The Oculus Rift proved that high-end VR has a place in your home, but so far it’s lacked one major feature: motion controls. That’s something both the HTC Vive and Sony PlayStation VR offered from the start, and it’s gone a long way toward helping those platforms deliver more immersive virtual-reality experiences. Now with the long-awaited $199 Touch Controllers, Rift users can finally join in on the fun. Sure, it’s taken nine months for Oculus to actually put motion controls in the hands of consumers, but it’s clear that the company hasn’t been twiddling its thumbs. Instead, it’s delivered one of the most refined game controllers I’ve ever held.
Even if you’re a diehard gamer, the Oculus Touch controllers probably don’t look like anything you’ve seen before. They’re more like how a sci-fi film would imagine a futuristic gaming-input device: beautiful, but unwieldy at first glance. The Touch controllers are made from smooth black plastic (they look a lot like the Xbox One’s controller), and they feel pretty sturdy. It’s hard to tell this is Oculus’ first attempt at a gamepad.
Once you get past the unique design and get your hands on them, though, you’ll notice something surprising: They’re actually incredibly intuitive. The Touch controllers are contoured for your left and right hands, and once you grab their rounded handles, your fingers will naturally fall into place. Both feature analog sticks; two face buttons; triggers, which your index fingers rest on; and grip buttons, located underneath your middle fingers. Additionally, the left controller features a menu button right below the analog stick, while the Oculus home button sits on the right controller. Their prominent circular rings help with motion tracking, but you won’t ever need to hold them.
You also get another Oculus sensor in the controller’s box, which allows the Rift to handle VR experiences in which you’re standing and moving around. It’s not quite room-scale VR like the HTC Vive, though you can buy a third sensor for $79 to make that happen (or a fourth for very large spaces). Because the original Rift sensor sits on the far right side of my office desk, I set up the second on the far left.
Since they’re both smaller and lighter than the Vive and PS VR’s gamepads, the Oculus Touch controllers are also better suited for extended virtual-reality sessions. Admittedly, size and weight isn’t a huge issue with the competition, either, but the Oculus controllers feel significantly more comfortable. I’d also attribute that partly to better ergonomics. HTC’s Vive controllers fit into your hands well, but they’re very large. And the PlayStation Motion controller wasn’t built specifically with VR in mind, so it’s a bit tougher to use when your eyes are covered with a headset.
Each Touch controller is powered by a single AA battery, which fits inside the base via a magnetic latch. As usual, I would have preferred it if Oculus had included removable, rechargeable batteries instead (perhaps with micro-USB support to make life easier). I can understand not building in rechargeable batteries, like on the HTC Vive and PS VR, because they make for much more expensive replacements if anything goes wrong. But it would be nice to re-energize these controllers as easily as the other gadgets in my life. According to Oculus engineers, the controllers should last around 30 hours on a single battery without haptic feedback, and 20 hours with haptic feedback.
Setting up the Touch controllers was simple: I plugged the additional sensor into a USB 3.0 port and followed the on-screen instructions in the Oculus app. I was surprised to learn that both sensors have to be facing straight forward to work with the Touch devices — mostly because I was used to having them point toward me from a corner of my desk. Similar to the Vive’s setup, you’ll also have to trace out the boundary of playable free space in your area. That information is used for the Oculus Guardian feature, which creates virtual walls when you’re in VR to keep you from bumping into obstacles.
Once everything is configured, you’re thrown into “First Contact,” a retro VR experience that steps you through the Touch controller’s capabilities. It teaches you how to recognize all of the individual buttons, grab objects and make gestures like pointing your fingers all while playing with things like virtual fireworks. It’s a good way to whet your appetite, because plenty of games will use similar input schemes.
When it comes to motion tracking, the Touch controllers kept up with hectic things — like shooting several enemies virtual gun — or more-precise movements, like setting down an object gently on a table. On my desktop, which is powered by an Intel Core i7 4790k CPU running at 4GHz, 16GB of 2400MHz DDR3 RAM, and an NVIDIA GTX 1080 GPU, I didn’t have any issues with spotty motion tracking, even in instances where I had to aim at something behind me. It felt significantly more stable than the PlayStation VR’s motion tracking, which relies on a single depth-sensing camera and less-powerful hardware.
