What I miss in Ready Player One movie

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Notice spoilers: in this article there are a lot of spoilers so if you have not seen the movie please stop reading here.

I was reluctant to make a review of Steven Spielberg’s latest film but since I saw it I’ve been thinking a lot about it for several days so I finally could not contain myself.

I liked the movie a lot, that’s the first thing. It is a visual spectacle of first magnitude. Spielberg is not anybody making movies, and the characters, when they are in Oasis and show themselves as their avatars, are literally perfect. They have a touch of computer animation, the right one for us to realize that they are not actors of flesh and blood, something done on purpose, but at the same time they are visually emotional, with their gestures and looks close to perfection.

But I hoped that Ready Player One was going to be more than a visual spectacle. It was the film in which I expected to finally see a VR coming out of that dismal pit into which Hollywood had been putting it for years. The film in which VR finally ceased to be the bad, the dangerous, the harmful. Previous films like Matrix, or TV series like Sword Art Online and Marvel Shield Agents, have left us with a VR that causes dread. People connected to virtual worlds that live enslaved, even without knowing it. It scares just think about it even though all that is inside an impossible fantasy with current technology. But that is not important. The modern viewers tend to stay much more with the negative than with the positive when trying to value a technology. Especially if it is a new technology that has just started to be implemented.

In the movie Spielberg falls into the same mistake and does not respect the original book at a point that seems essential. The novel does not see the world of Oasis as something negative. It is a world with many positive things. For example, the planet Ludus, dedicated to educational centers, has the enormous advantage for Wade, the protagonist, who is a student, that he can enjoy his classes without bullying and teachers can give a higher quality education to students. They don’t have to be aware of forcing their students to stay quiet. Oasis software does all that for them. However, planet Ludus, one of the best described ones in the Ernest Cline novel, does not have a single image in the film.

Nor do we see anything of Incipio, the calm planet plagued with stores, businesses and places for entertainment, that is usually the place in Oasis that visitors usually inhabit if they don’t like video games. As the film describes Oasis, it would seem that the whole world, the entire humanity, have gone crazy and is dedicated all day, morning, afternoon and night to play hyperreal video games inside Oasis, getting money from playing. It completely contradicts what is told in the novel. In fact, Wade, in the novel, does not get money based on playing within Oasis, a very unprofitable activity, but on the basis of giving technical support to new visitors or people who have problems using their hardware, an activity that is carried out from within the Oasis itself. Wade’s aunt and her boyfriend do not live connected all day. In fact, they remove an old video game console from Wade in order to resell it to get money. In the book you have the feeling that there is a group of obsessed Oasis users, gunters and other addicted people, who are usually and permanently connected to look for the Halliday’s Easter Egg or because they enjoy Oasis to an excess, but common people uses Oasis without addictions. They enter Incipio, do their business there, and disconnect. When the novel ends, Wade does not make the decision to close Oasis some days of the week to avoid people’s addiction, a measure that on the other hand would not achieve anything. If something like this is done today with an MMO game, people would still be as hooked as before, playing longer times on days when the game is active to make up for the days that it’s not.

It seems that Spielberg wanted to highlight the dangers of VR, which VR has, it is true, but using the inspiration of a novel that curiously is the first novel to deepen like no other in the beneficial effects of VR. Spielberg had a complicated  job and I understand it. Condensing Oasis in two hours of footage was very complicated. Not only because the number of eighties references of which the novel offers a feast, but because Oasis itself. Oasis, now I realize it, deserves a television series, not a movie. But a TV series that adequately addresses the problem of VR, which is not people’s addiction but fascist abuses of multinational companies. VR in the hands of a company that seeks to invade people’s privacy, or that seeks to bleed consumers with micropayments, or that seeks to overload viewers with advertising, that is the great risk. Not people’s addiction. Who is more guilty for tobacco addiction, tobacco companies that manufacture cigarettes with more addictive substances, or consumers? Who is more guilty of air pollution, drivers of combustion vehicles, or automakers who refuse to investigate and manufacture cars without emissions? Behind all the great evils of the world there is a sinister multinational company that only seeks its own benefit even at the expense of humanity itself. Nothing matters to them in order to make their profits rise steadily.

And the bad guys in Ready Player One, who were fucking bad in the novel, in the movie are a bit of a joke. In the novel, one of the protagonists dies murdered, how you feel about about that. And Wade is about to be, at least that has been reflected in the film. Sorrento, the villain, is just a puppeteer in the hands of bosses who do not appear in the novel, but who should have had their leading role in the film. IOI, the company that tries to take control of Oasis, that is the real villain of the story. That is, their top executives, those guys with suits and ties who live like kings while the world lives in a galloping economical crisis. Does everything of this sounds to you? Suddenly Oasis (which is equivalent in story to say “Internet”) is threatened by a megacorporation that wants to take over it (read “stop the neutrality of the Net”) and a group of young adventurers decide to give a lesson to that evil company. To the company, not to an intermediate boss that looks like he knows nothing. And for that they use their best weapon, the best thing in fact that exists in their lives: VR. That is basically the plot of the novel, an argument that Spielberg has changed to try to gain a beautiful story that tries to moralize about the risks of the excessive use of immersive technology (either VR, videogames, or TV shows). I’ve always been curious about how we demonize a technology that forces you to spend dozens of hours connected to it. To read Ready Player One I needed a dozen hours and nobody demonizes books. There are novels whose reading requires a dedication in time much longer than that of a videogame, but nobody ever talks about reading addiction. Curious!

