A year ago, virtual reality felt almost like a pipe dream. But during 2016, we saw the launches of the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and Daydream, a new mobile platform from Google. VR is here, and it’s very much . . . well, real. We’re still waiting for more games to appear and for the price of truly immersive platforms to fall, but it’s an auspicious start for a category that’s sometimes felt overhyped.
Of course, there was even more great stuff this year beyond VR. We’ve seen the steady evolution of smartphones with Google’s Pixel devices, the iPhone 7 Plus and Samsung’s Galaxy S7 line (with the Note 7 being the obvious exception). Both Dell and HP delivered some of the most refined laptops we’ve ever seen (sorry, MacBook Pro). And we can think of a few more standouts too. Find all of our favorite gadgets of 2016 in the gallery below.
Check out all of Engadget’s year-in-review coverage right here.
Thumper, the trippy rhythm game with a pulsing electronic soundtrack (no, the other one) was one of the surprise hits of PlayStation VR’s launch. And now it’s headed elsewhere. That’s right, folks with HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headsets will be able to find the title in their store of choice now. The recently released update on Steam adds “basic support” for Oculus Touch and Vive wands as well. With what I’ve played of the game on PSVR though, I’m not sure how motion control is going to improve the experience — a gamepad is a perfect fit as it is. But hey, Thumper in more places is hard to complain about.
Source: Steam, Oculus Home
HTC spun its Vive VR business into a subsidiary back in June and today the company announced it’s launching its own studio for VR app and game development. The appropriately named Vive Studios will release games that are developed in-house and by other companies in an effort to boost interest in its virtual reality gear. The first title from the new initiative is called Arcade Saga: a trio of games that shows off HTC’s room-scale VR from the internal 2 Bears Studio.
According to Venture Beat, HTC plans to operate Vive Studios much like Microsoft and Sony do for their internal development of Xbox and PlayStation titles. Oculus also has internal studios, one focused on games while the other creates cinematic experiences for the company’s gear.
In addition to games, Vive Studios is working on virtual reality content for cinema, design, real estate sports and more. We’ve already seen uses for the Vive outside of gaming, including BMW employing the tech to design new vehicles. The internal development arm will also build games for HTC’s VR arcade push, an initiative the company says will lead to “thousands” of locations by the end of next year.
In terms of the first release, Arcade Saga is available today for $30 on Steam and the HTC Viveport store. Based on the trailer, Arcade Saga looks two-thirds a modern VR version of Breakout and one-third an archery-style shooter. The title’s three mini games include 84 levels where you’re playing as your computer’s CPU in a battle against the AI henchmen of a computer scientist who goes by Warlock. The so-called Overlords want to keep all AI, like your CPU, enslaved and working as they were intended. It’s a rather elaborate setup, but you can take a look at the game in the trailer down below.
Source: Venture Beat
The world’s most popular virtual reality headset makers have assembled. Google, Oculus, Sony, HTC, Samsung and Acer have come together to create a non-profit organization called the Global Virtual Reality Association (or the far snappier GVRA, for short). The association’s goal is to “promote responsible development and adoption of VR globally,” according to its website, and members will do so by researching, developing and sharing what it believes to be industry best practices.
GVRA also intends to serve as a resource for policymakers, consumers and industries interested in the medium. In a statement on the organization’s website, Google’s director of immersive design Jon Wiley said,”The GVRA is a necessary first step toward ensuring great VR experiences for everyone.” Execs from the other founding companies made similar statements, echoing the same sentiment. Although Microsoft’s HoloLens is technically an AR device, it’s a bit surprising to not see the Windows maker in this list.
Citing VR’s potential to improve “sectors ranging from education to healthcare,” as well as the resulting contributions to the global economy, GVRA also states that its founding members will work to maximize the platform’s potential and to “ensure those gains are shared as broadly around the world as possible.” Considering the clout some of these companies already have in tech, it sounds like this will be the virtual reality authority in the future.
It’s a little concerning that the only affiliates of the organization so far appear to be hardware makers. Hopefully, the GVRA will soon gain some members from different parts of the industry, including representatives who are more invested in the impact of VR on our health.
Source: Global Virtual Reality Association
A couple of weeks ago, HTC launched its latest smartphone, the Bolt, as an exclusive device for US carrier Sprint. But as it turns out, that partnership isn’t as exclusive as first thought, for today the company has announced the Bolt will be coming to Europe, including the UK, under a new name: The HTC 10 Evo.