What really surprised me about the Oculus Touch controllers, though, is that they’re also very good game controllers. The analog sticks rotate smoothly and have a ridged outer ring, which keeps your thumbs from slipping off. The four face buttons and triggers all deliver a solid amount of feedback (once again, they remind me of the Xbox One’s gamepad).
Of course, those are just my thoughts after playing with them for a few weeks; the real test of a controller is seeing how it feels after a month or so of strenuous play. I’ve only had a few weeks with these (and for the record, my battery life for each is around 20 percent).
One aspect that I didn’t appreciate as much in earlier Touch demos: Each button on the controllers is capacitive, so it can tell when you have your finger on a button while not pressing it down. It can also detect if you lift your fingers off a button — which is useful for things like the pointing gesture I mentioned above. Thanks to this refined finger detection, the controllers do a better job of keeping you “present” in VR experiences. And it’s also something I expect we’ll see in other gamepads in the future.
I’ve had game controllers in my hand since I got an NES at age 5, but the Oculus Touch are the first to feel as if they’re practically extensions of my body.
At this point, we’re well into the second major wave of VR releases (the first coincided with the launch of the Rift and Vive; this one was kicked off by the PS VR). Oculus says 53 titles will offer Touch support at launch, including existing games like The Climb and Job Simulator. As for next year, you’ve got games like Arkitka.1 and Giant Cop: Justice Above to look forward to. Plenty of Vive Steam VR titles will also work with the Oculus Touch, even if they’re not available in the Oculus store.
One thing is for sure: Your Touch controllers won’t be gathering any dust soon. Here are my impressions of a few titles available at launch:
‘I Expect You to Die’
VR was practically made for locked-room puzzles, and I Expect You to Die doesn’t disappoint. Developed by Schell Games, it puts you in the role of a spy who always finds himself in sticky situations. At first, it’s a booby-trapped car that you need to drive out of a plane, but it’s not long before you’re stopping superviruses from wiping out millions. It’s a fine showing for the Oculus Touch controllers because it demonstrates how well they can manage fine, methodical movement.
At one point, you have to maneuver something through an array of laser sensors, all while spraying window-washer fluid to make the lasers visible. Shortly after that, you’re handling beakers of potentially exploding material. You’ll die a lot, but as with the best games, it’ll usually be your fault — not the controller’s.
‘Serious Sam’ VR
“I just spent 30 minutes in VR and boy are my arms tired.” That’s me after every Serious Sam VR session.
The original game was an insane mashup of action-movie machismo, big guns and boatloads of carnage … so you’d imagine that would translate to VR pretty well. The VR version is just as bombastic, but because you’re actually physically aiming guns and dodging an assortment of projectiles, it’s also quite the workout. I could only play it for around a half hour at a time without getting exhausted. But for those glorious minutes, I was in shooter heaven. It’s exactly what my 13-year-old self dreamed of.
Serious Sam is the fastest-paced VR game I’ve played, and it’s a testament to the Oculus Touch’s tracking capabilities. Even as I was whipping guns all around my office and spraying bullets everywhere, the controllers never skipped a motion-tracking beat.
A Doctor Strange fan’s dream come true, The Unspoken is a multiplayer magic battle game that puts you right in the shoes of a destructive spellcaster. Most of your time will be spent throwing fireballs at your enemies and shielding incoming fire while teleporting around a stage. But you’ll also have to do things like make motion gestures for powerful spells and hammer out mystical items mid-battle. It’s a prime example of the versatility of Oculus Touch — they’re able to keep up with the fast-paced action while also being accurate enough for complex gestures.
‘Robo Recall’ (demo)
While the full game will be available free next year, the Robo Recall demo I played was sublime. Developed by the Unreal Engine masterminds Epic — people who really know their shooters — the game puts you in the role of an enforcer who has to take down rogue robots. And, yes, you can bet that’ll involve plenty of guns and explosions.