So it seems inevitable that we will follow film after film attending a continuing morality about the dangers of VR. “VR is dangerous”, remember it. That will continue to be the slogan for the next few years. Reason why VR doesn’t starth taking off at consumer level. It starts to have a very strong use in some companies, but common users are still waiting for the Wasapp of VR or the photo manager of VR. Oculus, the company that started all this five years ago, tries it with Oculus Social and with Oculus Dash, but it is very lonely. Hardly anyone else is joining the car. Apple continues to play dumb, Microsoft speaks with very big words but then offers few nuts to chew, and Google continues only with mobile VR but with nothing in the PC world. So with this path we will not see great advances in VR in next ten years. The technology is already very mature, and it will be more mature in the next generation of headsets, but the important market, that of apps, remains stagnant and without great progress. And so VR is gaining its label as a niche product only for videogames. Very sad.

A pity but I’m afraid that Spielberg’s Ready Player One will not be the Top Gun for VR aviators. Maybe Ready Player Two?

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How our technological future will be?

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VR does not start to take off. There are many fields where it should already have crossed borders and be causing daily headlines with its spectacular advances. However, there are many areas of our current technology where VR still doesn’t set the tone.

The problem is not VR. Technology is more than mature. The problem are that companies that know their industries are going to be affected tremendously. It is the same example as electric cars. Manufacturers of combustion cars are reluctant to offer electric cars in their catalogs because they know that their current business model, that of cars that are ruined at age 15, and of those who make profitable benefits from their official technical services, that business is at the edge of the abyss. Electric cars have a tenth of mechanical elements and suffer a much smaller deterioration. It is a full-fledged advance. But the industry is reluctant to accept it. Why? It’s very clear. An old and bad but profitable business is always better than a new and good one, but that is going to mean less revenue, and that will force a painful restructuring.

The same exactly will happen when VR arrives in all its force. We begin to hear in the media how the big boys are positioning themselves. They know it’s going to be disruptive. They know that VR is going to be an atomic bomb for many industries, and they don’t want to be with the ass in the air when it arrives. Facebook was the first to move token, acquiring Oculus. Sony followed, the first to stop laughing when they realized that the entertainment thing in VR could be very serious issue. Microsoft has not been lame. They has gotten into VR through the small door, the one of the Augmented Reality, but they are super committed. HTC, the mobile phone company, left the business and now it is centered solely and exclusively in VR. And Google, always so quiet, is doing its things in hopes of punching his fist on the table when appropriate. Then there’s the inimitable Apple, always in silence, always on the lookout, releaseing strange things as ARKit, an incomplete technology so that we start relishing what comes to us. What they want us to come upon, and when they want us to come over. Not before.

Because, what is going to come? What will be the technological future that awaits us?

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Samsung GearVR. The next glasses will be autonomous, won’t need a phone.

 

1. A world without screens. Only viewers. Glasses.

In the future the screens will disappear. The reason is what I call the “paradox of the infinite screen”. If we are able to create a screen technology that allows “retina” definition even by placing it in a light glasses only a few inches from our eyes, then we have created the infinite screen. It will no longer be necessary to have several displays on our desk. We can create as many virtual screens as we want, and place them so that they float in the space where we want. A 50″ TV in a tiny dining room? There will be no problem. We will put our viewer, and from the glasses we can visualize TV of the size that we want. And replace the smartphone? No problem. Our display will include an AR and VR system. If we are on the street, we put on the glasses, and we can have in our hand a virtual screen of the size we want.

You will ask me how much definition we will need on those screens in order to achieve such a dream. The truth is a lot. Probably an 8K will not suffice, and in addition it will be necessary to think that we will have two eyes and therefore two micro-screens. But do not hesitate. That technology is coming. It is already taking giant steps right now. There were already many companies working on micro-displays. They were using them only for certain professional activities. But in a few years these companies will be worth billions. All of them will be in focus because the whole future will be a pair of screens inside a glasses.

Suddenly, the display of a single device will eliminate all others by one stroke. Do you understand why I say that VR is scary to many companies, and everyone is taking it very calmly to succeed?

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Microsoft Holoportation. Could you tell which of those two people is not in the room?

 

2. A world without smarthphones. Only viewers. Glasses.

The cell phone is dead. Finite. Caput. Now you will understand the fear and even terror to VR of many companies!

Think about it. We have been doing communication the same monotonous way for a century. First were messages (the telegraph), then came voice (the phone) and then small messages wirelessly (SMS and mobile), to end up landing with chats, messages in the cloud (wasapp) and video conferencing. But no one uses videoconferencing. It’s bullshit. It is just a tiny little window showing a flat and almost inert face of the speaker, almost always looking in any direction but you.

It’s time for something new. And that hour has already arrived. It has already arrived two years ago, when I had a chance to try Oculus Social, and I thought, wow, when this achieves full functionality, it will destroy cell phones. It will crush it.

The world to come will have telepresence. Listen. It is not teleconference, nor videoconference. It’s like a hundred times more communication. It is the end of the road in communication between people.

Imagine it. You put on glasses, your interlocutors do the same, and you are all in a virtual simulation where you experience the true and real feeling of being one next to the others. Not only do you see the others in 3D, that you do. It is that you will see their facial gestures and their hands, you will see how their virtual eyes look at yours, you will see their lips moving following their real voice, which will not come from rubbish stereo speakers, it will be real 3D positional sound, and you will notice where every person is even without seeing them. To make matters best, virtual avatars will reach almost in the photographic fidelity, creating the permanent feeling of being next to that other person as if you were next to his or her in the real world.

Science fiction? This already has a year of existence on some platforms. Facebook is taking slow but safe steps in this regard. Microsoft has already made its first prototypes. The thing is beginning but when it wakes up at all it will be the biggest disruption of a technology that nobody has ever seen. Suddenly, in a few years, the world will forget mobile phones forever. Nothing will be comparable to putting on a viewer, even in the street, a simple and comfortable glasses that will not only protect us from the sun like the current we usually carry, but will be incredible screens that will allow us to superimpose other virtual people in the real world or if we are at home or in a private place to close all our field of vision and enter into a complete virtual telepresence.