You’d be right in thinking “Evo” was shorthand for evolution, but the new handset is actually pitched as a sub-flagship, filling a niche between the One A9 and HTC 10. In a couple of ways, the Evo is actually better than the device it sits beneath. It boasts an IP57 dust and waterproofing rating, for example, as well as an 8-megapixel front-facing camera with panoramic selfie mode. The handset also runs Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box, which the HTC 10 hasn’t been updated to just yet.
Then there are the new USB-C “adaptive earphones” included with the device. One of the HTC 10’s clever features allows you to set up a personalised audio profile, but this requires the user to listen to a bunch of tones and report back. On the HTC 10 Evo, however, the fancy new earphones send out a lone ping and create this profile automatically. HTC imagines this feature will be oft-used, as it’s convenient enough that you can quickly recalibrate when you jump off that noisy train and start your quiet walk home, which might benefit from a different audio profile.
Otherwise, though, the Evo is lower specced than the flagship 10, but not by much. We’re talking 3GB of RAM and 32 gigs of expandable storage, an octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor, fingerprint sensor, 3,200mAh battery and 16-megapixel (f/2.0) primary camera with phase detection autofocus (no UltraPixels here). All in all, a pretty powerful device, and one that looks the part too.
In fact, the Evo looks a lot like the gorgeous HTC 10. The newer device has a flat back instead of a curved one though, because the larger chassis needed to accommodate the bigger, 5.5-inch Quad HD display gave HTC more room to pack in all the necessaries. Thus, no hump.
While the Bolt is exclusive to Sprint in the US, HTC isn’t partnering with any carriers in Europe to help shift the HTC 10 Evo. Instead, the company is doing something it’s never done before by only selling the device online. In the UK, at least, HTC doesn’t appear to have the greatest relationship with mobile networks. The HTC 10 was something of a return to form for the company, and yet two of the four major carriers — Vodafone and O2 — decided to ignore the device.
But HTC wants to target a different type of consumer with the 10 Evo. One that doesn’t tend to tie themselves into contracts and prefers to buy their phone outright. For a company that’s benefitted from carrier partners in the past, though, therein lies a new challenge.
We don’t know exactly when the HTC 10 Evo will launch or how much it’s going to cost, but we’re told it’ll be available soon for somewhere between £450 and £500 in the UK. That’s a pretty penny, especially considering you can pick up an HTC 10 for around £500 right now, but then the Evo is a well-built device with an impressive spec sheet of its own.
Whatever price HTC decides on, it will at least be on the fringes of competitive, but there is an elephant in the room. It’s called the OnePlus 3T, it arrives in the UK at the end of November, and though it only sports a 5.5-inch 1080p display, it starts at £399 for one monster of a spec sheet.
We put the 4K-ready Chromecast to the test, saw increasingly less snow around the US, and gawp at the first hybrid Mini — as well as a whole bunch of new cars coming out of the LA Auto Show. There’s also the discovery of a “Watch Dogs 2” character that has fully rendered sex organs for no apparent reason whatsoever. Not just another Thursday.
Better video quality comes at a costReview: Chromecast Ultra
Yes, the Chromecast Ultra does exactly what it promises to do: reliably stream 4K HDR video to compatible TVs. But the (marginal) increase in quality, alongside a lack of 4K content, means the device is hardly a must-buy.
Well, it wasn’t the players’ faultGamer discovers female characters with fully rendered private parts in “Watch Dogs 2,” gets banned
“Watch Dogs 2” tried to keep things as realistic as it could when it tried to offer a hackable gaming world, but it took next to no advanced hacker skillz for one player to discover that at least one of the female character models in the game has a fully rendered vagina. Why? Ubisoft hasn’t said, but revealing the hidden creepy detail was enough to get NeoGAF forum member Goron2000 banned from the Sony Entertainment Network (including PSN). Fortunately, his account was later reinstated.
May contain traces of “courage”The new MacBook Pro (and the Touch Bar) gets the teardown treatment
An iFixit teardown of the 13-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pro reveals that there are even fewer replaceable parts than before. Its solid-state drive is embedded on the motherboard (even the non–Touch Bar model has a removable card), so whatever capacity you choose is what you’ll have for the life of the system. And that Touch Bar, as you might guess, isn’t exactly easy to replace.
All-wheel drive is split between gas and electric enginesThis is Mini’s first hybrid vehicle
Mini unveiled its hybrid all-wheel-drive Countryman S E at the LA Auto Show today. What’s intriguing is that, while it’s an AWD vehicle, the front wheels are powered by the gas engine while the rear ones are connected to an electric motor. The hybrid’s electric system is based on the platform used by parent company BMW’s all-electric eDrive system that powers the i3 and i8 vehicles. That pedigree will extend to an all-electric Mini that will launch in urban areas in 2019.
