VR@NY

A short while ago a colleague sent this link to a story about some fun things related to Virtual Reality going on down in New York. Virtual reality is taking over NYC (Tim Donnelly, New York Post)

It had been awhile since the last New York VR Blitz back in June 2016, so it’s been time to consider another one for awhile now. The monthly NY VR Meetups were serving as a prime suspect for an excuse, and then a really cool event from the NY VR AR Association scheduled on back-to-back evenings with a NY VR Meetup came along. Bingo, time to grab an Acela! Here’s a blow-by-blow account of the adventure and some “take aways” at the end…

Wednesday, February 15, 7:00 – 9:00 PM

Virtual Reality for Producers: How to Create and Deliver for the New Content Frontier
NY VR AR Association” and NYU Data Future Lab
137 Varick St, New York (The Bowery)

This first stop on the NY VR tour was hosted by Kris Kolo, NYC Chapter President & Global Executive Director, NY VR AR Association” and moderated by Chris Pfaff PGA New Media Council member and CEO Tech Media.

Paul Cheung, Director of Interactive for the Associated Press shared “lessons learned” about filming in 360° under normal journalistic conditions. The insights he shared were valuable, and among them was the useful tidbit that if you happen to already have the right phone, then a Samsung 360° camera is a better investment than a Ricoh Theta.

Alissa Crevier, Global Head of Partnerships for Littlstar gave a great explanation of their platform and trends in the content delivery end of the industry. Then Christian Egeler, Director of VR/AR product development, Verizon’s Envrmnt provided a nice hint as to what to watch for from them (an authoring and delivery system).

Finally, the panel discussion at the end included an insightful suggestion that the VR industry needs to adopt the concept of “responsive design” from web design and apply it to VR content delivery so that developers and consumers don’t have to navigate the current morass of development and delivery options. So true!

Thursday, February 16, 10 – 11:00 AM

Samsung’s 837 Store
837 Washington St. (At 13th Street)

Thursday started out with a visit to Samsung’s store that was one of the spots mentioned in the New York Post article that had helped to inspire this New York adventure. Here’s a promotional video and a few articles about the store to give you a sense of what’s there.


Samsung’s new flagship NYC building isn’t a retail store at all (Chris Welch, The Verge)
Samsung’s 837 mixes technology and delicacies (Jennifer Gould Keil, New York Post)

Here are my own snaps of the experience.

It was an interesting excursion, but it was early in the day, not a lot was going on and there wasn’t any content that was different than what’s already available to any Gear VR owner. Most importantly, beware, Samsung’s “Gear VR 4D Chair” can deliver a mild case of whiplash that can cause a headache worse than a VR headache. Yep, ouch!

Thursday, February 16, 4 – 5:00 PM

Jump into the Light
355A Bowery, New York (The Bowery)

This was a second spot mentioned in that New York Post article that helped to inspire this trip, and it had a very different vibe than the Samsung’s 837 store. It is billed as “America’s First VR Cinema & PlayLab,” and it has the potential to be a more engaging experience. Here’s a short video to give you a sense of the space.

Again, it was still fairly early in the day on a Friday, not a lot was going on and there wasn’t any content that was much different than what you can already see if you happen to have your own VR lab with the same rigs. But how many people have that, right? 😉 This visit was still a more interesting experience with better demos than the Samsung 837 store, and while I didn’t get a chance to talk with any of the founders in depth, I had a lot of fun talking with their young, enthusiastic and downright adorable crew.

2c-intothelight-crew

Thursday, February 16, 6:00 – 9:00 PM

New York VR’s February Meetup
Microsoft Flagship Store
42nd St. @ 8th Avenue (11 Times Square, Across from Port Authority)

The final stop on the whirlwind VR tour of New York was NY VR’s February Meetup. There were a series of great, short talks and a ton of fun demos. Here are some of my photos of the event.

Chris Kairalla of VRBFoto also shared a 360° Photo that he took of the audience.

One of the many highlights of the evening was Dario Lavarde of HTC VIVE presenting about the recently announced VIVE Tracker. Here’s a promotional video about it, and Dario even showed a demo of authoring for the tracker in Unity 3D plus shared his slides.

Another highlight was Lex Dreitser giving demos of his Epson Moverio. That was cool!

