We had a chance to talk shop with the minds behind AltspaceVR, a yet unreleased social platform for virtual reality, located at the Intel booth at CES 2015 in Las Vegas. Executive Editor and intrepid reporter Ben Lang spoke with Eric Romo, CEO of AltspaceVR about the social aspects of in-game interaction and the importance of non-verbal communication in virtual spaces.

Update (8/1/2014): Our original title for this piece “AltspaceVR Running at 75 FPS on Intel Integrated Graphics and More from CEO Eric Romo” stated that the Altspace demo on Intel’s stand was running on integrated, Intel Graphics technology—it’s since become clear this wasn’t the case and the article has been amended. Altspace CEO Eric Romo has stated that they have and can run Altspace on integrated hardware and plan to optimize Altspace for low-end hardware.

The company was offering a two minute demo of their software using the Oculus DK2, demonstrating the social nature of body language, but CEO Eric Romo says that he has comfortably spent hours on end in the virtual space—a claim we’d personally like to put to test.

See Also: Stuck in VR, Send Help

Romo spoke with us about the function of this sort of non-verbal communication within the realm of AltspaceVR, and why being able to “talk with [your] hands, wave, or do virtual fistbumps,”…is so integral to the experience of social interaction and ultimately presence in the space. They do this in part by mapping positional movement from the DK2’s included infrared camera, which allows the software to recognize head movement and translate it to the virtual avatar— but with the addition of the Intel’s RealSense 3D Camera, a new depth sensing camera that does handtracking, it really adds the possibility for increased interaction and transmission of natural movement.

Microsoft is Pulling the Plug on Windows VR Headsets
DK2 Cameras on pedestals (head tracking), Intel's Realspace Cameras on the laptop (hand motion capture)
DK2 Cameras on pedestals (head tracking), Intel’s Realspace Cameras on the laptop (hand motion capture)

And while wildly gesticulating profanities can be fun in VR, a large part of their concentration goes into integrating web content for shared viewing.

Romo told us about the zoom function built into AltspaceVR‘s web browser that helps to mitigate some of the resolution issues with the Oculus Rift’s current 1080p screen, and allows for more comfortable text reading and image sharing among users in the virtual environment.

The service is not without its controversy though, which could possibly come in the form of content licensing from video streaming platforms like Netflix. Romo hopes to mitigate any potential dispute by making the content accessible only “on your own web browser. For you to see Netflix there, you have to be logged in separately…[and] we have to find ways to make that clear and not stressful for the user.”

Thankfully, AltspaceVR is going to be optimized for lower specced machines, like laptops with integrated GPUs and possibly even mobile solutions like Gear VR.

The Redwood City based software company has secured more than $5.2m in investment startup from venture capitalists to grow their 3D social platform, and is gearing up to allow access to a closed beta sometime soon. DK2 owners can sign up now for the closed beta to secure their spot as a tester for AltspaceVR.

Full Disclosure: “Cymatic” Bruce Wooden, who is Director of Developer & Community Relations at AltspaceVR, contributes articles to Road to VR.

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 3,500 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • pittsburghjoe

    OMG a talking manikin ..and he’s smart to.

  • brandon9271

    you know what else is great for non-verbal communication? EYEBROWS! ;-p

  • Curtrock

    Mr. Romo has a hell of a commanding presence, and this company is very fortunate to have a guy like him as a spokesman.

  • crim3

    At last, someone trying to adapt VR to something else but high end machines!

    • brandon9271

      I ran all the early Unity and UDK demos on my laptop with no trouble back when I had DK1. I think that there will be lots of low-end VR apps to come along because devs will want to target both mobile and PC. Actually, thanks to consoles, PC gaming has been somewhat dumbed-down graphically for years. I’m actually hoping that a few killer VR apps can put PCs back on the bleeding edge again :)