Like many VR games, you move around by teleporting (a mechanic that’ll hopefully get refined before launch, because reorienting yourself is a pain). The real focus, though, is on shooting — and it’s spectacular. The Oculus Touch controllers are incredibly accurate, both when it comes to fast-paced blasting and slowing down to nail an accurate shot. And like Epic’s Bullet Train demo (which was used to show off Touch prototypes), you can also slow down time, yank bullets out of the air and throw them right back at those nasty bots.
Much like Google’s Tilt Brush, Quill is Oculus’ attempt at a VR painting app. It was originally created to help develop the VR short Dear Angelica, but it has since evolved into a worthy virtual drawing tool in its own right. I’m not the best person to judge the merit of artistic tools, but I can say that the motion tracking of your virtual brushes seems on-par with Google’s app. And even for those who can’t draw, there’s still something magical about doodling in three-dimensional space.
It’s pretty clear what Oculus is up against: the HTC Vive and the PlayStation VR. Sony’s option is still the cheapest pathway to consumer VR — and if anything, the Touch controllers make the Rift an even more inaccessible platform. Because they’re another $200 on top of the Rift’s $600 cost, it puts the platform on the same level as the $800 Vive.
The choice really comes down to which headset and platform you prefer. If you want to walk around in VR environments today, the Vive’s hardware can do that. The Rift, together with the Touch, will let you only stand and take a few steps around a small space. You can also play games on both platforms, no matter which headset you own. Personally, I’ll probably end up spending more time with the Rift, because the headset is so much more comfortable to wear.
Oculus had one job: Bring motion controls to the Rift. With the Touch controllers, it managed to do that well. And, surprisingly enough, the company also proved it could make a damn fine game controller. If you’ve already invested in a Rift, the Oculus Touch is a no-brainer purchase. And if you’ve been holding out for VR platforms to iron out some wrinkles, it’s a sign that the virtual-reality ecosystem’s growth isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
Despite agreeing to crack down on the spread of hate speech across their networks earlier this year, four of the world’s biggest technology companies aren’t delivering on their promises, Reuters reports. A review conducted by EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova found that Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft failed to flag and remove offensive content within 24 hours, with less than half of cases being responded to in that timeframe. If they don’t improve their response times, new legislation could be introduced to force them to do so.
“In practice the companies take longer and do not yet achieve this goal. They only reviewed 40 percent of the recorded cases in less than 24 hours,” a Commission official told Reuters. “After 48 hours the figure is more than 80 percent. This shows that the target can realistically be achieved, but this will need much stronger efforts by the IT companies.”
In May, Facebook, Twitter, Google (specifically YouTube) and Microsoft signed a voluntary code of conduct that would standardize the way users report hate speech and allow law enforcement agencies to act swiftly on harmful content. This included the removal of such content within 24 hours. They also committed to support educational programs and promote “independent counter-narratives” to hateful messages.
According to the Financial Times, the report found that (unsurprisingly) Twitter was slowest to respond while YouTube was fastest. Jourová didn’t single out Twitter, though, choosing to direct her ire at all of the companies involved: “If Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft want to convince me and the ministers that the non-legislative approach can work, they will have to act quickly and make a strong effort in the coming months,” she told the paper on Sunday.
Justice ministers will meet in Brussels to discuss the report on Thursday. Also on the agenda will be a discussion on how the companies are tackling “terrorist propaganda” and what evidence they can provide to help make convictions.
Source: Reuters, Financial Times
The New York Times
How should Facebook combat fake news? The company isn’t sure yet, but one tech journalist argues fact-checking isn’t the answer. The Information’s editor-in-chief Jessica Lessin penned an op-ed for The New York Times this week explaining why Facebook shouldn’t take on the task of fact-checking news links that its users share on the site. From censorship to truth not always being black and white, this piece lays out why the social network allowing editors to decide what’s newsworthy could impact privacy and journalism as a whole.
Reddit Is Tearing Itself Apart
The_Donald, a community of Trump supporters, is posting coded hate speech, going after other Redditors and breaking the site’s basic rules of use while the folks running Reddit aren’t helping combat the problem.
Is VR Technology About to Revolutionize the Way We Experience Music?
