The VRap Up: From Gear VR to Nimble, It Was One Hell of a Crazy Week

by Will Mason • December 12th, 2014

Have you had a chance to catch your breath yet from all the crazy announcements in VR this week? Yeah, me neither. This week was among the biggest ever for VR, and in case you were too lost in your new Gear VR to notice everything that happened, from Cardboard to Nimble, we’ve got you covered.

Monday

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Samsung Releases the Gear VR

After weeks of rumors and rumblings, Samsung finally dropped the Gear VR on the world, and it is beautiful. A number of careful followers of the space had managed to peg Monday as the release day, after a slide at the mHealth summit that showed that as the day of launch made its way around the internet. So far, the Gear VR has received a lot of praise from the community, who are embracing the idea of mobile VR. Check out the excellent reviews by Ben Lang over at Road to VR (but come back, there’s tons more!): Part 1, Part 2

Top down view of a rat in a VR maze. Credit: Mayank Mehta

Top down view of a rat in a VR maze. Credit: Mayank Mehta

Scientists find VR affects the brain’s ‘GPS Cells’

Researchers have found, by recording the brain activity of rats on tiny treadmills in VR, that in the virtual world, the rodents did not form the same mental map of their surroundings that they do in real life; demonstrating that VR has the ability to play with your brain (something any experienced Rifter is well aware of). The study comes on the heels of the 2014 Nobel Prize winning discovery that the brain produces “GPS cells” which helps create a mental map of the environment. This is how the brain can help you navigate. If you’ve ever been driving somewhere familiar, zone out to music or something, then boom you find yourself there as if by magic, you have experienced the power of your brain’s GPS cells. The researchers found that when they placed the rats in the virtual world, the GPS neurons fired off seemingly at random, as opposed to the controllable patterns they had identified in their previous study. If this study holds true for humans, it could have a far-reaching impact on how games and experiences are structured in VR.


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Magic Leap Hires Former Beats CFO

Magic Leap is so shrouded in mystery right now that any news they release is potentially exciting. As reported in Venture Beat, former Beats by Dre CFO, Scott Henry, will step in as the CFO at Magic Leap. Henry’s experience in consumer-facing technology further suggests that Magic Leap is aiming at a consumer AR/VR product.

 

Tuesday


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VR movies are going to dominate at Sundance

The Sundance Film Festival is one of the largest and most important film festivals in the country, bringing together thousands of the most talented filmmakers in the world. Every year a few greats end up emerging from this festival, and this year one of those greats might end up being the first great VR director. According to a CNN report, this year’s festival will be riddled with VR film experiences, nine of them to be exact. So what is on the docket? Chris Milk will be bringing an experience called “Evolution of Verse” which is a CGI “journey from beginning to new beginning”  that uses Google Cardboard. Kaiju Fury! puts you in the middle of a “Godzilla-style” monster battle, and if you haven’t checked out the trailer yet, you should. Nonny de la Peña, who is playing in the space of ‘immersive journalism’ (a personal favorite of mine, I hope this style of journalism catches on because it is so empathetically impactful) will be releasing a new project, Syria. Another experience (that has been shown before) ‘Strangers’ is an intimate look inside an artist’s apartment as they compose music, the experience is hauntingly beautiful. Be sure to check out the full list here.

 

 

Jack White Launches THIRD-D VR App for Cardboard

Virtual reality concerts are coming, this is for sure. It’s the next logical step for the music industry. THIRD-D is another in a line of incredible experiences produced by Jaunt so far. The app places you on stage at a Jack White concert and allows you to experience two songs. Currently only available on Cardboard, the app is “coming soon” to the Rift and Gear VR.

 

Wednesday


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Google Shifts Cardboard to a ‘100% project’

Google announced that they will be putting their force behind the former ‘20% project’ (at Google employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time on passion projects, Cardboard was one of them). Google completely redesigned the Cardboard web page adding vendors, a new SDK, and a Cardboard specific section of the Google Play store. Google noted that over 500,000 Cardboards were sold since it was first debuted at I/O earlier this year. Further signaling Google’s commitment to Cardboard, they have listed five new positions for VR developers on their website. It’s clear the Google sees Cardboard as an easy entry point to the world of VR and an excellent way to bring it to the masses.

