All posts in “Vr”

Jumping out of a virtual plane is perfect for those who can’t or won’t skydive IRL

I’ve never quite got round to throwing myself out of a plane. Somehow, I wake up every day and find something marginally less terrifying to do with my waking hours and here we are. Jumping out of a virtual plane while floating three feet from the ground and being held by someone standing up, however? That I can get behind.

Which is how I ended up at iFly’s new VR experience near Universal Studios in LA this week, dressed in a jump suit, strapped into a Samsung Gear, and floating over Hawaii while bemused tourists wandering the retail center outside the theme park gawped and ‘grammed.

iFly has wind tunnels across the U.S. (and indeed much of Europe) and says it’s flown 9 million people since 1998. The addition of VR headsets, though, is a very new thing and for $20 more than their standard package price, it’s an insanely addictive add-on.

You begin your virtual journey with the standard iFly experience, getting kitted up and briefed on the flying rules. Essentially it comes down to keeping your legs straight, your head facing forward and your mind chilled. Fall into the wind and let the force (and an instructor) do the rest. There are a few hand signals but that’s about it.

My first flight went … OK. I spent some of the time flailing and falling down to the grille, much to the amusement of the guy operating the wind machine, but by the second practice run I had it mostly down. At Universal CityWalk, the tunnel is in the middle of the lively shopping center. In terms of entertainment value for passersby, it’s between a branch of Margaritaville and a band playing covers of The Killers — literally and otherwise.

Gracefulness personified.

Gracefulness personified.

Image: iFly

Once I’d, ahem, mastered the art of free-falling, my instructor Joe strapped on the Gear. At first you can see through it to the real world, albeit with hardly any sense of distance or depth. Once you’re at the tunnel entrance it switches to virtual mode and you’re in the plane, watching someone count you down, and then you’re off. 

It’s pretty stunning. While the wind whipped up to 120-mph-plus and my body hit terminal velocity, I watched Hawaii’s scenery hurtle towards me, safe in the knowledge that sudden death was an unlikely ending.

The films do a great job of replicating the thrill of skydiving, with fellow divers performing tricks, clouds whizzing by to give a sense of speed and the all-important parachute opening above before you flop back out of the tunnel to safety. It goes by so fast you’ll want to line up for a second trip immediately.

The camera operator stayed pretty much static while filming the flights, so your body tends to mirror theirs, which avoids the usual motion sickness issues associated with VR. In fact, iFly’s Director of Product Development Mason Barrett insists no one has yet had an issue with queasiness. There are no inner ear issues either, as you’re not actually experiencing any pressure, although you do wear earplugs under the helmet.

IFly currently offers four destinations to virtually experience — Hawaii, Dubai, the Swiss Alps and Southern California — with more planned. The company is focussing on “locations on every sky diver’s bucket list,” Barrett says, with some ambitious plans for future films.

How does BASE jumping in a virtual wingsuit sound? Or barreling through a fantasy world, perhaps joining a Quidditch game with Harry Potter or flying parallel to Iron Man? Those are the kind of dreams iFly is hoping to realize if they can get a major studio on board.

Virtual skydiving has been a dream of the company’s since its inception two decades ago, but technology has only recently caught up. In the past, the experience would have involved a white screen next to the tunnel, Barrett says, but consumer grade tech offers a much more immersive experience. And it could be great for those that can’t fly IRL, whether due to fear or disability. Kids can take a virtual dive from 8, Barrett says, while you can’t legally leap from the plane until you’re 18.

Https%3a%2f%2fvdist.aws.mashable.com%2fcms%2f2018%2f5%2f2d5c4a2b 0165 2393%2fthumb%2f00001

You can fling yourself out of a virtual plane at any one of 28 places offering the iFly Virtual Reality experience across the country. 

There are dozens of sites offering iFly across the U.S.

There are dozens of sites offering iFly across the U.S.

Image: ifly

You just need to be over eight years old and weigh less than 260 pounds. Those aged between 8 and 12 can only do it once per day.

Https%3a%2f%2fvdist.aws.mashable.com%2fcms%2f2018%2f5%2ffd1860c8 8960 495a%2fthumb%2f00001

With Nickelodeon’s new VR experience, walk a mile in Spongebob’s shoes—er, pants

Playgrounds aren’t what they used to be. 

If your kid is getting bored of his school’s old, rusty jungle gym, he may want to check out Slime Zone, Nickelodeon’s virtual playground. 

It’s no secret that VR is, for the most part, an enthusiast’s world. Oculus and HTC Vive continue to release high-quality headsets, but they’re too expensive, and the games aren’t good enough for the general public to catch on to. 

But SlimeZone has, perhaps wisely, taken a different approach. Nobody buys SlimeZone. Instead, it’s set of HTC Vive headsets in the lobbies of IMAX theaters in Los Angeles, New York, and Toronto. Kids (or adults) pay $15 for thirty minutes of play.