The combination of VR music videos and affordable headsets that run off of your phone could mean big changes for how artists get their music to fans.
The Fault in Stars Hollow
There were multiple noteworthy Gilmore Girls pieces over at The Atlantic this week, including an analysis of why Rory never made it as a journalist. This one addresses the town’s biggest flaw: It’s unwelcoming to outsiders.
Go Ahead, Get Sweaty. Microparticles Can Cool You Down
A company is using microscopic particles from coconut shells and volcanic sands in clothing to evaporate sweat more efficiently and keep you cooler during a workout.
The proliferation of fake news on its network has haunted Facebook since the presidential election. Initially downplaying its impact, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has come around to start speaking on the social platform’s action plan, including cutting off ad money. But now they have a new plan to ensure their users get quality content with actual facts: Handpick publications themselves.
Sources tell Business Insider that the new feature, called Collections, will serve up stories and media from sources chosen by Facebook. The social media titan has been courting entertainment and media companies in the last few weeks to create content for the new section. Early partners have been told that their created content will be inserted directly into users’ News Feed, giving it a much broader reach.
But the entertainment focus reason enough to expect that Facebook will likely use Collections to both editorially curate superior content and compete with Snapchat. Its Discover section is seen by its 150 million daily users. But other information, from its partner list or whether Collections will include advertising or when it will debut, is currently unknown.
Source: Business Insider
After a barrage of criticism over fake news stories on Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that over 99 percent of content on the site was authentic. Zuckerberg has since backed off that sentiment slightly, admitting that fake news is indeed a major issue for the company. At Harvard’s Campaign Managers Conference this week, the company’s vice president of communications and public policy had more to say on the topic.
“For so long, we had resisted having standards about whether something’s newsworthy because we did not consider ourselves a service that was predominantly for the distribution of news,” explained Facebook’s Elliot Schrage. “And that was wrong.”
Schrage’s comments came during a panel discussion about the role of media during the 2016 US presidential election. “Until this election, our focus was on helping people share,” he said. “This election forced us to question whether we have a role in assessing the validity of content people share. And I have to tell you all — that’s a pretty damn scary role to play.”
Of course, policing content then raises issues of censorship and Facebook doesn’t know how it should proceed just yet. The company has already announced it plans to give users easier ways to report hoaxes, develop better detection before links even hit the News Feed and cutting ad revenue to “misleading, illegal and deceptive” sites. According to a recent BuzzFeed report, Facebook employees have unofficially taken on the task of battling the fake news problem as well.
“We have a responsibility here,” Schrage said. “I think we recognize that. This has been a learning for us.”
Schrage explained that Facebook isn’t interested in hiring human editors who decide what hits the News Feed. The company already changed course from having employees choose trending topics in favor of an algorithm-based approach. Even after the switch, Facebook is still dealing with fake stories popping up there. Another report claimed editors were knowingly suppressing conservative links, an allegation which Facebook later denied.
So, how does Mr. Schrage propose Facebook alleviate the problem? First, he said that the tools that allow users to report fake news are “not well-done” and need an overhaul. He also hinted at potential solutions that seek to change user behavior rather than pulling content that’s shared from certain sites. Schrage called it a “think before you share” program, and it sounds a bit like an awareness campaign that could be ignored by a large portion of the site’s billions of users.
“We’re in the business of giving users the power to share,” Schrage said. “Part of that is helping them share thoughtfully and responsibly, and consume thoughtfully and responsibly.” As Vox notes, merely passing the responsibility to users is a similar approach to that of Twitter on the topic of abuse. And that course of action isn’t doing much to reassure people using the service.
We’re less than a week away from the December 6th release of the long-awaited Oculus Touch controllers, and it looks like lucky Rift owners will have plenty of reasons to use them. Oculus just announced that they’ll be launching with 53 supported titles. That includes existing games like The Climb and Job Simulator, as well as new entries like the magic multiplayer fest The Unspoken and the graffiti simulator Kingspray. Check out our coverage of those games, along with plenty of other intriguing Oculus Touch titles, from the company’s developer conference last month.