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vSpatial. Minority Report was a stupid Hollywood joke.

 

3. A virtual world. Not AR norRV nor MR. Only viewers. Glasses. Virtual.

Our current VR glasses are heavy and uncomfortable. They are a temporary solution. They are the latest generation of virtual glasses. And it has not been the worst. You should look for Google “The Sword of Damocles” if you want to see a real hijink of virtual glasses of the 60.

But do not hesitate. In five to ten years we will start to see glasses as light as sunglasses. They will have to carry a small mini-PC in their pins but the usual thing will be to carry a mini-console in your pocket. The equivalent of our current mobile phones or tablets, but that will not have screen. Everything that now forces us to do to be able to handle a mobile or tablet through the screen will no longer be necessary in the future. The screen will have disappeared, leaving in place a viewer, a glasses, and a small mini-console. The phone will have become a small box, the size of a wallet, with enough graphic power to be able to fill our viewer wirelessly.

You will get to work, and there will be no screen or keyboard at your desk, except for nostalgic people who like to pound keys and hear their sound and their tactile feel. Then there will only be a box without a screen, a mini-Mac if you want so that we will connect our viewer and it will offer us as many screens and virtual keyboards as we want. They will float fixed in the space around us or be mobile. We can close the field of vision completely (and then we would be in VR), or we can leave the real world visible and overlap more or less virtual things in it (what is called AR). The mixing in the same device of both capabilities is called by some Mixed Reality, or MR, but it is pure and simple VR. The only difference is how much of the virtual world and the real world we want to see. Because both systems require the same: a display, cameras or sensors for absolute positioning, and a powerful console to move realistic graphics that make null the difference between a real FullHD screen on our desktop or a virtual screen with the same definition.

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Oculus Video. Let’s see, what kind of cinema I want to go today.

 

4. Farewell to cinemas. They will survive as nostalgic technology, just like theaters. Welcome to true home theater.

You come back home and you want to see a movie. But you want to see it in a big way, as you did when you went to the queue of the cinema, to buy tickets, and then you sat in an armchair in front of a gigantic screen that you barely cover with your eyes.

Now you will put your personal viewer on your comfortable sofa in your home, and without queuing, you will enter a virtual cinema. Your seat will always be the best, whatever you want from the cinema. No fight to catch the best seat. Around you, eating their virtual popcorn, other people like you (in worse seats, although they will say the opposite, because in fact they will have also chosen their seat). The screen, infinite. As if coming out of the ceiling. This is virtual technology, there are no physical rules here. The sound, 3D positional. No such Dolby Surround or THX shit from the past. The movie, in 2D or 3D, as you prefer. But not a 3D substitute like the one we have now in many cinemas. Authentic 3D multifocal with infinite depth of planes, which will give you the feeling that the cinema screen has literally disappeared.

Do I continue? Science fiction will tell you again. And the point is that I have already seen two short films of animation with these characteristics last years. Why I have not seen a full large filme yet? Very easy. Because those who push technological advances in Hollywood film industry do not want to throw away the immense fortunes that have taken place in 3D cinemas in recent years. First they want to put us through a long period of fucking 3D cinema, and only when they have paid off their investments well, then they will give the OK to put money in VR. Disney, Warner, Sony, they all know that when VR hits theaters, cinemas will be gone. IMAX will be over. 3D cinemas will be over. The industry will be over as we know it today. Distributors will move the torch to streaming companies. The change will be brutal. And the loss of income for many will also be brutal.

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Ready Player One. Wade Watts about to get something important.

5. The world of Ready Player One, but without dystopia.

There is a book that is prophetic to the extreme with all that I have just said. It’s the book by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One, about to become Steven Spielberg’s latest movie. In this book Cline describes a world where people use a single device for everything, a viewer and a console. There are other peripherals to complete the experience, but the essential thing in the whole novel is that. Cline shows a world where no one uses screens, or mobile phones, or keyboards. All this has been replaced by a virtual world that borders on reality, which is even more real in some aspects than reality itself. He also paints a dystopian world to make the story more exciting and dramatic, something I’m pretty sure will not happen. But if you can read this novel by imagining that the things you have about VR are going to happen in a much more utopian world, you will be quite close to getting an idea of ​​what the future will be like.

Distance education using VR, telepresence in private chats, business centers operating within the virtual world, virtual currencies finishing with a valuation similar to the real currencies, connectivity to the virtual world from anywhere with wireless systems that work in both AR and VR modes, professions that will take place only inside the virtual world… This is going to arrive, will be here in not a long time. There will be very strong resistance from some industries, companies will push for this to be delayed as much as possible, but little can be done against the impressive power of experience. From the moment another person puts on a VR viewer of the ones that are now and try it, and that person glimpses the spectacularity of this technology, nothing can stop the word spreading.

The future is coming. It’s here. It came a couple of years ago.

Wolves against VR

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There are many wolves that harass Virtual Reality. Many mouths drooling and raging that revolve around its prey waiting for it to stumble, to fall, to be able to pounce on it, to be able to grasp it from the jugular and give it its last tooth. To be able to say it, before saw it die, an “I told you so”.

Virtual Reality has had enemies and detractors since it began its journey more than 50 years ago. There was always an excuse, there was always something that motivated disinterest, denial, even rejection and exclusion. It is and will be – it has earned this record- the most reviled technology of the modern era. VR and the electric car technology. Both have been the subject of the worst harassment than an obsolete and reluctant industry has ever shown toward another nascent industry.

The first in naysaying and trying to curb Virtual Reality have been the great videogame studios. Many of them have say NO and haven’t wanted to know anything. Nor should we forget filmmakers and people from TV and film industry who have dedicated to ignore VR.