Studying is hard — even for artificial intelligenceJapanese AI fails to make the grade for Tokyo’s top university
A team of scientists from the National Institute of Informatics in Japan have given up on attempting to make their AI smart enough to get into the University of Tokyo. What exactly held it back? Team member Noriko Arai said AIs just aren’t “good at answering a type of question that requires the ability to grasp meaning in a broad spectrum.”
Google Earth is now available in VRThe entire planet, inside your VR headset
Google’s virtual Earth is now available in virtual reality. For the first time, users can walk through real city streets, fly through canyons and teleport to anywhere in the world. Earth VR covers the entire 196.9 million square miles of the planet, but for now you’ll need HTC’s Vive headset to explore. Google Earth VR will be coming to even more platforms (and presumably Google’s own Daydream VR) sometime next year.
But wait, there’s more…
- Tesla cars will get even quicker through a software update
- “White” Twitter bots can help curb racism
- US snow cover hits an all-time low for November
- Maven offers free birth control prescriptions via digital doctors
Smartphone-based virtual reality headsets are great and all, but for the best games and experiences you need a dedicated facehugger tethered to a powerful PC like it’s a diver’s lifeline. Wireless hardware is one of the inevitable next steps for VR, and a company called TPCAST is already developing a cord-cutting peripheral for the Vive, supported by HTC’s VR accelerator program. MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) is making headway in this area too, today releasing research into a wireless system that’s both headset-agnostic and could address some unforeseen problems with peripherals like TPCAST’s.
MIT CSAIL’s prototype system, known as MoViR, uses millimeter waves to send data from a transmitter that’s hooked up to a computer to the headset’s receiver. These high-frequency radio waves are capable of maintaining wireless connections at speeds over 6 Gbps — enough bandwidth to stream the two, high-definition feeds required for VR — but the signal doesn’t penetrate objects well. As VR games and experiences typically require you move around in physical space, there is a high chance of your floor-standing lamp or flailing arms blocking the signal and impacting performance, in turn breaking the immersion.
To solve this problem, CSAIL’s system includes a millimeter wave “mirror” — an intermediate device that receives the original broadcast and tracks the position and orientation of the wearer in real-time, always aiming the signal directly at the headset receiver. In this way, the millimeter waves can avoid furniture, limbs and anything else that could interfere and impact performance.
As the image of the signal bouncer above shows, the system is still very much a prototype, though researchers hope to create neater, smartphone-sized hardware in the future that could be used with any VR headset. Subsequent work will also entail measuring and potentially improving the latency of the system — on paper, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but the team has primarily focused on developing the mirror thus far.
With various companies, including headset manufacturers themselves, and researchers working on solving the finer problems of wireless VR, hopefully it won’t be too long before we can forget that inelegant, stop-gap solutions like backpack PCs were ever a thing.
HTC is opening up pre-orders for a $220 add-on that cuts the Vive’s wires and transforms it into a wireless VR headset. The peripheral that clips onto the device was made by a company called TPCAST and was designed under the Vive X program. If you’ll recall, HTC launched the program to invest $100 million into startups looking to build accessories for the Vive. According to the company’s interview with UploadVR, there’ll be no “noticeable difference” when you use the device, implying that it won’t turn VR experiences into laggy nightmares. HTC even promises that it will “greatly improve” the overall Vive experience.
In the interview, China Regional President of Vive at HTC, Alvin W. Graylin, told the publication that the company will sell a bigger battery for the add-on in the future. At the moment, it will only come with a standard battery that lasts for an hour-and-a-half. The bigger power source will last longer, but you’ll have to carry it around in your pocket or in a bag.
HTC’s Chinese website will start accepting pre-orders on Friday, November 11th, 7AM Pacific/10AM Eastern — there are no plans to release the peripheral locally in the US and other countries yet. Graylin told UploadVR that anybody can buy one, though, so you can place an order if you’re willing to pay for shipping from Asia. That said, HTC is only selling a limited number of units, and you’ll have a bigger chance of securing one if you can provide a valid Vive serial number.
No one would fault you if you thought HTC was done making high-end smartphones for the year. It wasn’t perfect, but the HTC 10 was a highly respectable piece of kit. And HTC’s design and production fingerprints can be found all over both of Google’s new Pixel phones. That’s a decent string of smartphones for 2016, but HTC had to go and partner up with Sprint on the curious new Bolt, a device meant to highlight the carrier’s high-speed 3x20MHz carrier aggregation. Fair enough, but what makes the $599 Bolt so interesting is how it takes the 10’s formula and improves on it.
