But the concept is more than a low-tech solution to mobile VR. It’s emblematic of Google’s approach to virtual reality: use the phone that’s already in your pocket. Samsung’s taking the same approach later this year with Gear VR, only it’s also partnering with Oculus VR on the software side.
This stands in stark contrast to the PC-dependent, ultra-high-res experience Oculus VR and Facebook are aiming to achieve. The Oculus Rift headset both literally and figuratively kickstarted the re-birth of virtual reality in modern technology. It remains the peak of technological achievement in virtual reality. And now, the medium is splintering into two distinct futures: one of entertainment, the other of immersion.
That word — “presence” — is at the heart of virtual reality. Game industry veteran Michael Abrash — formerly of Valve, where he worked on research and development; currently of Oculus VR, where he serves as “Chief Scientist” — described this ideal for VR during a talk in January 2014:
“It’s the sense of being someplace else while in virtual reality; many people feel as if they’ve been teleported. Presence is an incredibly powerful sensation, and it’s unique to VR; there’s no way to create it in any other medium.”
The medium’s history is littered with failed attempts, even from gaming’s biggest players (Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, anyone?).
Indeed, that’s the “magic” of virtual reality: being whisked away, instantly, to another world. You’re not looking at another world on a screen — you’re there. At least, that’s when VR works. The medium’s history is littered with failed attempts, even from gaming’s biggest players (Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, anyone?). But with Oculus Rift, even the first demos shown on a duct-taped, slapdash prototype were incredibly impressive. It just worked, even if it was clearly rough around the edges. And even with those early demos, a PC was required to power them. The same can be said for Sony’s Project Morpheus, powered by a $400 game console.
One early demo, dubbed “Tuscany” for its visual nods to the Italian region, wasn’t much to look at. The art was low-resolution; the in-world lighting was barely there; the level of detail in general was pretty low. But even with bare bones demos like Tuscany, the world was believable because the demo’s framerate was high enough and the headset was capable of refreshing video fast enough for it to seem real. Those demos seem rough now by contrast, but they’re still far ahead of what we’ve seen running on VR headsets powered by mobile phone processors.
MOBILE VR AS IT STANDS TODAY
We’ve heard very positive things from folks who’ve tried Samsung’s VR headset. The so-called “Gear VR” is still a development kit, and it’s powered by a Galaxy S4; we’re told that the consumer version will use a newer phone (maybe the Note 4?) with more horsepower. Though our sources only experienced a few demos, they repeatedly described them as “impressive,” specifically with the caveat “for a phone.”
Samsung still hasn’t officially acknowledged that its VR headset exists (that’s a real render of it above). Gear VR is said to be be unveiled in Germany at IFA, just a few weeks from now.
Google’s Cardboard has received similarly positive, though guarded, responses. TechCrunch‘s Greg Kumparak wrote back in June, “It’s actually kind of freaking wonderful. Is it an Oculus Rift killer? Hah – of course not. It’s made of cardboard. But it’s still awesome.” As he demonstrated in a video (above), a handful of apps — including major known quantities like YouTube and Google Earth — can be used in Cardboard right now, employing phones that already exist (there’s a Nexus 5 in the demonstration).
It’s certainly a different take. Rather than aim to provide “presence,” Google’s approach to VR seeks to provide an alternate viewing experience for existing content. YouTube, for instance, is simply an interactive VR app for viewing non-VR content. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily — it could act as an intro to VR for the mass market — but it’s not the same as providing “presence.”
Another VR device powered by mobile tech, GameFace Labs’ “GameFace” prototype, further highlights this difference. The same Tuscany demo running on the GameFace headset, scaled down for a mobile processor, provided a markedly different experience than what we’ve tried on the Oculus Rift. Are you still “in” Tuscany? Sure! But it looks an awful lot like Virtual Tuscany, rather than “Oh man, I’m in Tuscany!”
Though GameFace is impressive, the second Oculus Rift dev kit is an order of magnitude more adept. Beyond a much higher resolution screen, the second Rift dev kit comes with an additional camera for depth-tracking (just to barely scratch the surface of technical differences). That’s not meant as a slight at GFL, but to highlight how different these two approaches are to virtual reality. Simply put, they’re intended to deliver different experiences.
