Facebook’s Tech Chief on the New Oculus Virtual Reality Headset

Facebook is continuing its push to make virtual reality mainstream.

During the company’s annual Oculus Connect developer conference this week, the social networking giant unveiled its new $ 200 Oculus Go VR headset that, unlike many rivals, doesn’t require a personal computer or smartphone to operate.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pitched the new headset as the “sweet spot” between the company’s $ 400 Rift headset and the mobile phone-powered Gear VR headset that Facebook sells in partnership with Samsung. Facebook hopes the cheaper headset will convince more people to try virtual reality.

In this edited interview with Fortune, Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer discusses the new Go headsets, his views about VR’s cousin technology, augmented reality, and the impact of relatively new Oculus chief Hugo Barra.

Fortune: Why did it take this long for Facebook to unveil a VR headset that doesn’t need to be tethered to a phone or computer?

Schroepfer: I think that the first couple years of VR is just getting VR to work. Just getting Touch [motion controllers] to work, getting the software to work well on the Gear VR, and getting developers to develop great experiences.

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What will be the quality of the visuals on the new Go standalone headset be like compared to current smartphone-powered headsets?

For the Oculus Go, think of it as a similar experience from a graphics standpoint to the Gear VR, because it’s a similar kind of platform—but with our latest lenses. The sharpness of text and a bunch of other things will be quite a bit improved. But in terms of the graphics, for the developers [building apps] for the Gear VR, this would be similar.

Are you seeing more of a demand from companies interested in VR? [Facebook also debuted a $ 900 Oculus Rift bundle for businesses that comes with a warranty and customer support.]

We’re seeing a lot of companies wanting to use Rift. There are many different projects where people are saying, “Okay, this is the best tool around to visualize something.” “I’m an architect, I want to share a model of the building with my client.” We can pay people to build one of those toothpick things, print some stuff out, or I can bring them into a 3D model where I can take the roof off and basically be like, “See, this is what the living room looks like.”

I’ve talked to people who build simulators for F1 racing cars and they spend $ 2 million building it. And then they see this $ 600 headset or $ 900 [with accessories] and they say, “Cool, now I can buy a thousand of them for the same cost as one of these.” I think it’s this massively disruptive thing. I’ve heard of people doing this for all sorts of different uses—bus drivers, flight—anything that requires simulation. People have used it for first responder training so they can simulate what it’s like to actually be in, terrible fires like in Napa right now, and being inside a building and rescuing people.

Did you expect that so many companies like HP Inc., Dell Technologies, Samsung would debut new Windows-based VR headsets this year?

We hoped that more people would build stuff. I’d be worried if we were the only ones. Because the thing that developers ask for more than anything is a bigger market for their apps. The bigger the market is for the apps, the more developers, and the more great content. This is why we’ve been so focused on trying to get the price down, trying to make things easy for consumers. Because you build a consumer base, then you get developers building awesome stuff, and then lots of amazing stuff happens.

Will VR headsets be smaller any time soon?

It’s not clear they’re going to get that much smaller. I do think they will get higher resolution and a wider field of view. They’ll do a better job of incorporating the real world into the virtual world and scanning where you are. Controllers are great, but at some point we will get to where I can just put a headset on and have my hands do things.

Can you tell me about the influence of Hugo Barra coming to Oculus in January?

Hugo’s great.

I had a funny feeling you would say he was great, but, I mean he’s made some changes right?

Well, Mark made his bold statement wanting to get 1 billion people to use VR.

When will that be?

He didn’t specify. What Hugo brings is a lot of experience building devices (he’s a former executive at Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi and a former executive at Google). Particularly, Xiaomi has built very high-quality but very low-cost devices, and entered new markets like India. So he has a lot of experience with how to help us take what we think is an awesome experience and get it into the hands of people as inexpensively as possible. I think the fact that we can price Oculus Go at $ 199 after Hugo joined is not necessarily an accident.

Was this something he was pushing you to do?

He brought the capability and knowledge and the kind of confidence to be able to build the product at that price.

But why did it take some someone to actually say that, though—that you can sell more devices if they are cheaper?

Well, it’s obvious to everyone, but no one else is shipping a product anywhere close to this cost, right? I mean, this is the joke in Silicon Valley: The ideas are worthless, execution is everything. It’s one thing to have an idea, it’s another to actually do all the work.