The Setup

Image: monica chin/mashable

Released in March 2018, SlimeZone is a collaboration between Nickelodeon and IMAX. 

It’s set up, along with a number of other VR experiences, in the lobbies of IMAX theaters in Los Angeles, New York City, and Toronto, and soon to roll out in Shanghai, Bangkok and Manchester, according to Nickelodeon. 

I entered the Slime Zone in the lobby of the Kips Bay AMC. After a brief tour of the center, I put on my Vive headset and a harness (to keep me from walking into the wall, which I absolutely would have done otherwise), took my controllers, and entered an adorably bright, loud, colorful Nickelodeon world. 

Image: nickelodeon

Nickelodeon is very adamant that SlimeZone is not a game. “It’s an opportunity to connect kids to our brand,” Nickelodeon SVP of Entertainment Lab Chris Young told me. “It’s another chance to connect with our audience outside of this linear channel.”

The Play

Https%3a%2f%2fvdist.aws.mashable.com%2fcms%2f2018%2f5%2f9d08edb0 7bde b052%2fthumb%2f00001

While Mr. Young may not have intended for SlimeZone to be a game, that’s certainly what it feels like. 

Users choose a Nickelodeon character to play. After selecting some variety of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, I found myself in large, colorful arena, holding a squirt gun. 

The first thing I saw when I appeared in SlimeZone was a massive inflatable Spongebob looming over me. Startled, I shot it immediately. Slime erupted from my gun, knocking Spongebob over. He reset himself soon after, but a number in the sky indicated that my ambush had earned me points of some sort. 

Image: nickelodeon

You moved around by selecting an area ahead of you and teleporting yourself there by clicking the controller. You can make yourself much bigger or much smaller, changing the sizes of the various characters and other props around you in turn. 

The arena is large, full of nooks and crannies, and various items litter the floor. One room contained a basketball and hoop, which I dribbled aimlessly and tried (and failed) to dunk. Another was full of small tubes of paint, which you can use to create art if you’re so inclined. 

Random objects were scattered about, including balls, fish, pencils, could be picked up and put down at will, but it was unclear what I was supposed to do with them. Would they get me points? Did I want points?

Fun, but what’s the point? 

A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shoots...Hey Arnold? I think? It's been a while.

A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shoots…Hey Arnold? I think? It’s been a while.

Image: nickelodeon

As I barrelled through the Slime Zone, shooting down my inflatable nemeses, I noticed that I continued to accumulate points, but it seemed somewhat random. Hitting a smaller target didn’t correlate with a higher point return, and I was never sure how exactly to get myself higher on the scoreboard. 

Neither, it appears, are Slime Zone’s developers.
“It’s more of a sandbox,” Young told me, emphasizing that it’s not supposed to have an objective. “It doesn’t really take a level of skill.”

Fair enough. At the same time, there’s a bit of an aimless nature to Slime Zone play, to the point where I felt like I was doing a lot of wandering, and not a lot of anything exciting. That might be okay on the school swingset, but I’d expect more stimulation from a $15 playground. 

Image: nickelodeon

At the end of the day, Slime Zone was a cute experience. But I’m still not quite sure what kids are supposed to do

Young says it’s up to the players. “You could pick up a paint tube and start to play your own game, or draw a heart in one of the very far corners of the space,” he told me. “Some people use bananas as shields when other people are sliming at them. Other people start throwing bananas. Here are a bunch of objects. Do what you want.” 

Image: nickelodeon

Again, fair enough. But at that point, I wonder what’s unique. Painting, dribbling basketballs, and shooting squirt guns are all things you can do for free at home — so why pay $15 to do it for 15 minutes in VR? 

But more importantly, the beauty of a digital, interactive medium seems to me to revolve, in at least some part, around organization. 

What games, from League of Legends to Fortnite to Final Fantasy, have in common is that they guide your action towards an objective. Yes, that eliminates some freedom. But it also ensures that your kids are getting their money’s worth out of their experience, seeing and doing the best of what developers intended, and emerging from the experience feeling some sense of accomplishment. With young kids, who could easily spend all 30 minutes trying to figure out how to use the squirt gun, or wandering aimlessly around the main hall, this could be a real concern. 

I love the Slime Zone. But it would need a bit more structure before I’d pay $15 for my kid to play. 

Https%3a%2f%2fvdist.aws.mashable.com%2fcms%2f2017%2f11%2f8a463824 a31b 2b0b%2fthumb%2f00001

Apple’s top-secret wireless AR/VR headset sounds crazy powerful

Here we go again. Another report, this time from CNET, claims Apple is working on a combo AR/VR headset that could launch as soon as 2020.

The tech site corroborates previously reported details on the top-secret headset such as its “T288” codename and purported use of a custom Apple chip. But the most interesting thing is its alleged performance. It sounds like it could blow away every existing AR/VR headset.

Up until now, we’ve only heard whispers of what Apple’s AR/VR headset might be like. But if CNET’s report is accurate (and nothing changes in the next two years), Apple could out-muscle current VR leaders such as Oculus and HTC.

Apple’s T288 headset is said to support both AR and VR apps. Most impressive is the resolution it reportedly packs: an 8K display per eye, for a total resolution of 16K. That would be an insane amount of pixels.

To put that into perspective, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive only have 1,080 x 1,200 resolution per eye, barely meeting full HD. Startup Pimax successfully funded a Kickstarter for the world’s first 8K VR headset, but has yet to ship any product to backers.

Of course, if Apple were to successfully release a headset with such high resolution, it’d solve a number of issues current headsets suffer from such as the screen door effect and motion blur.

For now, it isn’t real and nobody should get too excited for vaporware.

Besides the ridiculously high-res screens, the headset would also be wireless. CNET says Apple is exploring 60GHz WiGig, a high-speed wireless protocol capable of transferring lots of data quickly. One of the most annoying things about high-end VR is that it requires a cable tethered to a powerful PC. Apple’s headset could fix this.

Additionally, the headset might be powered by a new custom 5-nanometer chip (the iPhone X uses a 10-nanometer A11 Bionic chip). Apple has been designing its own chips for years, starting with the iPad’s A4 chip in 2010, and the silicon now powers all of its iOS devices, Apple Watches, AirPods, HomePods, and has even made its way into some Macs. It’s a no-brainer the company is looking to power its AR/VR headset with its own chips.

Of course, none of this stuff matters if customers don’t care. AR and VR have been hyped for years, but have yet to gain mainstream traction. Sure, there’s the occasional AR hit such as Pokémon Go and the VR hit such as Audio Shield, but both virtual platforms can hardly be described as must-have  right now.

And if Apple has learned anything from the HomePod, it’s that customers may not even appreciate high-end technologies if good-enough alternatives exist.

Not to mention, we’re skeptical Apple would ever release a headset that supports VR. Apple CEO Tim Cook has said on many occasions he thinks AR is better than VR because it’s not as isolating of an experience. Apple’s chief design officer Jony Ive is also not keen on putting a computer on your face.

We’ve no doubt Apple is spending a good amount of money on R&D for this rumored headset, but we’ll believe it when it launches. Just like the company’s “Project Titan” self-driving car project, this headset could be scrapped by the time 2020 rolls around. For now, it isn’t real and nobody should get too excited for vaporware that exists merely as prototypes in Apple’s lab.

Https%3a%2f%2fvdist.aws.mashable.com%2fcms%2f2018%2f3%2f8295dc2b 47bb dd1e%2fthumb%2f00001

HTC had a terrible holiday quarter

Smartphone and VR headset maker HTC has published its consolidated results for Q4 2017 — and it makes for grim reading.

The topline figures are:

  • Flat quarterly revenue of NT$15.7 billion (~$540M) with gross margin of -30.8%
  • Quarterly operating loss of NT$9.6 billion (~$330M) with operating margin of -60.8%
  • Quarterly net loss after tax: NT$9.8 billion (~$337M), or -NT$11.93 (-$0.41) per share

HTC says this latest quarterly loss was due to “market competition, product mix, pricing, and recognized inventory write-downs”. So pretty much a full house of operational and business problems.

The one bright spot for HTC’s business is a deal worth $1.1BN, in which Google acquired a chunk of HTC’s hardware business — which was completed at the end of January.

That one-off cash injection is not reflected in the Q4 results but will rather give some passing uplift to HTC’s Q1 2018 results.

HTC says it will be using the Google windfall for “greater investment in emerging technologies”, writing that they will be “vital across all of our businesses and present significant long-term growth opportunities”.

There’s no doubt that any business revival would require hefty investment. But exactly what long-term growth opportunities HTC believes it can capture is questionable, given how fiercely competitive the smartphone market continues to be (with Chinese OEMs making what running there is in a shrinking global market); and how the VR market — which HTC bet big on in 2015, with Vive and Valve, to try to diversify beyond mobile — has hardly turned out to be the next major computing paradigm. Not yet anyway.

So the emphasis really is on the “long-term” earning potential of VR — say five or even ten years hence.

HTC flags the launch of its VIVE Focus standalone VR system in China — which it last week said it would also be bringing to the UK and other global markets later this year — and the launch of a VIVE Pro premium PC VR system in January, which it was showing off at CES, as examples of focused product innovation in the VR space.

Following a strategic business review aimed at optimizing its teams and processes — both for smartphones and VR — it also says it now has “a series of measures in place to enable stronger execution”, and it touting fresh innovations coming across its markets this year.

But HTC is going to need a whole lot more than squeezable gimmicks and shiny finishes to lift out of these doldrums.