WHERE CASUAL AND BLEEDING EDGE VR DIVERGE
Unlike film or video games, where technical prowess can be trumped by other factors, major VR leaders argue that it’s a worthless medium without “presence.” To create presence, Oculus VR founder and Rift creator Palmer Luckey says that the tech has to be of a certain quality — specs that exceed the most advanced smartphones. Even the Rift’s second dev kit, which is far more technologically capable than the competition, is far from what he thinks is required for “good consumer virtual reality.” That means super high-res screens, high refresh rates (“90 Hz or higher”), and fast processors (read: actual computers, with dedicated graphics processing) to make all that happen. Luckey’s told me in interview after interview that standalone, untethered VR is the future of the medium (see above). But 10 years from now “future,” not 2014.
Google argues that the best time to get VR going — regardless of technological capability — is right now.
“We could theoretically plunk down a Titan in there. There’s nothing stopping us. But people will say, ‘This is hot! It only lasts for five minutes!’,” NVIDIA product manager Mithun Chandrasekhar told us in a recent interview. We asked about the limitations around mobile VR, and he joked that NVIDIA could — theoretically — put an expensive, high-powered GPU in a VR headset.
Of course, it’d be incredibly hot, heavy, and would require immense battery power.
Even if NVIDIA could shrink the GPU down in size and weight, power issues would overcome horsepower limitations. Battery technology simply isn’t keeping up with processor technology. “Battery is probably the biggest limitation,” Chandrasekhar said.
Google argues that the best time to get VR going — regardless of technological capability — is right now. “We want everyone to experience virtual reality in a simple, fun, and inexpensive way. That’s the goal of the Cardboard project,” the Cardboard website reads. Beyond expanding the reach of virtual reality, Google specifically calls out developers that it hopes will, “build the next generation of immersive digital experiences.” Silly as it might look, Google Cardboard and other mobile VR solutions look to offer a foundational experience for both the development community — you know, the folks who make this stuff really amazing — and for mainstream, non-technophiles.
TWO PATHS, ONE RESULT
Chances are, you don’t have a 4K screen on your smartphone. You might soon, but you probably don’t just yet. When you do — when we all do — the concept of mobile VR will seem a bit less gimmicky and a bit more like a real product. When processors are more capable, when batteries last longer, and the line between PC and mobile phone blurs just a bit more, mobile VR won’t feel like such a foundational step on the way to the promise of “presence.”
For now, mobile VR can serve as a taste of the medium. An amuse-bouche to the medium. A gateway drug to the presence you’ll find on devices like the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus. And that’s not a bad thing! Before long, devices like Rift and Morpheus will be rudimentary, their abilities easily accomplished on mobile, and the two virtual reality paths will (at least in part) rejoin.
Whether the goal is growing the medium, getting to market early, providing “presence,” or something else entirely, the result is the same: we all get to play with a bunch of rad VR headsets. Oh, and hopefully witness the birth of a major new medium. No big.
[Image credit: Valve (Steam Dev Days 2014 slide), SamMobile (Gear VR)]
Way back in 2011, PlayStation Network services and websites went dark due to “an external intrusion.” Anonymous claimed responsibility, names, passwords and possible payment information was lost in a data breach, and everybody in general had a bad time. Sony apologized for the fiasco with a “Welcome Back” package, handing out free (older) games to anybody willing to turn their PlayStation back on — but that wasn’t the end of it. The company still had to face a class action lawsuit for losses caused by identity thefts and the needs of gamers who failed to participate in its apology giveaway before it closed. Now the company has reached a $15 million settlement. The short version? More free stuff.
Claimants who didn’t participate in the original “Welcome Back” program will be offered one of 14 PlayStation 3 or PlayStation Portable games and three PS3 themes, or a three-month subscription to PlayStation Plus. It’s not all giveaways, though — folks with documented identity theft charges will be able to reap up to $2,500 per claim, and users of Sony’s old Qricity service will be able to get a month of Music Unlimited service in recompense. MMO gamers who lost time in virtual worlds are eligible for a $4.50 credit to their SOE accounts, too. You can check out the full court decision below. Forgot all about the 2011 breach? Well, “welcome back.”