Looking ahead to 2017, Oculus says we can expect titles like Robo Recall, Arkitka.1 and Giant Copy: Justice Above. The company also revealed that its demo title Toybox will also be available for free when the Touch Controllers launch. That’ll join Medium, Quill and Dead and Buried among the free titles Oculus is offering, as well as the pre-order bonuses VR Sports and The Unspoken.
Though movies and TV shows would have us believe that artificial intelligence means machines rising up against us, the truth is much more benign. Indeed, many of us use AI on a regular basis: Just ask Siri for directions to a restaurant or tell Shazam to name a song. This is certainly true of Facebook too, which uses AI and machine learning for a variety of tasks such as identifying images, translating languages and, yes, ranking your News Feed. With such a vested interest in AI, Facebook is releasing a series of videos today to offer a brief introduction to what it is and how it works.
“We want to tell people it’s not magic,” says Yann LeCun, Facebook’s director of AI research. “This is not The Terminator. It’s real technology that’s useful.” In a blog post released today, LeCun and Joaquin Candela, Facebook’s director of applied machine learning, wrote that there is nothing artificial about AI: “AI is a rigorous science focused on designing intelligent systems and machines, using algorithmic techniques borrowed from the human brain.” This, LeCun and Candela say, includes the ability to learn from the past and recognize patterns.
For example, in one of the videos, LeCun says that in order for a computer to figure out if an image is of a car or a dog, it needs a learning algorithm. This requires millions of samples — after all, there are hundreds of different kinds of cars and dogs and thousands of ways they can be shown in a photo — and then that algorithm has to have a “generalization ability” in order to take what it has learned and apply it to images it’s never seen before. The result might seem magical, yet the process is anything but.
“It’s more prevalent than you suspect,” says Candela. “A lot of experiences simply wouldn’t work without AI.” That’s why one in four engineers at Facebook is well-versed in some form of AI. Facebook uses AI to vocally describe what’s in a photo to those who are visually impaired and offer quick translations of foreign languages.
This groundwork of AI and machine learning paid off when Instagram started to experiment with ranking instead of showing photos in reverse chronological order. “If none of that had existed, it would’ve taken a very long time,” says Candela. But since the company already had years of work on this subject, the team was able to implement the algorithm quickly.
Yet these algorithms have had their fair share of critics. Recent revelations about the rise of fake news on Facebook raise questions about how Newsfeed ranks these stories. LeCun and Candela say, however, that this is largely a product issue and not one with the technology itself.
“One thing that is important to explain is that different layers are involved in building an experience with AI or machine learning,” says LeCun. He compares AI to that of an unbiased oracle. “It might tell me the probabilities that it’ll rain in Mountain View, for example. It doesn’t have an opinion. It’s likely to have an error in both directions. You can take those unbiased oracles and then build a product experience from that.” Essentially, Lecun says that when it comes to issues that deal with content, that’s more about policies and product design rather than the underlying technology.
However, Candela says that the AI team could help in coming up with guidelines on how to avoid certain pitfalls and dangers. That’s one of the reasons why Facebook’s AI team is open-sourcing their efforts: so they can improve the dialogue surrounding such matters.
As for why they think this AI education is so important: “AI is going to affect our lives,” says LeCun. “It’s very important for people to have some idea on how it works and what it can do.”
If you’re a Prisma fan, you were likely heartbroken when the AI-driven art app lost its Facebook Live streaming feature. Why did it go almost as soon as it arrived? Now we know. The Prisma team tells TechCrunch that Facebook shut off its access to the Live programming kit over claims that this wasn’t the intended use for the framework. The platform is meant for live footage from “other sources,” such as pro cameras or game feeds. It’s an odd reason when Facebook’s public developer guidelines don’t explicitly forbid use with smartphones, but the social network does state that it’s primarily for non-smartphone uses.
We’ve asked Facebook for a comment on its decision and will let you know if there’s something to add. However, the shutoff comes right as Facebook is getting its own creative livestreaming technology off the ground. Its recently acquired app MSQRD has no problem streaming face-swapped video on Facebook Live, and the company recently previewed Prisma-like live art filters. At first blush, it looks like Facebook may be repeating what it did to Snapchat, Telegram and Vine — deny access to rivals so that Facebook’s equivalent services don’t face competition.
