#102: Ben Lang’s GDC Recap & Impressions: Lighthouse, HTC Vive, Sony Morpheus, Oculus Crescent Bay, & eye tracking

Ben LangBen Lang is the Executive Editor at RoadtoVR.com, and he shares a lot of his impressions from many of the VR announcements and news from GDC. Ben has been exclusively covering the VR industry developments at GDC for the past three years, and he says that this year has been by far the most exciting.

Ben is also currently holding a Reddit Ask Me Anything thread today, and so go ask him a question here.

Here’s all of the news that we discuss coming out of GDC:

  • 0:52 – Lighthouse tracking system and Valve’s HTC Vive, and SteamVR controllers. Planning to release lighthouse to whomever wants to use it. Best tracking for doing tracking in VR in large spaces that we’ve seen so far. Flexibility of the Lighthouse system for tracking multiple items.
  • 3:41 – More details for how the Lighthouse tracking system works with an X & Y sweep. It’s 100Hz tracking and added to other sensor fusion
  • 5:06 – Laser sensors are also on the HMD, and more about how the laser sensor timings work
  • 6:20 – Tracking multiple people and potential occlusion issues. Can always add more laser base stations
  • 7:27 – More details about the HTC Vive (here’s Ben’s hands on write up about it), it’s better tracking than anything else out there. and using a 15×15 space is something totally new. Vive is visually very comparable to the Crescent Bay.
  • 9:37 – Cultivating a sense of presence being immersed into another place plus being able to act within a VR scene. Vive combines these two components of presence to the next level with their tracking and input solutions. Adding natural movements for what humans do instead of an abstracted button press. Get immersed by not worrying about your surroundings.
  • 12:50 – Three tiers of designing from mobile experience ranging from Cardboard to Gear VR to a sit-down experience like Morpheus and Oculus and then the stand-up experience like Vive and Survios. Devs carry around Gear VR because it’s easier to demo VR experiences, and when you come home then you have positional tracking. Will people start to have a VR office dedicated room?
  • 16:53 – Either they have to move their room around or dedicated VR arcade that have lighthouse systems set up
  • 18:03 – Progressive enhancement ideas and how that may apply to VR design. Mobile with no input to sit-down positional components and then on up to the walkable VR experience with two-hand interactions. It’s more difficult to do progressive enhancement design in VR. It’ll be easier to design for it later once the solutions become more standardized.
  • 21:05 – Difficult to do two-handed interactions without the controllers.
  • 23:07 – Sony Morpheus and the Sony Move controllers were not as performant as the SteamVR controllers. The VR narrative storytelling by Sony where he stood up and crouched, but wasn’t walking around. Worked vast majority of time and it was really fun.
  • 27:53 – Q2 2016 release date for Morpheus and Vive coming out in the Fall 2015. Oculus’ new Crescent Bay demos, but not a lot of announcements beyond an Audio SDK and the Mobile Game Jam. They had a big physical presence, but they were focusing primarily on developers. Had some new blog posts about time warp.
  • 30:09 – Developers do need some time integrating input controls, and so the launch looks to not have input. A lot of the demos were very passive. Is Oculus pivoting towards more cinematic VR and passive VR? Ben thinks that they’re still focusing on gaming market. They’re working on input solution, and devs need time to know what they’re working with. Perhaps Lighthouse will become a standard solution.
  • 32:59 – A tour of the history of the VR hardware development at Valve. Oculus looking for people with optical experience. There’s not a lot of extra wires with the Lighthouse solution. Oculus likely had known about their laser scanning solution
  • 34:59 – Striking to see how many VR was happening at GDC, over 22 different booths had a VR HMD. Haptech working on an electric feedback for guns and using STEM to track the gun.
  • 36:47 – Haptics are a key component to immersion, and abstracting out other haptic devices. Tactical Haptics and their Reactive Grip Controller
  • 39:03 – Low-poly scenes for VR and the uncanny valley problem, and using stylized art to avoid the uncanny valley and
  • 40:57 – Lucky’s Tale and using a diorama approach with a 3rd person perspective that is the sweet spot of VR with the stereoscopic effects. Things that work better in VR like body language in VR for doing telecommunications. Google Earth data being mapped at the SteamVR demo, and it’ll help visual learners to
  • 43:42 – John Dewar’s educational demo of airplanes, and Oculus demos used scale a lot. Other indie demos that were cool were like ConVRge that was broadcasting a livestream of the party into the VR space, and then broadcast VR scene onto a screen at the party. WebVR experiences that Mozilla were displaying
  • 45:52 – Mozilla’s WebVR experiences are really exciting and rearchitecting the browser to be more optimized for VR for ephemeral experiences. Web is great for quickly navigating information without having to download a lot of information
  • 48:10 – Google Cardboard experiences and ecosystem for ephemeral photos and videos, and using Gear VR to show people 360 videos very quickly
  • 49:46 – Eye tracking at Tobii and FOVE, and eye tracking can add a lot of useful things for VR like adding depth of field, being able to know where the user is looking for selection, and can do better chromatic aberration correction, and then to do foveate rendering for more optimized rendering.
  • 52:49 – Augmented Reality like Project Tango, and Qualcomm’s Vuforia and Meta’s AR Hackathon. Microsoft and Magic Leap are the two big AR players at the moment. AR isn’t there yet, and need sub-millimeter tracking
  • 54:32 – Meta’s AR hackathon, small field of view, and about a 60ms delay, and rudimentary demos not really interacting with the environment, and more tethered to a computer. They have $23 million in funding and some interesting team members. AR is still really early days, and computer vision is not a solved problem. Doing advanced putting things in the room is a difficult problem. VR is a lot further along in terms of the experience and
  • 57:15 – Magic Leap is looking to the VR space for innovation. OSVR and Razer booth and having a unified SDK and Unity’s integration of VR input as well. As long as OSVR’s system just works, then it doesn’t matter as much if Oculus, Sony, or Valve is involved or not. It’ll allow the third party manufacturers to collaborate and be
  • 1:00:12 – Khronos Group to come up with Vulkan announcements and the collaboration that’s happening there. Need to pay attention to the performance and don’t just throw GPUs at the issue, and a lot of focus on speed and reducing latency in the future.
  • 1:01:45 – Unity, Unreal Engine and Source 3 are now free, and that’s huge. VR has been a grassroots movement with a lot of experimentation from a lot of small upstarts. Ben Lang really wants a Virtual Pinball game.
  • 1:04:25 – Triple AAA shops are being really cautious with VR, and it’s a great time for indie’s to jump in and experiments. Lots of open problems for narrative storytelling for VR
  • 1:05:34 – Other highlights were Sony Morpheus narrative experiences and the WETA experience from Epic was pretty memorable
  • 1:07:03 – Unreal Engine for cinematic VR with Oculus Story Studio and interactive games from Unity
  • 1:07:40 – A lot of important announcements from GDC for the future of VR

Theme music: “Fatality” by Tigoolio

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Below is a 16-part visual history of Valve’s SteamVR and what’s since become the HTC Vive: