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Author Topic: VR and wearable tech  (Read 616 times)

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VR and wearable tech
« on: 11 Jan 2015, 05:36 »

So 2015's gonna be a big year for virtual reality, augmented reality and wearable tech :) This is the first time in a very long time that I've had such a strong feeling that "the future is now".

A colleague of mine uses the Oculus Rift in her research and hooked me on VR, but, being a cheapskate, I've opted to wait and scratch the itch with Google Cardboard and it's been fun as hell.

To be sure, Cardboard is a toy for people who like to tinker and enjoy the frustration associated with things being just a little borked. But it's also a good way to get an idea of what's just around the corner.

There are relatively few good apps for Cardboard atm (my two favourite examples are an augmented reality demo called CMOAR AR RPG and a silly game called Lamper) but, with a little work, you can hook it up to a PC and try out some more-or-less vr-ready games. My PC's gfx-card is old and my phone is a little wonky, but it works and would likely work far better with better hardware.

Wrt content, naturally the most well-developed content for Cardboard is porn, but there's a growing library of SFW 180-360-degree videos to try out as well. I use VR Player for the most part to stream movies from my NAS, but, for a slightly cooler experience, you can check out Go Show, an app that places you in a giant empty movie theatre where you can change the screen-size, your seat and the lighting.

The single most frustrating limitation atm is the fact that you have to remove the phone over and over again to switch apps, change settings, get new content etc. I've found very few apps that can be controlled almost entirely without touching the phone. Some of them rely on looking at buttons for a couple of seconds while a small circle or bar fills up, while others use the clever little magnet-switch included in the original cardboard. I've yet to find a truly satisfying VR app launcher for example. Voice commands are a bit hit-and-miss atm, but I expect they'll get better.

Other problems include latency, judder, image quality, comfort and performance. I've found latency and judder to be tolerable but noticeable enough that you really get an appreciation for how well the Rift does its thing. Image-quality's good, but would be better with a better display (I'm using a Nexus 5, which has a great display for normal use but shows off the screen-door-effect nicely when magnified). More importantly, the lenses I have in my set are not great. They scratch extremely easily, get dirty, are a little bit too small and not quite the right shape. Slightly larger and better-quality asymmetric biconvex lenses would probably be better, and I'm looking to mod my set (an advantage of cardboard is that it's fairly easy to modify :o). Finally, it would be good to be able to accommodate different interpupillary distances (which some kits allow for). Comfort is naturally an issue, esp. for fat-headed four-eyed people such as myself, but it's something that can be addressed fairly easily. Even unmodified, a regular cardboard kit with headstraps is pretty comfortable. As for performance, I've mostly had problems streaming extremely large files over wifi. Streaming from the PC over USB has had better results, but it's still clear that my gfx card needs to be upgraded.

The consumer edition of Oculus Rift will hopefully be released later this year, and it looks like it'll be a huge improvement on the 2nd developer kit wrt quality, performance, comfort and usability. I'm not very fond of buying tech new and at full price, but I think the ginger and I will have a hard time restraining ourselves. However, I'm almost more excited about the Avegant Glyph, a portable media device that's a little less immersive but promises to be way more comfortable and cool, using a technology that uses millions of tiny mirrors to project images right onto the retina.

CES 2015 seems to have had a lot of VR stuff, but some of the coolest things there seem to have been in the realm of wearable tech. I feel kinda meh about all these fitness trackers and related gadgets that try to "quantify" our lives, but I'm very keen on stuff like the Cicret and the WattUp wireless long-range charger/router. I have no idea what else is in store, but for once it seems like we might get useful and awesome products in addition to all the gimmicks :o well, one can hope.
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