All posts in “Virtual Reality”

HTC stock suspension adds fuel to Google acquisition rumors


HTC is to suspend trading of its stock on the TWSE tomorrow, ahead of what it says will be the release of “material information” pertaining to its business. The news was reported earlier by the FT

The move has spiked speculation about a potential sale of HTC’s mobile division, with the Taiwanese device maker struggling for years to try to turn around its fortunes in the fiercely competitive smartphone market.

In recent years loss-making quarters have become the norm for HTC, which posted its first ever loss making quarter in Q3 2013. And despite management changes, portfolio trimming and even pushing into a new product category (VR, via a partnership with games publisher Valve) it has been unable to pull its business out of a long slide.

Media reports in Asia have recently linked Google’s parent company Alphabet with a possible acquisition of HTC’s mobile business. And a note on HTC’s investor website references speculation in the China Times that “HTC might announce the sale to Google” — going on to specify its “countermeasure” to this report is to state: “HTC does not comment on market rumor or speculation”.

If Google is indeed set to pick up HTC’s smartphone division it would not be the first time it’s swooped in to try to salvage one of its Android OEMs. The company acquired Motorola Mobility in 2011, shelling out $12.5BN on the purchase. Then in 2014 it sold the division to Lenovo for $2.91BN — holding on to “the vast majority” of Motorola’s patent portfolio.

Smartphone leaker Evan Blass has tweeted that he’s been sent a copy of an internal HTC invite for employees to a town hall meeting tomorrow — which apparently includes “Google acquisition” as one of the topics.

Blass says the same source further claims the deal that the two companies have finalized will see Google acquire “certain hardware engineering assets” from HTC, while the latter retains its brand — and will focus on VR and the Vive.

We’ve reached out to Google for comment and will update this post with any response.

Here are the best ARKit apps for iOS 11 you should try right now

Apple just released iOS 11 to the public, and a big feature is ARKit, the company’s SDK that lets developers easily create cool augmented reality apps.

Even though Apple announced ARKit a few months ago, there aren’t a ton of good options available right now to test out AR on your phone. But we’ve found a few good ones that will at least let you see the potential of augmented reality and ARKit.

If you have an iPad Pro, Phone 6s / 6s Plus, iPhone 7 / 7 Plus, iPhone SE, or iPhone 8 / 8 Plus, you can download iOS 11 now and then check out these apps in the App Store.

Click through to see screenshots of each app using augmented reality along with a brief description. Just remember that it’s pretty hard to get a feel for it just looking at 2D images, so you should definitely download these and check them out yourself.

Goodbye, photo studios. Hello, colormass virtual photoshoots


IKEA is a leader among those that have pushed the limits when it comes to using digital imaging to take product marketing to the next level. When you look at an IKEA catalog or its website, you might think you are looking at rooms full of Swedish sofas, coffee tables and stylish lamps, but you’re actually looking at highly realistic, but digitally manipulated 3D facsimiles — the same facsimiles that are now being used to build the next generation of retail: AR apps that let you select and place pieces in your own rooms to help figure out what to buy.

All this is pretty cool, but also potentially frustrating if you are a manufacturer, retailer or anyone else who is manufacturing or selling a tangible product: not everyone has the resources of an IKEA to create digital inventory like this. Until now.

Berlin-based colormass, one of the startups presenting today at TechCrunch Disrupt as part of the Battlefield, has developed a platform that lets you recreate an IKEA-style experience for your own merchandise.

A furniture company (or another business in the area of manufacturing) supplies its own production files, which are already created as part of a company’s manufacturing process; and it also supplies information regarding textures, colors and other variables related to the pieces. Then colormass uses computer vision algorithms to convert these images into lifelike, but fabricated, 3D files that can be altered with different textures and colors and subsequently embedded in different (equally virtual, not real) scenes, like this:

and this:

The resulting service is a fraction of what it would cost for a business either to create a system like the one used by, say, IKEA, or to build the various physical products and settings to shoot them in the more traditional way.

“Companies like IKEA use very sophisticated software to do this,” said Balint Barli, who co-founded colormass with Tas Solti and Benjamin Foldi. “We want to enable everyone to be able to do this without knowing anything about 3D. If you want to do what IKEA does, you used to need specialized hardware, expensive software and a lot of experience and training in 3D to be able to do it. Now you don’t.”

A lot of the computer vision developments that we’ve seen hit the market of late have been squarely focused on consumer apps: filters that give us faces like cute animals, or a new color of hair, or help place us into the thick of the action in video games.