The second to despise Virtual Reality have been videogame console companies. Nintendo hasn’t wanted to know anything, Apple has made it as if it did not exist, and Microsoft has skipped it and gone only to Augmented Reality. Only Sony has had the courage to embark on the adventure.

We must continue with production companies, those companies full of corked guys with many millions in the pocket that all they want is to see their bank account increased with either video games or audiovisual content. I am talking about people like ZeniMax, who forbidden one of the greatest video game luminaries of all times, John Carmack, to be able to dedicate himself to port his games to VR. John Carmack, opensource’s biggest supporter in videogames, a key actor in the history of video games that allowed some studios like Valve to have their first graphics engine because he donated the source code, a key figure in some of the biggest improvements in video game graphics that has not hesitated to openly share them in the web, which has been shamefully demanded by ZeniMax, the owner of his id Software studio for a few years. And what is a  incredible that ZeniMax has the shame to do, demanded for stealing code from a company that had refused to make code for VR! Incredible also the demand has prospered in a way that the current Carmack company, Oculus, will have to pay to ZeniMax the hefty figure of 500 million dollars. Very sad!

We must not forget in this process of denial to mass media, who are always eager to make news a claim for their websites crowded with ads. VR, which has only been rolling out from a year now, has now some saying that is going to fail. How soon some people want VR to go to hell just to be able to put a new flashy headline on their website! Very sad again!

Finally, do not forget users, those fanatic users with very few neurons in brain that are capable of get married with a brand, a product, a platform, or VR company visions or policies. Users who are happy when a company like Oculus trip over, when it has been the first company in launching the current VR industry. Users who are ready to diseminate all sorts of slanders on the web as long as their preferred brand prevails, even if it is at the cost of giving a bad image of VR that can make reticent thousands of other users.

All these people do nothing to help Virtual Reality to be a recognized and appreciated technology. They all are very carefully elaborating a profuse list of hoaxes and downsides, a list that they never loose time creating when it comes to other technologies. Why this happens to VR is something that I do not understand, and is like a social pathology for me. Perhaps it is a technology that has been so disfigured in films and literature and that has been so bad-characterized that it is already part of a collective subconscious impossible to change.

I don’t know. I don’t know, I do not want to know. I only know what I see, what I have in front of me when I put on VR headset. It is a technology that is very mature, incredibly mature, and extraordinary in its capabilities, in what it can do for us. From here to the next few years it can only improve and become easier to use, more powerful, more comfortable. And neither detracting studios, nor filmmakers anchored to 3D theaters, nor ZeniMax, nor yellow press nor anti-Oculus fanatics are going to make it stop thriving. There are already good and big companies involved, like Facebook, Sony, Valve, Samsung, big producers, great filmmakers and forward-looking actors, many companies that see their potential in countless professional fields.

If someone thinks that he is doing some damage to the VR industry, he can stop thinking in wolves and start closing his mouth. His fangs are going to run out of bite. VR has arrived and it is a very big bear that is going to give its blow to the wolves in due time.

This’s how good VR is done

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Yesterday we had an appointment with Oculus Connect 3, the annual conference of Oculus where they offer their latest advances for users and developers. And I wasn’t dissapointed. Oculus, I said it before, is for me the flagship VR company. Others have stepped into the car, but Oculus has been who raised the interest. Others seek to imitate Oculus, but Oculus sets the mark. They are the reference, and apparently, as seen yesterday, they will remain.

Some time ago I wondered whether Oculus would be overtaken by big companies like Google or Apple when they decide to enter the VR world. Google has made its first serious foray, presenting Daydream Viewer, a much more solid proposal than Google Cardboard, but ultimately only keeps up with GearVR. Apple is still asleep, more interested in AR and shows no signs of wanting to come here. After the impressive keynote yesterday in San Francisco by Oculus, and don’t forget, also by Facebook, I wonder if Google or any other large company will be able to overshadow Oculus. Because what they showed or teased yesterday was tremendous.

Let’s see it.

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First, Mark Zuckerberg took the stage to make us understand why Facebook has interest in Oculus and VR. They made a demo of a product in development, let’s call it Social VR, which left more than one with an open mouth. An app that allows us to define an cartoony avatar and then create a room and group with up to 8 friends or colleagues to have many experiences in VR. Of course talk fluently as in Skype, but also see facial and hand gestures of our partners. Communication skills goes even further by allowing different locations to share, exchange photos, take pictures or screen shots within VR, play spontaneous games, make sketches or drawings, share a video that all participants can see… The list of things shown would be endless. A similar app already exists, you could say, AltSpace VR, and it’s true, but the fact that Facebook is behind having its own one highlights the concept that social apps will be very big in VR in the months to come. AltSpace VR has a whole road ahead but Facebook is a giant with arguably the planet’s largest social communication network. This does nothing but make me specially excited with what is upon us.

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But Social VR was just the appetizer. First course we had a bunch of good news. Oculus Touch finally reaches us, and comes in two modes: basic, for seated or standing use, with the controls and a new Constellation camera, and advanced, for room-scale, in the form of an extra Constellation sensor that can be purchased at Oculus Store. When I saw it I understood why Oculus, unlike Valve and HTC, is doing their homework well. Oculus does not want to force users to acquire a product necessarily oriented to room-scale. Oculus knows, as a lot of knowledgeable VR people know, that room-scale is simply a HTC marketing product, not the panacea or the ultimate solution for the lot of problems that VR locomotion implies. Room-scale, at the size proposed by Valve is not feasible for many users in their homes, where they usually have a small space shared by furniture and other people. It is not easy to make the free space at home that Valve recommends for room-scale. For that reason Oculus never saw it as the real solution and the way forward. Users want comfort and ease of use. So Oculus has decided to offer all the full experience, but separate the products so that each usero can choose what level of experience theywant in VR: seated, standing-up (and being able to move a few steps) or room-scale (and move through a large space). Valve forces users to adquire a product with room-scale and to buy a $800 product, the Vive. Oculus from now will offer three products: Rift, $600, with seated and limited standing-up features; Touch, $200, with a full standing-up experience; and finally, an extra Constellation, for $80, incorporating room-scale. The whole package is more expensive than Vive, but allows options, something that Sony is also doing in the same way, but Valve and HTC have been determined to not be the case.

In the audio chapter, something that almost no VR manufacturer is considering, Oculus sets the difference again. They did it when included a removable headphones in the Rift, making the putting-on of the HMD a lot more easy than with with Vive or PSVR. Integrated headphones is a great idea, integrated RealSpace 3D Audio Visisonics software is another great idea, both exclusive of Oculus, but what is really great is they have opened the door for allowing other headphones manufacturers to create their own integrated versions. And to prove it Oculus is going to start selling an earbuds as an accessory. It will be enough to remove the current one, which is a quite easy operation, and place the new one, which will offer a more isolation and and immersed experience for those users who like this kind of headphones.

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But main course of the day, the dish that could not go unnoticed despite Oculus has show it only behind closed doors, is the Santa Cruz prototype. It is first VR HMD with all embedded and able to have absolute positioning. A short video showed that it is a variant of Rift but with all components (CPU/GPU/drive) inserted into it so, although it is heavier, you can move freely and be disconnected from the PC to feel a new level of VR freedom that neither GearVR nor Rift could give. In addition, RoadToVR, who was being able to try it, report us that the tracking system, inside-out type, works surprisingly well, with a reliability in the edge of what Rift offers. Quite an accomplishment that opens up a whole new world of possibilities in the field of tracking, because it could mean that future Oculus products, as this autonomous Santa Cruz Rift, or the future CV2 Rift, no longer need external Constellation cameras to do the tracking. Nobody, even Valve, has shown to date something remotely as good. Lighthouse system, although has a great tracking for the head, fails quite a lot with the controllers for the hands, and is completely dependent on laser emitters, base stations, which at least two of them are needed. It is also an inside-out system, but has the disadvantage that it needs these base stations, which must be plugged into power or a battery. It is an increase in the number of system elements, as are Oculus Constellation cameras, and whatever reduces complexity for users will be a step forward in VR.

So in this area, Oculus is definitely away from Valve and HTC, gaining momentum and moving far ahead in this race to be the best consumer VR system. And that’s not to mention the latest star that I have left for the final, Asynchronous SpaceWarp, another genius of Oculus that it will not surprise me if it had John Carmack signature behind. If Asynchronous TimeWarp allowed to maintain constant 90fps when a VR experience became too demanding for our GPU, ASW is the next iteration, allowing interpolation of frames as magic, and literally doubling the frame rate so experiences that do not reach more than 45fps with a particular hardware, something perfectly acceptable for dozens of current GPUs, suddenly be able to show 90fps in VR. All thanks to a prediction using the last two frames and with minimal system overhead. Put in simple words: from now on any average hardware will be able to comfortably run games and apps in VR. It is so amazing, that Oculus announced a reduction in Rift requirements by half. It is not a promise or something they will do in the future. It is something that is here and it is real, and those who are testing it reports that is as “pure magic”. Games and apps work fluidly in conditions where it was impossible before. Olé for Oculus!

And we could go on because the rain of announcements from Oculus yesterday seemed to have no end: a new web browser designed for VR nickname “Carmel”, a new funding program for developers and content creators, games in and games for Touch, some from renowned studios, a VR drawing app called Quill, a virtual sculpture app called Medium… No need to continue. Oculus is at the peak. The reason is that now is no longer just Oculus. Facebook and Oculus are together. It is a team with some of the world’s leading experts in computer graphics, in video games, and VR. And that in the end is bringing the fruits.

Let’s celebrate this moment because this can only mean one thing. VR is here, it is stronger than ever, and will be a technology that in the hands of a company like Facebook and Oculus is going to go very very far away.

The problem with VR reviews

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When Virtual Reality products are compared, usually are wrongly compared for a reason: no balance is analyzed, only those factors that prioritizes who writes the review.

They are starting to proliferate many VR devices. Some require a mobile phone, others have everything integrated, others need to be connected to a PC… Their features vary and each one offers strengths and weaknesses. Some allow to be carried in a bag and take them anywhere comfortably. Others let us move us in the virtual world a few meters. Others have excellent ergonomics and do not bother to be worn. Others have high quality image. Others affordable price. Etc.

What is the essential feature? What is most important for a VR system? Is the image quality, the resolution, no showing Screen Door Effect? Is the quality of tracking, that the system always follow our movements to the millimeter in head and hands? Is it to be able to move widely in the space of a large room? Is it the price? What is essential?

It is clear that each user tell a different story. There will be for whom image is everything. They don’t mind not being able to move much or having to be always seated as long as the image is sharp and pristine. For others, VR is nothing if you are unable to get up from the chair and move, feel that you can freely walk through the virtual world, even if it is only a few steps in each direction. And even there will be whom everything is under the price, and for whom the unique feature is that the price is within something acceptable to the vast majority.

VR isn’t just one feature, that is clear, but a set of them. And each one goes in detriment of the other. It is very difficult to create a device that maximizes all at the same time. The price factor largely imposes restrictions on what can be done. And it is also clear that subjective assessment of users influences as well. What is the best product is ultimately a matter of determining what is more valuable for oneself. And there aren’t two equal users. There are thousands of users with different criteria.
Creating a VR device is ultimately a question of balance. This is about adding a number of elements in the balance that weigh no more than the price set. The developer of the device is ultimately who evaluate what is most important and adds it on the balance.

Let’s take some examples:

GearVR is a product that has the advantage that it is very economical, costs $100, and requires a mobile phone of about $600, but on the other hand has no power to move many graphics and also doesn’t provide a tracking system that allows move the head freely or walk.

PlayStation VR has the advantage of being very cheap, about $400, require a fairly inexpensive console about $400, but against it the console can not be upgraded to improve the visual appearance nor offers an advanced tracking, so it doesn’t allow moving around in a space. It has, yes, a very good ergonomics, the best in its class, and good image quality, but the graphics shown are limited by the power of the console, and once purchased, can not improve.

Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are expensive products, with its controls for hands come to cost $800, and require an expensive PC of just over $1000, but on the other hand can offer the most spectacular graphics that no one has seen in a VR device ever before. Ergonomics, although it is good in the case of Oculus, is still below PlayStation, but other aspects such as tracking are unsurpassed. In the case of HTC tracking system, developed by Valve, it is the best of its kind, allowing to make a large volume tracking. Moreover, added to this, these two systems are PC-based, which means they can be updated with better graphics cards and better components to achieve each year better graphics despite the limitations imposed by the internal screens these HMD use.

Everything in the end is a compromise. Oculus, for example, has given much importance to the issue of audio, introducing into their system an algorithm for creating 3D audio and integrating into the HMD a pair of good headphones. Others haven’t made much effort in this direction, leaving a simple audio jack where the user have to attach some owned headphones. Is audio a key aspect of VR experience? For some users it is, for others it isn’t. Valve, as another example, has created a tracking system that allows to be shared by multiple users or expand to growing spaces by placing more station emitters. It even allow the user carry a PC-bagpack and move freely wireless in the room. It is the only device that allows this. GearVR by itself cannot do this, nor Oculus Rift or PSVR. Now, is moving freely and wirelessly through a wide room the most important thing in VR? For some it is, for others it isn’t.

What to say in conclusion then? All reviews, as good as they may seem, are always bad. The only way to determine what is the best is that each user makes little effort to test the devices himself, calmly and with time, and determine what is most appreciated. VR, unfortunately, can not be described in words. It can not be described with images or videos. Nobody can tell us. We need to experience it to understand it and appreciate it. Soon many shopping centers will have test areas for VR and different devices for sale. The best way to compare will be to go them and spend a little time with a marketing guy explaining us and doing a test. Do not trust in reviews and comparatives! There is only one way to analyze, and is Tested, I mean testing :-).

Why do I like Oculus Rift a lot more than HTC/Valve Vive?

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Well, finally they are in my hands. The two VR products for PC that will compete in the coming years as the benchmark for VR PC. Both have reached me about the same time, and I could start to try them intensively studying their strengths and weaknesses and starting to enjoy all kinds of experiences in VR, this time not with a product for developers, but with the end consumer products.

There is an aspect of having to buy two products I do not like, obviously. These products finally are not as cheap as initially expected. The optics they both have, fresnel lenses, are not easy to produce. All in optics tech, you know, is expensive. Oculus Rift price in Spain is €700 VAT added (and apart you must add shipping charges, about €40). Price of HTC Vive VAT added is €914 (and shipping costs in Spain are €73 more). Therefore, it is a purchase that is within what is usually a high-end electronic product. For many users it will mean a choice between one or the other, so I wanted to analyze first hand how are both products and what user experience provide.
Before entering specifications I want to raise it from this perspective: the philosophy of Oculus is the best. Let me explain.

Valve is a company focused only in gaming, video games. Its entry into VR is to bring it to gaming. That’s all Valve has seen in Oculus since began to support its Kickstarter campaign. Their VR platform therefore will bring only what is useful for gaming.

Oculus is a company born from the passion of a boy, Palmer Luckey, who came to work one season in a laboratory VR in college, where he not only saw the potential of VR for video games, but for virtually any industry. He convinced Brendan Iribe and Nate Mitchell, two young men who came from creating companies focused on video games, but soon they all started to speak the same language. “VR was going to change everything, not just video games.” They had to go beyond video games.

Why didn’t Oculus allow Valve to buy them or why didn’t Valve buy Oculus (ask yourself as you like), it is something we do not know, but since Valve was supporting very much Oculus, it seemed a logical company to do so. Two of his best VR technicians, Michael Abrash and Atman Binstock, left Valve and switch to Oculus. And Oculus previously received invaluable help from Valve with low persistence system, which had been an idea of Abrash. Valve and Oculus seemed to work as a single company.

However, surprising friends and strangers, Oculus let Facebook to buy them. The reason, explained by Oculus, is the philosophy that Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, deployed in front of Oculus team and Palmer. Despite the logical reticent about a company like Facebook, which initially seemed to have nothing to do with VR, Palmer and others realized that they and Mark spoke the same language. “VR was going to change everything, not just video games.” They had to make a VR system with an input system that would serve for everything. FOR ALL.

That meant that if they wanted to create a VR ecosystem Oculus had to start creating a VR app store. Apps of all kinds, from educational to professionals, from 360 streaming video to specific VR movies to be enjoyed in VR. Because that Oculus created Oculus Story Studio, in order to promote a new film industry in VR that both Disney and its subsidiary Pixar were embracing in a very shy way. Because that Facebook has set up a team to develop Oculus 360, a 360 video service that has right now a connection to Facebook and seeks to create a service that competes even with Youtube. Oculus, like Facebook, is aware that VR will be a huge, huge business, which will extend far beyond video games. Will Valve create a movie studio and hire former employees from Pixar as Oculus has done? Will Valve release a streaming video service? They loose the chance with Twitch and they do not seem interested in developing their own system.

All these thoughts have turned to me when I have started testing the two comercial products, both Rift and Vive. The first feeling I’ve had is that Oculus provides a more polished, more focused on VR, more intuitive and user friendly experience for people that begins with this technology, while Valve and HTC seem to be still be trying to figure it out. As an example we just need to start a couple of games within each app launcher.

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Oculus Home. Here you are looking front. But the house surrounds you completely and looks great and comfortable.

In Oculus, when you jump in, it’s all super simple. There is only one app installed on the PC, only one, called Oculus Home, which is the entry point app. The app opens both in normal desktop, taking the appearance of a simple and neat Windows app that displays your current content and products available in the store, and opens as VR, in the form of a nice lounge in which interface elements float amid. To select something, you just use a simple remote control that comes with the Rift, the remote. The remote is a huge genius of Oculus that almost no one is assessing and allows anyone with no knowledge of how a gamepad works start to go from one screen to another within VR. To select something you just look at it, placing a cursor, and click on the large button of the remote. The remote also brings two very useful buttons to raise and low the volume, something that always we want to make fast, and a button to pause the current app and go back. This allows us to govern Oculus Home with a tiny remote control that fits in our pocket. Once a game is launched with the remote, we can put it in the pocket and use the mouse, gamepad, joystick, steering wheel or any other peripheral that requires the game or app. All super simple, clear and transparent. When finished, the game closes and returns smoothly to Oculus Home, which thus becomes an experience similar to teleporting somewhere from a nice house and then come back. It is enjoyable and relaxing.

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Steam client in VR mode. You can see that to press a button you need to point at it with the Valve controller.

In the case of Valve and HTC there is much confusion. On one hand is the Steam Client, an app we will have to have installed, and on the other hand an application called Vive, which is a bit strange because it seems to be a copy of Oculus Home, but then you do not have all the functionality installed. Now you only can see a list of VR products you have installed, but only in Windows desktop without opening an equivalent in VR. Also, enter Steam is not enough to enter VR. You need to press a tiny button with the word VR, almost hidden in a corner. In doing so, we get an error message from an app called vivevoice.exe or so. This isn’t a good sign. We ignore the error, which is relative to a VR system for mobile phone notifications, and enter VR. The interface is only a photo sphere around us and a huge screen that is a replica of Steam Big Picture mode, and to select something we must necessarily use the new Valve controls or a gamepad. Valve controls are not at all comfortable. We have to point with them to the button we want to press, and then pull the trigger, something that certainly fails very often. In addition, Big Picture mode, although is a simplification of the whole Steam interface, is still overwhelming, with lots of options and buttons here and there. As if this were not enough, VR settings and options are in a separate small window that opens on the desktop, shows in green icons the connection of the system, and is not integrated with the Steam interface.

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The confusing Vive app, for several settings outside the Steam client.

This is just a sample, but the trend with both products. With Oculus everything is simple, fast, easy, and it works without errors, with amazing reliability for someone who has spent two years undergoing different Developer Kits that they have released. With HTC/Valve everything seems to be taken with tweezers, everything seems in alpha. It is a Developer Kit disguised as a commercial product. And I am not going to discuss issues such as ergonomics or the fluidity of frames, in which Oculus is well above Valve. I could make a post just talking about this issue, but there is no discussion. Rift comfort is greater than Vive. It feels lighter in the head and less annoying. Rift screens look much sharper and much better for reading texts.

Many people in discussion forums and many media evaluate HTC Vive as a step ahead of Oculus Rift. I do not agree at all. The HTC Vive tracking system that allows us to stand up in the room and move with some degree of freedom is a system that Oculus has announced that it will in turn be available in September when you buy Touch, the equivalent to Valve controls. But honestly, these experiences that have come to be called “room-scale” aren’t something extraordinary and aren’t for me the future of VR. They still have huge limitations. First, very few people have enough space in their homes for an experience like this, and being constantly reaching the limits of the app, shown as virtual walls, is extremely frustrating. They are fun as a novelty thing but also imply the user to stand and move and that’s more tired in the long run, which means shorter gaming sessions. For extended use of VR the only acceptable way is to sit down, which is the philosophy of Oculus, again, and it seems to me the right one. Right now the experience with Oculus is that everything can be done in an extremely comfortable and sitting mode, and later add other additions to the system, as the possibilities for room-scale, which Oculus see as secondary.

VR can not go to a “room-scale” approach. It has to go to a “world-scale” approach, in which we can move infinitely, feeling the movement beneath our feet but without moving from the site. The HTC/Valve system is dangerous. It is very easy to get bogged with the cable and fall down or step on a pet or trip over someone who has invaded the space without realizing it. They recommend in the user manual to avoid use the system alone for this reason. It is very easy to move one of the controllers beyond the limits and hit a wall or a lamp (it happened me), and controllers come without any protection or plastic sheath. More than one user or viewer will take a hit if not used carefully.

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The Virtuix Omni, the first commercial product for consumer market that pursues the desired “world-scale” VR.

The future of VR will come from a device like a running threadmill of gyms but that allow us all the wide range of movements that human body admits: walk in any direction, crouch, jump, go stairs up and down, and even lie down. There are some attempts so far to achieve a technology like this, the most prominent Virtuix Omni, which is already a fully commercial product that some users are starting to get in their homes. It is not entirely efficient in the simulation, but is a first attempt. The future of full VR comes here. From a device of this type. It don’t come from clearing rooms and leave them empty, because rooms, no matter how big they are, never be enough big for certain experiences. Can anyone imagine playing a game like Fallout 4 in room-scale, having to use small jumps teleports as is done in Budget Cuts game currently available for Vive?