“Take Aways”

Here’s a run down of some ruminations from the overall VR@NY experience…

  • Samsung and Oculus need to work on their marketing of VR experiences.
  • Stay away from Samsung’s Gear VR 4D Chair!
  • VR and AR demos are more interesting to the audience if you invest in setting up a monitor to show what the viewer is seeing.
  • If you’re going to host immersive experiences, go to great lengths to get unique content not available to consumers that already have headsets.
  • 360°video “might” be a killer app for VR because it’s easy, fast and cheap content that an average consumer can create. Better, cheap and widely available 360° cameras that can stream live video are needed, though.
  • If you have a compatible Samsung phone, get the Gear VR 360° Camera.
  • Parallel to the exhaustively covered VR Headset wars, there is a far quieter, but probably more crucial war going on among immersive content delivery platforms. The players range from brand specific options like Samsung/Oculus/GearVR stores, Sony Playstation and VivePort to the broader cross-platform, device independent content delivery services such as YouTube 360° and Facebook 360° video on the low end on up to premium content delivery platforms like Littlstar.
  • The VR and AR industry needs to adapt the concept of “responsive design” from web design and apply it to immersive content to result in something like “responsive immersive content design, authoring and delivery” so that developers and consumers don’t have to navigate the morass of options currently available. Someone needs to provide a way for publishing and viewing 360° video, WebVR and Unity 3D/Unreal authored VR/AR/MR experiences for everything ranging from desktop or mobile to low end Cardboard/View-Master/GearVR/Daydream phone based viewers all the up to Oculus and Vive headsets. In truth, a movement towards this is already in the air, and while it is certainly a bear of a challenge to tackle, it will be worth it because the most inclusive and adaptable platform(s) will win the immersive VR/AR/MR content platform battle.

IMHO, anyway 😉

So, wow, that was a mind-blowing few days! This report doesn’t even include some other fun real life (RL) adventures that slipped in along the way between the highlights above. Check out Mary Hopper’s blog post for a more complete trip report…

AR@MIT

AR in Action was at MIT this week, and it was fantastic! John Werner served as host to a vast who’s who of tech, and the the presentations ranged from informative and entertaining to mind blowing. There were too many highlights to cover here, but a few of my favorite were Alan Kay’s explication of some issue’s with current technology, Steve Mann’s stunning taped performance, Ken Perlin’s presentation of his vision for interaction in the future, and of course, Digital Den’s friend Rus Gant’s perspective on uses of AR in museums. This is just a sample of the multitude of great talks.

There were also many interesting demos set up, and the one from Samsung Research about WebVR and Sketchfab was one the most likely to have a serious impact on directions in R & D at Digital Den.

Finally, John Werner’s presentation of Barmak Heshmat’s slides Engineering concept designs for VR’s next 15 years 2015-2030 was particularly fascinating.

John Werner also posted this fantastic video capturing the event.

arinaction highlights v1.1 from john werner on Vimeo.

Here are still more videos and highlights…

AR in Action Jan 17 & 18, 2017, pictures by Dave Rezendes from john werner on Vimeo.

Overall, it was an unusually worthwhile event, and the best part is that it was all filmed “TED Talk Style,” so the videos will be available soon. Watch for them!

New Toys!

We are just past the season for getting toys, and boy did we do that — we added a bunch of cool new toys to our “Pop-up Lab” that will be available to play with during our events and workshops. Here are the highlights of what we have recently added to the collection…

“VR Ready” MSI Laptop (Core i7 6700HQ, 2.60 GHz, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060, 16 GB)
msi

HTC Vive (Set up for room scale VR)
htc-vive

Newest Model of Samsung Gear VR
gearvr

Ricoh Theta S 360° Camera
360camera

Watch for another round of purchases this quarter that will most likely include a TPCast Wireless attachment and trackers for the Vive, a Google Daydream as well as an AR headset (Microsoft Hololens or Meta). Then there will also be a lot of new development software and in-house applications to share. Please stay tuned…

Hellooo….?

In case you’re wondering, yes, we’re still here. It has just appeared to be quiet, “too quiet,” because an avalanche of new hardware and software has been rolling in over the last few months (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Playstation VR etc, etc, etc.). That means that, appropriately enough, the holiday season has been taken up with some serious playtime, and no one’s complaining about it, mind you 😉 Stay tuned for news about our new toys, chances to play with them at public events, and best of all, new in-house demos exploring our new capabilities. Whew, whew!
In the meantime, Happy New Year!