I’m going to take this thing and I’m going to add a battery to it and a CPU and a GPU, and I’m going to give you a controller, and I’m going to sell all of that to you for $ 200. There’s a bunch of work there.

John Carmack (Oculus’ chief technology officer) has been a long advocate of low-cost VR. He’s put heart and soul into the Gear VR. It’s on the back of his work that we even have a prayer of doing this.

Do you foresee at some point in the future that the headsets will be a combination of both virtual reality and augmented reality? [With virtual reality, people are completely immersed in digital environments, whereas with augmented reality, people see digital images overlaid on the real world.]

I think VR and AR will be two different things.

You don’t subscribe to the mixed view of it, then?

I mean, I think that if there’s some magic leap in technology that I haven’t seen yet, but right now everything looks like a strict trade-off. Meaning if I want to make it stronger, lighter, and let in actual light, I’m going make the display worse.

When will my phone be as good as an IMAX? Never.

So, there may be some times when I watch movies on my phone, and sometimes I go to the IMAX.

So you and I are chatting right now, and if I want to augment our experience with AR, it’d be great for me to have a pair of AR glasses. If I want to talk to my dad who lives in Florida, I want to put a VR headset on, because I want to feel like I’m there with him. And VR’s going to do a much better job of that than AR for the foreseeable future.

Tech

At smartphone pioneer HTC: a new, or virtual, reality

TAIPEI/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – When HTC Corp (2497.TW) brought back founder Cher Wang two years ago to turn around the struggling Taiwanese mobile phone maker, investors hoped she could stem a sharp loss in market share to Apple (AAPL.O) and Samsung Electronics (005930.KS).

But the gamble to rebuild the early smartphone pioneer’s reputation failed, as its market share has continued to dwindle – to below 1 percent from closer to 10 percent in 2011.

On Thursday, Wang announced HTC was shifting around 2,000 staff, mainly handset engineers, to Alphabet’s Google (GOOGL.O) in a $ 1.1 billion deal that casts doubts over the company’s longer-term future.

“Our main consideration is that our brand will continue,” Chialin Chang, who heads HTC’s mobile business, told reporters. “So our major releases will be as usual. In future, HTC will concentrate not on our portfolio size, but what’s in the portfolio.”

Wang, a pioneer in Taiwan’s male-dominated technology industry, founded HTC 20 years ago as a contract manufacturer and established it as a leader, designing and making Microsoft-powered (MSFT.O) smartphones.

It later turned out its own branded phones, but often struggled to translate positive early reviews into strong sales, despite spending heavily on marketing, including a collaboration with “Iron Man” star Robert Downey Jr for its flagship HTC One phone.

It also struggled to carve out a strong consumer brand in a market where Apple and Samsung grew quickly and have since been joined by Chinese rivals such as Huawei, Oppo and Vivo.

HTC shares have slumped around 90 percent since the company’s 2011 peak.

This week’s deal marks a retreat from HTC’s smartphone legacy.

“It may take a hard look at its smartphone business … and think it’s probably better to wind it down as soon as possible rather than for it to drain more cash,” said David Dai, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein.

“If it focuses on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), there’s a much more concrete chance the company turns things around.”

That prospect pushed up HTC shares by their daily maximum of 10 percent on Friday, valuing the company at around $ 1.7 billion, as some investors hope the Google cash helps HTC focus on its Vive VR headsets and reduce its development costs.

HTC Chief Financial Officer Peter Shen said the deal will cut operating costs by 30-40 percent.

GLIMMER OF HOPE

While the Google cash throws HTC a lifeline for now, it may find it hard to retain staff, analysts said.

Google has cherry-picked the best people, said a former HTC executive who has spoken to current employees, adding: “It’s hard to see how anyone remaining would be enthusiastic.”

“Google’s investment will probably slow, but not stop, HTC’s decline,” said Neil Mawston, an analyst at Strategy Analytics.

Even Vive faces tough competition against the likes of Samsung and Sony Corp (6758.T), which control half the $ 2 billion global AR and VR headset market.

HTC saw flat second-quarter growth, and had 4.4 percent market share after a price reduction.

“Vive remains in the red; free cash flow is negative; book value is eroding; and sales growth is decelerating,” JP Morgan analyst Narci Chang said in a note following the Google deal.

“Nevertheless… we think HTC might narrow the loss considerably… enough to keep the business afloat and beat the (market) consensus for the next few quarters.”

For now, no major VR overhaul has trickled down to staff.

“It (Google’s investment) could be (a good thing), but it’s business as usual,” one Vive employee told Reuters.

Writing by Miyoung Kim; Editing by Ian Geoghegan

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Tech

Microsoft to Hold ‘Mixed Reality’ Event in October

Microsoft plans a big media event in October.

The technology giant said Monday that its “Windows Mixed Reality Event” would take place in San Francisco on Oct. 3.

The event will focus on Microsoft’s (msft) efforts in the burgeoning fields of virtual reality and augmented reality. With virtual reality, people wear headsets that make it appear as if they are in digital worlds that they can interact with. Augmented reality, on the other hand, involves using a smartphone or headset like Microsoft’s HoloLens device so that users can see digital images superimposed on the physical world.

Alex Kipman, a Microsoft technical fellow who helped create the HoloLens, will oversee the event, which will show off the company’s “Windows Mixed Reality experience coming this holiday to Windows 10 PCs,” Microsoft said in a statement.

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In August, Microsoft said that several companies like HP Inc. (hpq), Lenovo, and Dell Technologies would debut VR headsets in time for the upcoming holiday season. A special version Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system that was built for virtual reality will power these headsets.

One of the Windows-powered headsets includes the Dell Visor VR headset, which will cost $ 360 when it debuts later this fall. Competing VR headsets like the HTC Vive and Facebook’s Oculus Rift headset cost $ 600 and $ 500 respectively.

Microsoft has yet to introduce a version of its HoloLens augmented reality headset for consumers. A version of the device that is intended to be used by developers and businesses for purposes like workplace training currently costs $ 3,000.

Tech

Microsoft Research shows off its augmented reality glasses

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Because we’re spoiled and don’t appreciate amazing technology unless it’s immediately convenient, some tech pundits are dismissing VR in favor of AR, but the fact is that we’re still years away from easy to use AR glasses. For now, mainstream AR is limited to your smartphone, like most other apps. 

However, a team at Microsoft Research is looking to speed up the progress on wearable AR devices and have introduced a prototype as proof. 

Before Snap can turn its Spectacles wearable camera into a vehicle for its augmented reality app filters, Microsoft’s team presented a pair of glasses on Friday that use near-eye displays to produce holograms to the wearer.  Read more…

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Microsoft Research shows off its augmented reality glasses

TwitterFacebook

Because we’re spoiled and don’t appreciate amazing technology unless it’s immediately convenient, some tech pundits are dismissing VR in favor of AR, but the fact is that we’re still years away from easy to use AR glasses. For now, mainstream AR is limited to your smartphone, like most other apps. 

However, a team at Microsoft Research is looking to speed up the progress on wearable AR devices and have introduced a prototype as proof. 

Before Snap can turn its Spectacles wearable camera into a vehicle for its augmented reality app filters, Microsoft’s team presented a pair of glasses on Friday that use near-eye displays to produce holograms to the wearer.  Read more…

More about Virtual Reality, Vr, Wearable Tech, Augmented Reality, and Ar


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Microsoft will bring mixed reality to Xbox One and Project Scorpio in 2018


At the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco today, Microsoft announced a couple of important steps in its push toward mixing the real world with the virtual. First off, the company confirmed mixed reality experiences are coming to the Xbox family in 2018, including the next-gen Project Scorpio. If you’re confused about what “mixed reality” is, you’re not alone. Basically, it’s a term encompassing both virtual reality and augmented reality – really, any experience that mixes the real world with digital information. That means we don’t know if future Xbox experiences are coming in the form of a HoloLens-like transparent headset, or a…

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Virtual reality fans are disappointed in Palmer Luckey’s secret Trump fund

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When you find out the enigmatic 24-year-old who built one of the first commercially viable virtual reality headsets also funds a pro-Trump political action group aimed at spreading anti-Hillary Clinton memes, you may feel like your worldview has shifted a bit.

At least that was the response of scores of virtual reality fans, some of whom had followed Oculus founder Palmer Luckey since he posted the Oculus Rift development kit on Kickstarter in 2012. Luckey is a key figure in the growth of virtual reality. Before the headset maker was purchased by Facebook in 2014 for $ 2 billion, he was outspoken and heavily involved on VR forums, the Oculus subreddit and across social media — seemingly rarely with much of a filter. As the Facebook acquisition finalized and the Rift neared final commercial release, that did change some, but Luckey was always a force online. Read more…

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Oculus Rift made me realize I only want to play games in virtual reality

I’m too disorganized for real-time strategy. I’ve had my fill of fast-paced flight games. I’d don’t want to play another minigame collection ever again.

But I’ve found that I love all of these games in virtual reality, and it’s not just about novelty.

On Monday, Oculus VR held an event as part of the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco to show off the roster of games coming to the Rift head-mounted display, and by the end of the day I realized that I was enjoying nearly everything I tried. That includes games I’ve played before on other platforms and didn’t really care for. Analysts with tech adviser Digi-Capital think VR is going to grow into a $ 30 billion industry by 2020, and it’s easier to imagine that reality knowing that I want sports sims, role-playing games, and everything else in the Rift.

I tried out a variety of Oculus Rift games as part of the company’s event. I did VR Sports, where I used the Touch motion controllers to throw a basketball behind my back and over my shoulder while going up for a dunk in slow motion. That’s a unique “experience” that I haven’t had in any other game, and it’s one that I can’t wait to try with my friends and family. But I already knew that novel new ways of gaming is a big selling point for VR.

What surprised me more than VR Sports is a the game AirMech: Command, which is a continuation of the AirMech game that first came out for PC back in 2012.

AirMech is a third-person arena battler. It is essentially an action real-time strategy game that forces you to manage troops around a map while also flying your own mech around. I tried the original game a few years ago, and I appreciated what it was trying to do. But I also bounced off that iteration for the same reason I fall off of most RTS releases: I have a hard time managing the map. In a lot of RTS games, AirMech included, you only ever see a small portion of the map at a time. For me, it’s hard to keep the off-screen parts of the map in my head. And that’s not a skill I’ve wanted to spend a lot of time developing.

But Airmech in VR is completely different in this regard. Instead of having narrow tunnel vision, the Rift version makes it feel like you are playing a dynamic tabletop game. The board sprawls out in front of you, and you can see more things at once. I can navigate a board game with no problems because it’s part of the real world. And thanks to Rift, AirMech: Command might as well be a part of the real world. It amazed me how fast AirMech clicked with me thanks to this more intimate perspective.

I only got to play it for around 30 minutes, but this is a day-one purchase for me. I can’t wait to lose hours to this game, which takes advantage of VR in an unexpected way.

Like AirMech, Crytek’s The Climb uses the Xbox One controller as its primary input device. That’s interesting because The Climb is a game about using your hands to scale a mountain. You’d think this would make it ideal for the Rift’s Touch controller, and it’s possible that Crytek will implement that in the future. But playing it with a gamepad emphasized again how interesting VR can make everything. The Climb is something that I think I would enjoy even on a monitor or television. It is a series of environmental puzzles where you need to figure out where to put your hands while ensuring you are always gripping to the wall by holding down a trigger button. It’s clever, and it has a lot of potential for racing against your friends’ times.

But playing The Climb had me jazzed. It was another game I just wanted to keep playing for hours. It was so much to make a difficult jump and then look down to see how far I would’ve fallen had I missed. But it also makes the moment-to-moment gameplay more immediate and interesting. I really remember feeling like I was hugging the side of that mountain, and I was leaning my head around to see what my options were for my next hand placement.

After getting time with AirMech and The Climb, I am imagining getting other games I would typically play on a console in VR. I’d love something like a 16-bit Japanese RPG where I can play the game from in third-person and see all of the awesome spells happening, like I they were happening right down in front of me — and I’ve never finished a JRPG in my life.

And I think it’s important to realize that VR isn’t about 15 minute “experiences.” It is about breathing new life into older genres. That’s something we’re getting when it comes to the Rift launch platformer Lucky’s Tale, but I hope we get even more because I can already tell that I’ll struggle to return to a 2D static screen after playing VR.

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