Valve’s room-scale is an idea to differentiate from Oculus and apparently bring to market a better product. If they do not give the feeling of taking a product exceeding Oculus quality, nobody would look at them because VR reference in everyone’s ears is Oculus. But suddenly Valve realizaed that their juicy online business of selling VR video game was threatened by Oculus and Facebook, something that is incomprehensible that they didn’t see much earlier. It is clear that Oculus could not delegate VR content in other stores like Steam. It was clear that sooner or later Oculus would own a store, focusing solely on VR content. And that is why Valve has decided to enter the business. Without an own VR system, they wouldn’t be justified to have a part of the cake. But his entry into VR has been late and in a hurry. Oculus took more than two years producing prototypes and developer kits, and still continues to iterate with the input system. Valve has had to ally with HTC to run and try to overtake his competitor, leaving the Valve system in a confusing position. They want any VR maker use their technology, but now it is only used by HTC. Will we see in the future LG, Acer or whoever VR systems using Valve’s technology? And everyone will agree that Steam be the VR store for all kind of apps?

Many doubts and uncertainties for VR, a technology that has always been ignored, and we have no more than see the indifference of companies like Apple. VR needs a company focused on it, a company that the lead it and be the reference in VR, and I no longer doubt. That company is Oculus.

Oculus, the great hope of VR

Some weeks ago I talked about “Valve, the great hope of VR”, and wondered if finally Oculus wouldn’t be who bring VR to its full potential, but now the sentence has changed completely for me.

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We are at March 28th, 2016, a date for framing, as it is the date of the global launch of Oculus Rift, the first VR system intended for the consumer who uses the PC platform, and I must say that all I’m looking from Oculus is to give them an applause.

Oculus has grown from a small company creating devices and software with hard effort, to become a company creating an entire platform and ecosystem that didn’t exist at all.

When I asked myself what interest a company like Facebook could have to acquire Oculus, the possible intentions wasn’t clear to me. But after several months of seeing news Oculus has been uncovering, as apps for social VR , their new short films made with real-time graphics , or their “Oculus Ready” PCs in collaboration with major industry PC gaming names , I have no doubt. Oculus, with Facebook, is the future of VR.

Facebook is building a future social network not based in classic websites or apps for smartphones, but in VR. Something completely different than the current Facebook app. Something that will leave us amazed when it start working, and for what we’ve had light glimmers with Oculus Social app for GearVR.

In the imminent future we’ll do hangouts with friends or relatives within a virtual environment. The setting will be that we want, fully customizable, and will allow to a group of people share space and feel like we’re all together the same than in the real world. At first, our image will be somewhat simplified, perhaps only showing a head and floating hands, or graceful forms of robots, or fanciful characters, but in time, we will create photorealistic avatars of ourselves without effort, simply putting ourselves in front of a camera, and we will can have near-real virtual telepresence, as Microsoft has recently shown with HoloLens and its Holoportation .

HTC is a company whose main purpose in VR is to sell devices, produce hardware. Valve is a company that in recent times isn’t releasing videogames. Worldwide players have always been anxious and excited with a Valve announcement of a Half Life 3 release, a sequel of its successful game, but the reality is Valve right now is very focused in their role as the reference in online video game store.

Hardware and online store are important parts of a VR platform today, but content, games and apps, they are much more. And here I must say that Oculus has made every effort.

Oculus is a company that lives for VR. Oculus is not like HTC, that if VR isn’t a success can again focus on producing mobile phones. To Oculus is an “all or nothing”. If VR doesn’t succeed, Oculus disappears. For that reason they have been the drivers of all this new industry. They have funded videogames development and worked closely with studios to brig at release date one of the best catalogs of games that a new platform has ever seen. Thirty games today and a hundred games by the end of the year, some of many hours of content such as Elite Dangerous or Project Cars.

Oculus has created its own studio, Oculus Story Studio to produce content for a new film medium that can be something impressive, immersive cinematic movies. One type of movies in which you are a part of the story, interacting with the scenes, the characters or the plot. Something never seen before and for which Oculus has brought several examples, such as Lost, Henry and Dear Angelica to show us what is to come. None of this is now in the plans of HTC or Valve. This is an exclusive commitment of Oculus, which is making all efforts to convince Hollywood that VR is the next revolution in terms of audiovisual content.

It is important to not forget other content that Oculus, and Facebook, is promoting as no one. 360 photos and videos, with or without 3D. This is a whole new way to capture events and memories, the next thing after photos and traditional videos. Many manufacturers like Samsung or LG, not to mention Ricoh and others are pulling out cameras that capture 360 degrees and can be enjoyed in a VR headset. Facebook, which already has spent years allowing people to share photos and videos in its social web, undoubtedly is having much to say here. Google is the only to say something more here, but not HTC.

When many specialized press review Vive say Valve’s and HTC’s product is a premium product that offers an experience above Oculus product because it offers what is called “room scale”. Well, as has been demonstrated by Will Mason of UploadVR , that is totally wrong. Oculus Rift is able to do “room scale” even using a single camera! The well-known reporter of this website focused exclusively on VR clearly shows in this video and also in this another video how Oculus, with a single camera!, is capable of tracking a huge volume of room (4×3 m), almost similar to the space for Valve is advertizing for Vive and Lighthouse sensors. In september, when Oculus launch Touch, its controls for hands, which come with an extra camera, it’s possible that Oculus tracked volume is even higher than Valve product. And that users can choose whether they want a VR experience with the new controls for hands or without them is something that I find a very fair move from Oculus. I think a mistake from Valve and HTC to force users to buy a particular type of peripherials. Not all VR experiences and games will require some controllers as Vive ones. For example, ideal racing games will need wheels, and space sims still will need a joystick or HOTAS.

In short, Oculus is who initiated consumption of VR. They are who have made that a lot of devs become believers in the potential of this tech. They are who are making heavy investments to fund studies or creating content themselves, or even creating a whole new medium to entertain viewers. They are taking all the risks and doing all experiments at the level of content. Its annual conference, Oculus Connect , now in its second edition, it is the industry reference in this of events.

Oculus is the great hope of VR.