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Oculus Rift gets voice-controlled search in VR

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One the most frequent requests from Oculus Rift users is the ability to search for apps on Oculus Home, a basic but missing tool in the Oculus virtual reality environment — until now. 

A new update, only available to some users right now, offers a search feature called Oculus Voice. 

Currently, for most users, when you put on the Rift headset and open Oculus Home, you’re forced to scroll through dozens of apps, page by page, a time-consuming process that doesn’t encourage exploration of the Oculus store.

But a demonstration of the new Oculus Voice feature, from a user who first surfaced the feature on Reddit, shows the ability to handle a number of Oculus Home functions beyond search.  Read more…

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Virtual and Augmented Reality Investment Hit Record $2.3 Billion in 2016 (Guest Blog)

“Virtual reality will be big, augmented reality will be bigger and take longer” has become accepted wisdom. But now that we have 12 months of real-world performance since the VR/AR market launched last year, it’s time to do a reality check on VC and corporate investors.

VCs told us last year how they were to going to invest in VR/AR. Let’s see if they put their money where their mouths were.

Investment augmented

Digi-Capital’s new Augmented/Virtual Reality Report and deals database recorded VCs and corporate investors pouring $2.3 billion into VR/AR startups last year, or over three times the $700 million-plus invested in 2015. Three-hundred percent investment growth in 12 months is impressive in any sector, let alone such an early stage market.

Also Read: You Can’t Escape Wesley Snipes in New Virtual-Reality Short ‘The Recall VR Abduction’

Leap of faith

AR hardware player Magic Leap raised $793.5 million at a $4.5 billion valuation at the start of last year, and almost as much speculation about its tech at the end of it. But even though it has taken in more money than any other single company in the space, last year it accounted for only around $3 of every $10 invested in VR/AR. But add rounds from competing AR hardware players ODG ($58 million) and Meta ($50 million), and AR hardware took closer to $4 of every $10 invested. So the future looks augmented.

Also Read: After Mixed Year, Mobile AR to Drive $108 Billion VR/AR Market by 2021 (Guest Blog)

Virtual picks and shovels

The next largest sector was VR/AR services/solutions, which took just under $2 of every $10 invested. The largest investment here was in graphics engine Unity, with its $181 million monster round at a $1.5 billion valuation. Neural VR platform maker Mindmaze also became a VR unicorn when it raised $100 million at a $1 billion valuation. So VR/AR picks and shovels were a pretty attractive space for investors last year.

It’s video, Jim, but not as we know it

Even though experts will tell you that 360 video isn’t volumetric VR video (and why they think you should care either way), that didn’t stop investors from giving VR video companies over $1 of every $10 invested. NextVR raised $80 million, 360fly $40 million, and Baobab Studios’ wonderful bunny gobbled up a $25 million carrot.

Everyone else

And that’s not all, folks. VR hardware startups raised nearly $200 million despite the presence of Facebook, Samsung, Google and others, and both VR/AR peripherals and VR games sectors raised over $100 million each. Perhaps even more surprising was that VR/AR app developers (outside games) and VR/AR advertising/marketing startups each raised only around $80 million. They’re going to be huge drivers of long-term value, but it looks like investor thinking is still evolving as the market develops beyond its earliest stages.

Also Read: How Virtual Reality Filmmakers Used Brands to Develop a New Skill Set

On the money

So who’s behind all the red envelopes?

The big money came from the big boys: Alibaba, Warner Bros, Google, Qualcomm, Fidelity, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, T.Rowe Price, Wellington, CIC, Intel, Amazon, Fidelity, CITIC, NetEase, Softbank, 21st Century Fox, MGM, Lenovo, Tencent, Comcast, Samsung, HTC – it’s a greatest hits of the best investors in tech globally.

And they weren’t alone, as Sand Hill Road VCs including Sequoia, DFJ, Lightspeed, KPCB and Greylock entered the market, joining dedicated VR/AR funds Colopl Next, The VR Fund, Super Ventures, Signia Ventures, Maven Ventures, Presence Capital, GREE VR Capital, Boost VC, Anorak Ventures, Outpost Capital, B Capital and others. Not to mention all the angel investment in the space.

Also Read: You Can Watch Super Bowl Highlights in Virtual Reality This Year

What next?

That difficult second album can be a bear, so it’s going to be interesting to see how VC and corporate investors respond this year in the light of 2016’s mixed year for performance and VR/AR’s new trajectory driven by mobile AR. But no matter what happens in the short term, the long term looks bright for VR/AR investors and the startups they’re fueling.

You can find out more here.