Video games and consumer apps, in fact, were where colormass’s founders first got their start. Barli and Solti’s early work was in the area of 3D reconstruction technology, essentially recreating people’s faces so they could be used in video games and in other applications, like hair coloring.

That market is both crowded and, in a sense, becoming more commoditized, though, so they began to think of other places where the same computer vision technology could be applied.

The pair then teamed up with Foldi, whose experience was specifically in 3D imaging. “We quickly realized that the tech could go into a different direction, essentially in helping to make better and less expensive, but still high quality, marketing images and product design,” Barli said.

Barli said that colormass started working with furniture manufacturers in 2016, with current customers usually of the medium-sized variety with $100 million or more in revenue.

He said that customers (at least for now) do not like to be named. “Since these images look exactly like photos, they would like to keep the impression that they are actual images of the real objects.”

Colormass is interesting because it is addressing a clear gap in the enterprise market, helping to digitize “any kind of tangible product,” in the words of Barli. The idea will be to continue to augment this, for example with the ability to manipulate multiple products or images in a 3D room. But he also says that its B2B service for the design and home-goods communities is “only the mid-term goal.”

“The long-term goal is to aggregate all the digitized products to become one of the largest repositories of 3D assets, a library that can be used for product marketing, but also games and other VR and AR applications,” he said. “3D content is a big problem, because there just isn’t that much.” The company has already started building this, signing agreements with their customers to be able to keep certain images in colormass’s own database.

This opens some interesting doors for the company, making it either a competitive rival (or interesting complementary acquisition) not just for the Autodesks and Adobes of this world, but massive photo agencies like the Gettys, as well.

Microsoft sends invites to mysterious ‘mixed reality’ event

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Microsoft is ready to reveal its next big move in mixed reality.

The company invited a handful of journalists to a intimate and rather mysterious San Francisco event on Oct. 3. On the agenda: A reveal of Microsoft’s full mixed-reality strategy and, perhaps, the next big steps.

The announcement comes as something of a surprise, since experts and pundits have spent weeks speculating that Microsoft’s next big event and product unveiling would happen on Oct. 31 when Microsoft Surface chief Panos Panay delivers a keynote at the Future Decoded event in London.

However, sources tell us that anyone expecting new Surface hardware at that event will be disappointed. Instead, Panay will focus on Microsoft’s aggressive Creativity push and how that’s shaping Microsoft’s current and future strategy.

That doesn’t mean however, that this new Oct. 3 event is about going to satisfy the demand for fresh Surface devices, either. In addition, even with the “Mixed Reality” tease, there won’t be a new HoloLens mixed reality headset for developers or consumers. 

Will there be any new hardware for us to sink our teeth into from Microsoft or its partners? No one is saying, but it’s fair to say the possibility exists.

As for the invite, it’s spare and offers few clues about what we’ll see on October 3, beyond, “This event is an opportunity to hear where Microsoft is headed next—and to experience Windows Mixed Reality for yourself.”

The ring leader for this experience is none other than Alex Kipman. Kipman, a technical fellow at Microsoft, invented HoloLens.

What we do know is that those who attend the Oct. 3 event will get their deepest immersion yet in Microsoft’s brand of mixed reality, which is actually a spectrum that runs from augmented reality experiences to full-immersive virtual reality.

Some of this will help lay the groundwork for the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update release on Oct. 17. That update integrates Microsoft’s mixed reality platform and allows third-party VR headsets (they start shipping on that same day), allowing them to work with the operating system and third-party experiences written to take advantage of Windows 10’s new AR and VR skills.

Microsoft is going to have a busy fall. In addition to the Windows 10 update release and this mixed-reality deep dive and potential product reveal, Microsoft is preparing to launch Xbox One X on Nov. 7. Xbox is a Windows 10 device as well, which means it will likely end up with more mixed-reality skills in the not-to-distant future.  

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Meet the woman called “the wizard of camera-based VR”

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Presented by Coors Light

Kate Wurzbacher is Head of Camera at Here Be Dragons — a specialized production company dedicated to bringing the latest and greatest in virtual reality to fruition. 

Wurzbacher’s job is to help filmmakers create their vision by building custom rigs that capture interactive content in seemingly impossible situations. Wurzbacher and her team have done it all: Stuck a camera on a car going 200 miles-per-hour, shot a man on fire at 1,000 frames-per-second, and captured a journey through the wilderness behind a herd of elephants. 

On this episode of How She Works, we’ll see how Kate Wurzbacher finds ways to put unimaginable  landscapes, animals, and action into your living room by exploring creative solutions for VR. 

To watch more episodes of How She Works, head to our YouTube playlist.