to get there before anyone else. Soon, I was seated in a comfy living room chair and told I’d be competing against the guy who arrived just after me. I slipped on the “DK2” (developer kit 2). One of the demo guys put headphones on me, and through them I was barely able to hear some rapid-fire instructions, involving a sword, a shield, jumping, and the various game controller features. Suddenly, a game controller was thrust into my hands.

Path 2014-05-20 12_02

And then it happened. The world turned on, and I was in a virtual living room with a coffee table in front of me, atop which were two smallish 3D characters, each with a sword and a shield. My opponent sat in a chair to the right of the coffee table. I was temporarily overwhelmed with the joy of finally seeing true, high-quality VR, the compulsion to not suck at my virtual sword fight, and the strangeness of having my avatar controlling a virtual avatar. I smacked the various buttons, knocking my opponent off the table with my shield, and then knocking down a set of wooden blocks on the table with the swipe of my (my character’s?) sword. Within a minute, I was so engaged in the battle that I achieved full suspension of disbelief. I looked over at my opponent and saw his head move to; we were both exploring. I looked down at my hands, and saw (virtually) the controller in them. Then, my opponent upped the ante, and had his character change the target of its attack from my little character to me. His creature jumped in my lap and started swiping at me. And then, darkness. My heart was racing.

CouchKnight_1

That, and many other experiences that day, convinced me that we are now, finally, on the cusp of the virtual reality going mainstream. I thoroughly enjoyed my experiences at the conference and felt like I had a sort of homecoming. After the panel that Tony was on, a conversation on “building the metaverse,” I planned to head out and go back to the office. As I was thanking Tony, he asked, “Did you see the Kite and Lightning demo?” I had not. “You have to,” he said. “These guys are making some of the best VR content ever.”

And so, I ended a great day with a truly mind-blowing encounter with immersive 3D content. You must experience it yourself when it is finalized and the Oculus Rift is available to all, but in the meantime, I recommend reading this description of it, then watching the YouTube video:

Of course, the real experience is far more visceral. But I am convinced the dream that has inspired so many of us for so long is finally about to be achieved.

 

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