AR & MR Week

The main focus of Digital Den’s work has been on VR, but that doesn’t mean that AR and MR haven’t been on the radar, and they became even more true this week because of a couple of events.

First, on Thursday, November 17th, the Boston Unity Group (BUG) hosted the Meetup Building Mixed Reality Experiences with the Microsoft HoloLens where Gavin Bauman of Microsoft showed how to use Unity 3D to author applications for Microsoft’s HoloLens. It was actually pretty amazing to find out how easy it is to transfer Unity 3D VR skills to AR/MR.
Gavin Bauman of Microsoft, Hololens Demo

Then on Saturday, November 19th, both AR and VR were front and center stage at MIT’s Hacking Arts conference, and the panel Remixing our Senses was particularly valuable, and provided some serious food for thought. Among other things, there were numerous AR and MR applications discussed and demonstrated, and by the end it was pretty clear that Digital Den needs to get more serious about investing in AR and MR in addition to the our established base of VR hardware and software.

It looks like it is time for us to start getting our feet wet in AR/MR. Watch for more news on this front in the future.

VR@MIT Recap

Digital Den shared our “Intro. to AR and VR” exhibit at the VR@MIT open house on Monday, November 14th, and we had a ton of fun showing our demos as well as seeing the others.

Of course, that haptic glove still under development at MIT was particularly cool to see! The main purpose of the event was to promote the VR@MIT IAP course 6.s096: Mobile Virtual Reality Development Challenge that will be offered in January, so that’s something on the horizon we’ll be keeping an eye on!

Mars

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you have probably noticed there’s a serious case of “Mars Mania” going around right now. The current fever was only stoked higher last week when Elon Musk presented his plan to establish a permanent human habitation on Mars with his company SpaceX.

ICYMI Here’s a short 5 minute summary version…


Here’s the full hour plus long version…

We here at Digital-Den are good with all of this. In fact, we’re so good with it, one way we “boot-up” our demos is with entirely Mars related media. That’s because Digital-Den’s Founder (Mary Hopper), has been Mars obsessed ever since the Mars Viking Mission.

So, it was awesome to get the chance to attend the very special event Moving to Mars: A discussion with Mars One candidates at the Museum of Science on Wednesday evening.

mars-one

Mars One mission candidates: Josh Richards, physicist, engineer, comedian; Peter Degen-Portnoy, software engineer; Yari Golden-Castaño, systems engineer; R. Daniel Golden-Castaño, US Army veteran and engineering student;Sara Director, artist

The event turned out to be a mind-bending, inspirational encounter with the “real thing,” and it only further solidified the probability that Digital-Den will continue to feature tons of Mars related content in our demos and “possibly” do more than that, too.

More specifically, we has been exploring the possibility of working with one or more partners on a Mars related project or “maybe” even doing one of our own. Of course, no matter what, we keep our eyes on what is going on in this “space” right now (yes, ha ha, bad pun intended).

Seriously, there’s quite a lot going on. Each new VR hardware platform release or upgrade brings one or more Mars related demos or titles now as well as the promise of more in the near future.

For example, at the lowest and most accessible end are these 360° NASA videos.



Full-Circle Panorama Beside ‘Namib Dune’ on Mars (JPL/NASA)
NASA Releases 360-Degree Video Of Martian Surface (Emily Calandrelli, Tech Crunch)

Then, higher-up on the “presence” scale, there is Mars is a Real Place. It was one of the first paid apps released on the Samsung Gear VR store, and it was made by DrashVR who is the same guy who made Titans of Space. The title and this information alone should be enough of a recommendation, but just in case, it is worth noting that it actually works — it feels like you are really on Mars, and yes, it is stunning!

A bit different take on the question is Field Trip to Mars created by Framestore and backed by Lockheed Martin.

Yet further out on the scale of immersion, as well as a bit more of a journey, is the mixed reality Destination: Mars exhibit at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida that uses Microsoft Hololens to give a narrated tour for Earthling through a Martian landscape.
‘Destination: Mars’ Virtual Reality Experience Now Open at Kennedy Space Center (Sarah Lewin, Space.com)

Another title to look forward to on the near horizon is called Mars 2030 that is being done in cooperation with NASA using their own media and is expected to be released on multiple platforms sometime this year.

These are just a few examples — there are numerous others on the scope. Busy space! Still, it is a worthy place to be, and we intend to be there too. Watch for more news about Digital-Den’s work in this area soon…