As you might’ve already been able to tell by the photos, the Bolt shares a lot of design language with the HTC 10. In fact, the easiest way to tell them apart is to turn them over: the Bolt lacks the telltale hump that helped the 10 settle so nicely into my hands. It’s definitely a slab of a phone, but that’s not to say it’s completely charmless. HTC’s first-rate build quality is on full display here, with a fully metal frame wrapped around a big, 5.5-inch, 2K LCD screen. That brings us to the Bolt’s first improvement: that body is rated IP57 water and dust resistant, a first for HTC’s unibody metal smartphones. There’s little point in griping about how long it took HTC to get here — I’m just glad they did.
There’s a powerful Snapdragon chipset inside, too, though not the one you’d probably expect. The Bolt rolls with an octa-core Snapdragon 810 plus 3GB of RAM, which makes for some very slick performance. Device makers seemed to shy away from the 810 for a while because of repeated concerns about overheating, but I haven’t noticed anything abnormal during the few days I’ve been playing with the Bolt. Long story short: there’s plenty of power in here for anyone who needs it, and the inclusion of Android 7.0 Nougat only helps. Speaking of software, don’t expect too many changes on that front — the lightly tweaked Sense interface works exactly how it did on the 10, from the inclusion of BlinkFeed (meh) to those curious Freestyle layouts to the deeper integration of Google apps. Stock is still the way to go as far as I’m concerned, but HTC’s approach is ultimately still one of the more palatable out there.
Another improvement for the list: HTC also worked with Sprint and Qualcomm to get everything in good shape for Sprint’s LTE Plus network. I just wish I could’ve tasted some of those speeds. Early tests point to potential data speeds up to 300Mb/s, but for now, you’ll have to live in (or move to) cities like Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis or Denver to take the network for a ride. I saw middling speeds when I ran tests in our NoHo office — on the order of 10Mb/s down, which paled in comparison to AT&T. Your mileage may vary, obviously.
Then there’s the camera. HTC has been pushing its UltraPixel cameras for years now, and they’re conspicuously absent in the Bolt. Instead, we got a more traditional 16-megapixel affair complete with optical image stabilization. I frankly haven’t spent a ton of time using the camera in the field, but the shots I did take came out rather well: they were chock-full of detail and accurately covered, even when the sun dipped behind some clouds. On the Bolt’s face is an 8-megapixel selfie camera, which indeed works well at feeding into your vanity.
The Bolt has the 10’s high-resolution audio chops too, if you’re a media buff. Perhaps more importantly, the earbuds that come in the box are surprisingly smart. Remember how the HTC 10 let you set up a personal audio profile based on how well you could hear certain tones? Well, these earbuds completely automate that process. The first time you plug them in, you’re prompted to create a profile — from there, you’ll hear a tone ringing through your ears, and that’s it. The Bolt interprets that sound resounds through your ear and create the profile automatically. It would’ve been nice if we could further tune that profile after it’s been made; alas, HTC doesn’t plan to make that happen.
So yeah, it’s not hard to think of the Bolt as a sort of HTC 10 Plus. On the one hand, Sprint has a pretty fascinating exclusive on their hands — shades of the EVO 4G, anyone? Still, I can’t help but wish HTC pushed some of these improvements into devices it already launched this year. An HTC 10 with a bigger screen and a water-resistant body might have helped the company pick up more ground early on. At the very least, you can bet some of these steps forward will wind up in the company’s 2017 flagship, and we’ll be better off for it. Until then, Sprint customers itching for some new premium hardware should get their wallets ready: the Bolt goes on sale right… now.
HTC’s high-end VR gear is expensive and takes up a fair amount of space that most people simply don’t have. That’s why the company is hoping to bring back the old-fashioned arcade in the hope of giving more people access to the future of gaming. At a VR developer conference, HTC announced that two popular titles are coming to Viveport Arcade, it’s licensing platform enabling titles to be played in public spaces. It’s hoped that the program will pave the way for businesses to create “thousands” of new arcades by the end of 2017.
The two big titles that have been added to the platform are The Brookhaven Experiment and Everest VR. The former is a zombie survivor game that our Devindra Hardawar called “the most terrifying VR experience I’ve had yet.” The latter, meanwhile lets un-athletic types scale the world’s tallest mountain from the comfort of sea level or thereabouts.
HTC is basing its assault on the real world in China and Taiwan, allowing shopping malls, theaters, internet cafes and arcades develop VR experiences. The Verge reports that the company will also spread its wings out in the US and Europe shortly afterwards in the hope of spreading the gospel far and wide. It makes plenty of sense, since a couple of bucks makes more financial sense if you’re not yet sold on the standard. Hell, if a UK retailer can charge £5 ($6.22) just for would-be customers to try PlayStation VR for 10 minutes, then HTC’s clearly onto something.
Source: PR Newswire