Source: Washington Examiner
That was fast. After Microsoft announced the Xbox One is going to get Blu-ray 3D support in an update soon, Sony’s PlayStation Europe arm has responded by finally revealing the same feature is coming to the PS4. There’s no word yet on any other other home theater related features we’d love to see make the jump from PS3 to PS4 (Bluetooth remote, DLNA, MP3 playback), or a specific release date, but software update 1.75 is the one we’re looking forward to. It’s hard to say which is the bigger coincidence — that this feature is confirmed just days after the XB1 or that it comes as we’re finding out about the PSN outage settlement. Hey, at least it’s not another stability update.
Coming soon: PS4 system software update 1.75 adds 3D Blu-ray film support. #4ThePlayers
- PlayStation Europe (@PlayStationEU) July 24, 2014
Source: PlayStation Europe (Twitter)
Sony’s next flagship, Xperia Z3 is definitely one of the most anticipated devices of 2014. We’ve seen it leak recently in a photo sized up next to the original Samsung Galaxy Note. It’s time to take a look at some alleged specs of this device.
@evleaks usually has some pretty solid information when it comes to leaks. According to the leaker Xperia Z3′s specs will look like this:
- Snapdragon 801 2.4GHz quad-core chip
- 3GB of RAM
- Adreno 330 GPU
- 5.15″ 1080p display
- 16GB of internal storage (with probable microSD expansion although the leak doesn’t mention that)
- 20.7MP main camera
- 2.1MP front-facing shooter
- Android 4.4.4 KitKat OS out of the box
To be quote honest this looks a lot like the current-gen Xperia flagship, the Z2 model. The only exceptions are the screen size, 5.15″ compared to the Z2′s 5.2″, clock speed of the processor which should be negligibly higher on the Z2 and the front-facing shooter which should be 2.1MP on the Z3 compared to the Z2′s 2.2MP.
@evleaks is usually extremely accurate with its leaks, so we’re taking this one rather seriously, although these specs look rather weird. We understand there’s no need to go higher with the specs at this point considering this device will work like a beast. We did however expect from Sony to bump them up a bit, considering everyone else is doing it. I guess we can applaud them for taking the high road considering there’s no need for any considerable spec bumps at this point.
It’s going to be interesting to see how will the Z3 sell if these specs are in fact accurate. At a first glance there’s really no need to trade in your Z2 for a Z3, but who knows what Sony has up its sleeve when it comes to this device. We’ll just have to wait and see, and I say it again, all this presuming these specifications are accurate.
What do you think?
Whether you’re looking to replace your laptop or just find something to keep you entertained, there’s a tablet out there to suit you. But with an ever-increasing array of slates crowding the market, narrowing down the list can be a chore. So we’ve sorted through the pile and picked out some of our favorites for both power users and media consumers. Our complete buyer’s guide is always just a few clicks away, but feel free to cruise through the gallery below for a quick rundown of the best tablets you can buy today.
Welcome, ladygeeks and gentlenerds, to the new era of gaming. The one where you get to watch, and comment, as other people livestream gameplay from next-gen consoles. Because games! They’re fun!
When the folks behind Halo, Bungie Studios, offered a taste of their next big franchise earlier this year, we jumped in to show it off. And now that Destiny‘s beta is open on PlayStation 4, we’re back to jump in once more and explore the upcoming blockbuster a final time before its official launch on September 9th. Rather than employ wildly expensive dark magic to show Destiny, we’re using the delightfully free Twitch service. Join us right here at 12PM ET (or thereabouts — technical issues do sometimes occur) for an hour-long exploration of Bungie’s next big game, Destiny.
Look, we’re not gonna tell you how to spend your hard-earned money. If you want to spend two actual dollars enabling your Killzone: Shadow Fall character to fart — yes, that kind of fart — and “plank” (this) on PlayStation 4, go for it. But allow us this moment of plea: please don’t. Here’s the description of what your $2 gets you:
“It’s all fun and games until someone loses a game. (Or so they say). Show your fallen enemies, not everything need [sic] be taken seriously. This pack contains Fart, Planking and Comedy spotlight moves.”
