Tracking

Photo by Road to VR

A major difference between the forthcoming Windows Mixed Reality VR headsets and the first generation of consumer PC headsets is that the Acer headset and others use inside-out tracking, which means it doesn’t rely on external beacons. That enhances the ease of setup (just plug in the headset and go!) and reduces the cost. The reason that some headsets use the other kind of tracking (outside-in), however, is because it’s very robust and high performance. To date, HoloLens is one of a small number of devices that has demonstrated good inside-out tracking, and fortunately for the Windows Mixed Reality VR headsets, Microsoft is supposedly handing over the HoloLens tech.

I found the Acer’s tracking to be quite solid in all of my demos. I did experience the occasional tiny jitter in the headset’s tracking, but nothing major. Our understanding is that the outward facing cameras on the front of the headset map your environment in much the same way as HoloLens. Using computer-vision, the cameras are able to build a model of your environment and then use that to determine where you are in that space as you move around. It’s easy to take for granted but being able to essentially plug and play with the Acer headset without finding a place for and setting up a number of external sensors is really one of the biggest values here. Given the difficulty of doing that mapping live and maintaining tracking on an expo floor where the people and objects are moving around as much as they were, I was really impressed.

The boundary grid

One of the exhibitors who had been working with the headset for about a week mentioned that you can run the Acer VR headset in either a standing mode or a mode similar to the Vive’s chaperone boundaries. By starting the setup process and then moving the headset around your playspace you’re able to quickly create a bounding box for yourself to keep you within a certain physical area to ensure you don’t bump into things around you. I only did one or two demos where I saw this bounding box. It appeared when you approached, displayed a wall of blue dots to you, and then faded away as you stepped back into the center of your space.

Content & Windows Holographic

Since Microsoft is confusingly lumping a bunch of different things under the “Mixed Reality” term, we’re using ‘Windows Holographic’ to refer to the AR/VR portion of the Windows operating system. Windows Holographic creates an immersive virtual environment where users can interact with 2D Windows apps in the 3D virtual space, and those apps can be programmed to ‘pop out’ into the virtual space with their own 3D content, or could perhaps transport you to an entirely different virtual space when you launch a VR app.

Microsoft is working with a number of prominent PC makers to create Windows Holographic compatible headsets, like this one from Acer. However, it seems right now such headsets will rely entirely on the Windows ecosystem and won’t have an official way to play games from Oculus or SteamVR, where the majority of high-end VR entertainment content is currently available.

One demonstration of Windows Holographic in action is a demo they’re calling Cliff House. As far as I can tell, the Cliff House is meant to be a home base for you to customize with different Windows apps and content. A kind of starting-off point and place to return to between experiences, similar to Oculus Home or the SteamVR compositor. The house itself looks similar to the Bigscreen apartment environment if it were daytime out and set amongst nature. For a tour of the house you can check out this video.

The house felt like a pretty good starting point for this sort of use-case but it can still be improved in a few ways. For one I don’t remember anything moving inside the house. It felt static and dead. I also don’t remember any impressive ambient sound effects or music which might have helped to set a nice mood and establish the space. Hearing the sound of the waves breaking against the shore below the house would have done a lot to make the environment feel more alive.

I spent a few minutes teleporting around the house checking out some of the surrealist views and impossible architecture of the space, then opened up a media browser and watched a video on the Great Wall of China before my demo ended.

Another way to improve the Cliff House would be to open it up a bit more so that teleporting between rooms was easier and required less navigation. Overall I thought it was cool to have a home space that you can actually move about in, placing windows, media, and apps wherever you like, which I would desperately like to do in Oculus Home. But the house itself is still a fixer upper at this point, which is to be expected since the entire Microsoft Mixed Reality platform is currently under construction.

In addition to Windows Holographic, I saw a number of standalone demos (ie: individual VR applications), though most of the content & demos that were being shown on the headset are not worth taking the time to describe. I got the sense that almost every official demo made by Microsoft will be thrown away or not progressed much beyond remaining a traveling conference demo. I’d really liked to have seen some better content—something that highlighted the benefits of this new headset—but it just wasn’t there.

Photo by Road to VR

Most of the official demo stations were either seated or in such a compact space that the headsets were in standing-only mode. It’s a shame Microsoft couldn’t put together some demos that would have allowed users to move around more and really get a sense for the “world scale” tracking. From the demos I received it felt more like chair-scale tracking or rug-scale tracking since I was told to stand in the middle of a 2 x 3 ft matt at one station and not step off it. I’m probably being too harsh given the early nature of both the headsets and the entire Microsoft Mixed Reality platform, but it would have been nice to have seen some more engaging content; something that got the blood pumping, had some basic engaging gameplay, or hit me on an emotional level.

One Acer demo that stood out and actually allowed me to move around to test the tracking capabilities of the headset, was a volumetric music video experience created by Viacom NEXT. The experience features recording artist Max Frost and was made in partnership with Microsoft using their Holocapture system.

The quality of the human representation that resulted from the capture process was much better than anything I had seen previously. I’ve seen a few companies try to stitch stuff like this together in the past using multiple Kinect sensors and the like, but the quality here was on another level. Aesthetically the experience reminded me of inhabiting a music video based on the 1996 film Multiplicity along with some SpongeBob influences due to the underwater and beach locations. The Acer VR headset provided comfortable tracking as I moved around and tested the bounds of the playspace.

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After my demo I watched someone else go through the experience and noted two things: 1) the headset seems to accommodate those wearing glasses well, both in this instance and in others that I saw, 2) the cable looks to be about 12 or 13 ft in length, which was not enough in this instance when the gentleman walked back to the edge of the playspace and almost pulled the demo computer off its perch. To compare, the Vive cable is approximately 19 ft in length including the breakout box to the PC, and the Rift cable is approximately 13 ft long.

Another exhibitor demo I was impressed with was Pixvana’s VR video technology running on the Acer headset. The high resolution panel in the Acer really lent itself well to the HQ 360 video experience. I’m unsure what resolution the Seattle Sounders game day experience I watched was playing back at, but Pixvana says they can stream video content up to 12k resolution. They recently announced a partnership with Valve that has their technology working at the core of the Steam 360 video player. Due to the Acer headset’s higher resolution and huge portability benefits, it could become a favorite of the VR video community for playback on location, demos, and long editing sessions made more tolerable by the headsets ‘flip up’ ability.

Continued on Page 3: What Devs Think »

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  • J.C.

    Glad to see that these aren’t as bad as I’d assumed. The “controller doesn’t track particularly well outside of the camera view” may be an issue in some games that assume the controllers are very precise at all times.

    It says there’s no support for SteamVR? So we’re looking at an EVEN MORE fragmented user base? Oh yes, that’s ABSOLUTELY the best way to go about it, make sure they can’t play with their friends.

    • PrymeFactor

      Are there really any games that assume precision for controllers outside your natural view?

      • J.C.

        Space pirate trainer, Arizona Sunshine, Raw Data, off the top of my head. Unless you expect people to look to their hips each time they reach for a clip, or somehow behind their head between the shoulderblades.

        I suppose if you watch your hands at all times it’s not a problem. Well, except for the shield in SPT, but I suppose the vague sense of place the controllers have could work for that. Is that reliable enough to not get you killed?

        I do realize that at $400 for the kit, having hand tracking and a decent headset is already a good deal. Trying to NOT compare it to the externally tracked (and much more expensive) headsets, but it’s hard.

      • KUKWES

        Yeah I don’t see open vr working well with this and devs will need to update games for official support.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Well, no SteamVR no go for a lot of people.. I do think it will get SteamVR support very soon (let’s not forget, valve is the one who mainly implements the SteamVR support for headsets, as it’s in their interest these headsets are supported, so more people will buy games from their steam platform).

    • Kuri

      I imagine it’ll get Steam VR pretty damn shortly.

      • Meow Smith

        Amen, if the Chinese Pi Max VR headset can get Steam VR support Acer sure as hell can do it too.

  • David Byres

    How do these compare to PSVR? Resembles PSVR, minus the quality details (e.g. OLED display)?

    • PrymeFactor

      Probably have better tracking than the PSVR, plus the added advantage of requiring minimal cabling and much less calibration. Higher res screens too.

      Downside is the LCD screen vs OLED.

    • ImperialDynamics

      too early to tell. The developer story is unclear at this point. What i mean by that is will these headset be able to take advantage of powerful GPUs? The minimum requirement is just integrated Intel graphics, however i don’t think the experience will be exactly the same on a GTX1080Ti. If it varies by hardware (this is a big if currently) then it might result in significantly better VR than the PSVR on gaming PCs.

  • Xron

    Hmzz… wtf is wrong with min specs? can’t be true, right? super low req for 1440p?… something is really wrong with these numbers.

    • benz145

      Microsoft has been touting that these headsets would work on low spec machines, but we’re likely to see very simple graphics inside.

      • ImperialDynamics

        that is an unfair oversimplification that does not do justice to Microsoft’s huge experience.
        My understanding is that the “game” will load different assets depending on hardware. Basically the same thing that they are doing with Project Scorpio. The same game loads 720p/1080p assets on the Xbox One and 4K assets on Scorpio.

    • ImperialDynamics

      perhaps due to the smaller field of view? Or perhaps some optimizations? (Microsoft unlike Oculus and HTC are also behind the OS that powers it)

  • If the headset had four cameras, one front, one back, and one on either side, then you would be able to much better track the controllers even if the player moved them from the primary position in front of the headset. It still wouldn’t be perfect for when the player moves the controller really high or low but it would be a much better solution than just a camera on the front of the headset. They could even add another camera on top of the headset for the times the player raises the controllers directly above their head. Don’t know how they could effectively always track the controllers if the player is holding them down really low though, but overall I think the multi-camera solution is the best approach for an inside-out tracking setup that uses the camera method.

  • Good-enough experience for small price. For smartphones it is working: good enough cheap chinese smartphones are gaining market shares very fast.

  • RationalThought

    Looking at that top picture I really appreciate the elegance of the Oculus solution. Honestly I just wish Oculus had gone with the Vive Tracking system…..other than that I still think its the best overall design. The integrated and pretty awesome sound seems minor but just LOOK at that first picture…….it’s pretty major reduction in weight and bulk.

  • Buddydudeguy

    This will embarass PC VR. What a piece of crap. Min req is Intel HD hahahaha

    • David Herrington

      At this point, I would rather be embarrassed and increase adoption and momentum than let VR die out in an elitist mindset.

    • Kuri

      Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good kiddo. VR either needs to become more affordable or it’ll die out.

      • Buddydudeguy

        “kiddo”? ok thar. Way to be willfully asnine. And I stand by what I said. This will embarrass PC VR.

        • KUKWES

          Why would this embarrass pc vr.

          • Buddydudeguy

            Not sure if serious. Noobs will be trying “VR” with Intel HD for crying out loud. Ya, that’s gonna do VR favors when people go well this is awful”.

  • David Herrington

    I understand the view on how this isn’t as good as Vive or Rift, but the 2 takeaways should be COST and capability. This new entry (backed by Microsoft) gives decent visuals and most importantly decreases cost. This will get steam support soon as some have suggested and should put pressure on HMD makers to lower prices, which is arguably the biggest hindrance to VR adoption.

  • Sponge Bob

    not sure about the value of inside-out headset tracking on tethered devices…
    seems pretty useless to me

    • PrymeFactor

      I think i know the value of a single cable vs a plethora of cabling.

    • Nick_Abby

      could also see an easier move to wireless

    • ImperialDynamics

      you can take the headset with your laptop. Say you go on vacation, or to a friend’s house.
      Plus it makes the product more affordable. Plus easier setup.

    • Fear Monkey

      Makes setup much easier and compact.

  • Ted Joseph

    I have owned (now sold Vive and PSVR, kept the Rift) all three VR headsets. I am currently playing Wilsons Heart, Rec Room, and Arizona Sunshine. I actually was extremely happy to see that Microsoft is going to step into the VR realm. Why? Because it drives competition against Rift, Vive, and PSVR. This means they need to step up their AAA game library. Currently, the only games that actually feel like full games are few and far between. I still play Arizona Sunshine with a friend (co-op) online for the past 4 months as no other similar experience is out. Microsoft will help push this along in my opinion.

    • ImperialDynamics

      Why did you sell the Vive and not the Rift? (I’m not taking sides, in fact i’m more of Rift type myself just curious about your experience)

  • Kuri

    If this thing is set up to work with Steam VR and maybe Occulus out of the box then it’ll easily be a day one purchase for me provided I have the funds and have my PC upgraded by then.

  • Armando Tavares

    Funny to watch fanboys and people/companies that have money tied up into Oculus/VIVE, squirming in every news regarding these devices.

    I still remember all the: «These wont be suited for gaming»…«wont have inside out tracking…»…«inside out tracking wont work properly», etc, etc, etc

    Even the article goes out of it’s the way to point out ‘flaws’ with the device: The cable lengh (12/13 feet), for example, apparently isn’t enough… even though it’s the same legth as the Oculus cable… wich, I suppose, is. Right?
    And the 3.5 jack port isn’t placed right for people that have big hands….
    Because it’s light (wich is usually a GOOD thing) and doesn’t weight 10 pounds, it feels ‘odd’. Really??? LOL…. nitpicking at it’s best.

    Fun stuff to watch. Carry on boys and girls… *get’s popcorn*

  • Devu

    All good and fine but absolutely nothing about AR. Does it handle AR? This would be the deal breaker. I was trying to get some info about that. Can image from cameras can be feed back to the device?

  • Frankie Dingleberry

    I’m excited for this, I really hope it does do well. My Gear VR I believe has the same 95 fov, which if it’s the same, I’m fine with. Here in Canada, the Rift is 649$ + tax, and the Vive is 999 + tax. This headset should be around 399 then. I could literally save up and get it in a month. I have a good RX480 and R5 1600 PC, I pass all tests, so it should be okay :)

  • Great article. $300 bucks, yes. I’ve held back for over a year on the $3000 HoloLens because it broke my budget.