 

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Virtuix Announces $2.7 million Funding Round, Will Reveal the “Final Omni” at CES

The creators of the Kickstarted Omni Directional treadmill, dubbed “The Omni,” announced they had received an additional $2.7 million funding round which will help them “support operations, fund working capital and accelerate research development.” The creators of the treadmill say they will debut the “final” product at this years CES, and I for one couldn’t be more excited to try it. The ability to have actual locomotive motion translated in game is huge and has far-reaching implications, especially when it comes to helping to solve the obesity crisis by further encouraging exercise.


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Coldplay and NextVR Release Concert for Samsung Gear VR

NextVR released the first ever “broadcast quality” VR experience, which takes users on stage at Coldplay’s Ghost Stories concert, that the company described as “better than being there.” The project was developed in direct conjunction between NextVR and Coldplay, who wanted to bring the ultimate experience to their fans. Currently available as a small section of the full concert, NextVR plans to release the full rendering in the upcoming months. This is the first of many content pieces the company intends to release in the nearish future, so definitely stay tuned.

 

Thursday


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Oculus Makes Three Major Acquisitions: Nimble VR, 13th Lab, and Chris Bregler Join Team

These major announcements are probably the biggest news in VR this week, besides the Gear VR release. Bringing Nimble on is probably the biggest acquisition of the three. There had long been rumors that Oculus was working internally on some sort of motion tracking solution for VR. Leap Motion had made a play for the spot with its ‘Dragonfly’ edition that had a mount for the front of the DK2, but it appears that Oculus has pegged Nimble’s technology as better fitting with their vision. This acquisition means that hand tracking will most definitely be a part of the future of VR, and that hopefully it will be an integrated part of the CV1 when it comes out in “months, not years.” Hopefully this acquisition hastens that date, rather than delaying it.

The other two, 13th Lab and Chris Bregler, are no slouches either. The team at 13th Lab has been developing technology that allows for vastly more efficient, real-time, accurate renderings of 3D models. Their technology should greatly help Oculus develop gorgeously rendered scenes with true to life accuracy. Chris Bregler joins the team from NYU and is an expert in motion capture. He will join the team and direct a vision research team. All three of these announcements signal that Oculus is really gearing things up for the CV1. Hopefully, they will have something epic to announce at CES this year.

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Carl Zeiss Announces App Contest to Further Development for ZEISS VR ONE

Following in the footsteps of Leap Motion’s incredibly successful 3D Jam event, Carl Zeiss has announced a contest for developers for it’s new ZEISS VR ONE project. The purpose of the event is to get as many developers as possible using the ZEISS VR ONE, which, like the Gear VR, is mobile, but, unlike the Gear VR, has iPhone compatibility (as well as planned compatibility for a number of smartphones). The contest winner will receive, “the opportunity to market the App you developed via the VR ONE Media Launcher and the App Store with exclusive promotion by ZEISS.”

Friday

Crystal Rift Kickstarter Comes to a Close, Successfully Funded

Crystal Rift, a dungeon crawling, loot hunting, chest opening, puzzler for the Oculus Rift completed its Kickstarter campaign, raising over $7,500 from over 250 backers. The project fell just short of its initial stretch goal which would have added Fire and Ice elemental levels, but being that they came ever so close I wouldn’t be surprised if they went ahead and added those levels anyway. I have reached out to the team and am awaiting further comment. UPDATE: According to the most recent Kickstarter update, the team will be including the 1st stretch goal in the project, so yay! More levels!

This is one of the games I am most excited for, having played through the Alpha releases. The game plays incredibly smoothly, with great controls and gorgeous visuals; so it is great to see that it will be developed into a full game.

Updates added as new news comes in.

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