One part of us wants to know what “Comedy spotlight moves” could possibly be given that the highly comedic farting and planking verbs have already been used.
We’re not gonna make the guilt plea (“there are children starving all over the world”), and we’re not gonna appeal to your financial sense (it’s just two bucks, right?). Your common sense, however, is fair game. The long and short is this: forking over any cash for this kind of junk DLC sends the wrong message to both the game’s developer (Guerrilla Games) and its publisher (Sony). We’re not saying it isn’t funny — it very well may be! — but we are saying you shouldn’t have to pay for it. It is indeed optional, yes, which is exactly why we suggest you optionally choose to skip this. Vote with your dollars, y’all! Or end up like the angry lady above.
[Image credit: Shutterstock]
Source: PlayStation Network
New consoles are never easy on the wallet, so anything to take some of the sting out of that purchase is always appreciated. Case in point: well-known retailer ShopTo has just dropped the price of a brand-new PlayStation 4 to a penny under £300, which is quite simply the lowest price we’ve come across yet. That’s basically a £50 saving compared with almost every other retailer (barring one that’s selling the console for £325 via Play.com). This particular deal is only available through ShopTo’s eBay storefront, and we’ve no idea how long the discount will be in effect for, so you might wanna ride that impulse straight to the checkout to be sure you don’t miss out.
Source: eBay (ShopTo)
Excited to play the Destiny on PlayStation Network? You’re not the only one, and demand as the game’s beta opened its doors today seems to have the service stumbling. A message on the PlayStation Knowledge Center says PSN access is “Intermittently available” so if it’s working, great but don’t be surprised if you notice some odd behavior. Xbox fans shouldn’t be too quick to point fingers though, since besides waiting another week to try out an early version of Bungie’s next big game you may also experience issues with Xbox Live. The Xbox Live Dashboard points out problems for some users signing in or accessing the Video and Music services, but says there is a team working on it and promises another updated within the half hour. Since Nintendo Network appears to be running just fine, we can only assume which culprit is behind this.
Update: The PlayStation Network status has been upgraded to “online” so go forth and beta test freely.
Having Xbox Live connectivity issues on the Xbox One? The proper teams are on it! More updates being posted here: http://t.co/99xfLNeme4 ^AC
- Xbox Support (1-5) (@XboxSupport) July 17, 2014
If you are having issues connecting to PSN, please try again later. Thanks for your patience as we look into it.
- Ask PlayStation (@AskPlayStation) July 17, 2014
It looks like Sony still has bragging rights that the PlayStation 4 is the top-selling console. Not to be outdone by the latest NPD report, the PlayStation Twitter account announced that the Sony’s new console is still outselling the Xbox One, for the sixth month in a row. Yesterday, Microsoft said that following the Xbox One’s $100 price drop it’d seen a “strong spike in interest” and sales of the console jumped by “more than double” the previous month. It’s worth noting however, that Redmond didn’t release specific sales numbers for May and, to be fair, neither did Sony. The latest report from the NPD Group plays it a bit vague, too, but says that combined sales of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were higher than combined totals for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. What’s more, compared to last June, hardware sales saw a 106 percent increase overall. Sales of home consoles combined represented a 200 percent jump compared to last year, which is likely due to the two new consoles being available.
In terms of software, the reason most people buy new consoles in the first place, six of the same games from last month’s top ten remain the same. including Mario Kart 8, Wolfenstein: The New Order and Watch Dogs. However, overall software sales for June dipped some 67 percent compared to last year, which the NPD group attributes to last June’s launches of The Last of Us on PS3, Animal Crossing: New Leaf on Nintendo’s 3DS handheld and the disc-based version of Minecraft for the Xbox 360. It seems like the summer drought is a bit drier this year than last, but hey, at least we’ve got the Destiny beta now, right?
Breaking news: PS4 is #1 top-selling US next-gen console in June, 6th month in a row. Thanks for your support! <3 pic.twitter.com/r5bTKg4wYf
- PlayStation (@PlayStation) July 17, 2014
Ok, #NPD time: Hardware sales still jumping (up 106% to $292.7M) while game sales fall again (down 5% to $298.2M). Accessories were up 1%
- Ian Sherr (@iansherr) July 17, 2014