Prisma isn’t about to fight to the death to reclaim the feature. “It’s up to Facebook to decide which apps or devices can broadcast to Facebook. It’s their policy and we respect it,” Prisma’s CEO tells us. The company also informs TC that live video (from other services, of course) is still part of its future. It’s right about the policy — Facebook is a private company, not the internet at large, and doesn’t have an obligation to host competitors. However, the decision is a blunt reminder that internet giants (not just Facebook) can and will protect their turf, and that you base key features around their services at your own risk.
That report that went around earlier this month was right on the money: Facebook really was working on more Messenger games. Today, the social network has launched its HTML5 cross-platform gaming experience called “Instant Games,” along with 17 titles that include some familiar names like Pac-Man. Facebook is calling it “cross-platform” because you can play those games not just within the chat app, but also right in your News Feed. They even work on both mobile and the web without having to install additional apps.
Unlike Facebook’s first two Messenger games, these 17 titles are no secret features. You can access them from the new game controller icon below Messenger’s text box or through the website’s new Instant Games tab. The company says they offer a “fun and social experience,” since you can play with anyone and compete with other friends for a place on the leaderboard, though you can choose to only share scores with people you’ve played with before. It’ll also make discovering new games much easier, since you can instantly play anything friends recommend or post as status updates.
The 17 games listed below are now available to play in 30 countries on Android and iOS devices. Facebook promises to release more games in the future and will likely make everything playable in more locations, as well.
- PAC-MAN (BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc.)
- Galaga (BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc.)
- ARKANOID (TAITO CORPORATION)
- SPACE INVADERS (TAITO CORPORATION)
- TRACK & FIELD 100M (Konami Digital Entertainment Co., Ltd.)
- Words with Friends: Frenzy (Zynga)
- Shuffle Cats Mini (King)
- EverWing (Blackstorm)
- Hex (FRVR)
- Endless Lake (Spilgames)
- Templar 2048 (Vonvon)
- The Tribez: Puzzle Rush (Game Insight)
- 2020 Connect (Softgames)
- Puzzle Bobble (TAITO CORPORATION / Blackstorm)
- Zookeeper (Kiteretsu)
- Brick Pop (Gamee)
- Wordalot Express (MAG Interactive)
Facebook has been getting into trouble for its discriminatory content a lot lately, and it recently yielded to pressure about some of its practices in the US. But the social networking giant could face tougher restrictions in Germany around the content posted by its members. According to The New York Times, Facebook came under fire there for its failure to, in a timely manner, remove a post that targeted Jewish people and businesses.
The post in question was a map of Berlin that listed the names and addresses of local Jewish institutions and Israeli-owned businesses, and was published on a far-right group on Facebook. The map was reportedly displayed under a banner with the words “Jews Among Us,” and resulted in at least one Israeli business owner in the city receiving phone calls saying, “I hate Jews,” according to the Times.
Some of the people identified in the map complained to Facebook, which reportedly did not remove the post at first. The company said the map complied with its community standards. That drew the ire of others in social media, local press as well as German lawmakers. According to the Times, Facebook deleted the group’s entire page, including the offending post, within 48 hours of the public outcry.
A spokesperson for the company told Engadget that the page is no longer available, and that it is “very sorry for any distress caused.” The company’s director of policy in Europe, Richard Allen, also conceded in an interview with the Times that the post qualified as hate speech, and should have been taken down.
On its Community Standards page, Facebook says it “may remove certain kinds of sensitive content or limit the audience that sees it.” It also says that it believes encountering different opinions can lead to “important conversations about difficult topics.”
Allowing (and even fostering) free and open discussion while preventing the spread of inflammatory, discriminatory and all-out fake content is a delicate balancing act that the social network is still struggling to master. It’s been criticized for its recent failure to prevent the proliferation of false news during the recent American election, and has run afoul of German authorities multiple times for similar issues. But the company has, slowly but surely, been implementing changes to combat these high-profile issues.
Source: The New York Times