(Methodology note: Digi-Capital’s deals database covers AR/VR pureplay startup fundraising, companies raising rounds specifically earmarked for their AR/VR divisions (even though they might do other things as well), and all the major American, Asian and European markets. Rounds raised for non-AR/VR purposes by companies that do other things are excluded. Categories included are: AR HMD (hardware), AR/VR Solutions/Services, VR Video, VR HMD (hardware), AR/VR Peripherals (hardware), AR/VR Games, AR/VR Applications (non-games), AR/VR Advertising/Marketing, AR/VR Tech (hardware and software) and AR/VR Distribution.)

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Augmented Reality Will Be Much Bigger than Virtual Reality, Study Says

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You Can’t Escape Wesley Snipes in New Virtual-Reality Short ‘The Recall VR Abduction’

Wesley Snipes is wading into virtual reality for the first time with”The Recall VR Abduction,” a short VR film tied to his upcoming sci-fi horror feature “The Recall” featuring several members of the film’s main cast.

Directed by Mauro Borelli, the 10-minute short set in the same universe as “The Recall” sees viewers experience an alien invasion through the eyes “Breaking Bad’s” R.J. Mitte, who co-stars in the film. As the action happens, viewers will interact with Snipes, as well as Jedidiah Goodacre, Niko Pepaj, Laura Maria Bilgeri, and Hannah Rose Ma. “The Recall VR Abduction” will also feature multiple potential endings.

“The cool thing is that for theater actors, or thespians, this is a great format, because shooting in VR is similar to shooting a play, or performing a play,” Snipes said in a statement. “You don’t have the luxury of cuts, and short takes, and do overs. You have to be on your game, and since everything is in the shot, everyone else needs to be on their game at the same time.”

Also Read: How Virtual Reality Filmmakers Used Brands to Develop a New Skill Set

In addition to VR platforms, portions of “The Recall VR Abduction” will also be made available on Facebook 360. It’s set for launch before the film’s summer 2017 release at a date to be announced later.

The project is from Mind’s Eye Entertainment, producers of the “The Recall”, in partnership with VMI Worldwide, Bridgegate Pictures, Invico Capital, Talking Dog Studios and SkyVR.

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How Virtual Reality Filmmakers Used Brands to Develop a New Skill Set

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THE VIRTUAL REALITY REPORT: How the early days of VR are unfolding and the challenges it must overcome to reach mass adoption

bii vr hmd shipments forecast 2016

The virtual reality (VR) market has made significant strides throughout 2016.

New VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive debuted amid great consumer anticipation, while VR content launches kept pace, with Batman: Arkham VR and Chair In A Room garnering encouraging download totals.

At the same time, industry groups and conferences brought developers, investors, and content producers together, helping to further ramp up buzz in this nascent space.   

BI Intelligence forecasts shipments of VR headsets to spike by 1047% year-over-year (YoY) to 8.2 million in 2016. This growth will help propel the virtual reality space to exceed $1 billion in revenue for the first time, according to research by Deloitte. Powering that growth is an estimated 271% increase in investment in AR (augmented reality) and VR companies from 2015, according to estimates from CB Insights.

But while 2016 has indeed been an important year for the VR market, it hasn’t necessarily been a big one — at least not compared to its future growth potential.

VR headset shipments will continue to grow in the years ahead, driven by the introduction of new content that will appeal to a broad swath of users. 

In a new report, BI Intelligence explores the highly fragmented and volatile VR market that emerged in 2016. It lays out the future growth potential in numerous key VR hardware categories, as driven by major VR platforms. And it examines consumer sentiment and developer excitement for VR, presenting which headset categories and platforms are most poised for success in the near- to mid-term.

Here are some key takeaways from the report:

  • This has been an important foundational year for the VR market. New hardware and content have brought more options to market to appeal to a wider set of consumers. 
  • But the growth seen this year is merely a foreshadowing of the future. The highly fragmented VR market today will eventually narrow as the market grows and matures.
  • After considerable progress in 2016, the VR market is ripe for transformation in 2017. Developers, consumers, investors, and hardware makers have a host of options from which to choose, each with their own strengths and shortcomings.
  • The environment is poised for the first killer VR app to hit the market sometime in 2017, which will be a major catalyst for consumer adoption of VR hardware.
  • Not all headset categories and platforms will emerge as winners in the near future. More immersive headsets that offer the best VR experiences are too expensive for most consumers. Alternately, affordable headsets that rely on smartphones as processors offer sub-par experiences that can induce sickness.

In full, the report:

  • Identifies the major players in today’s VR hardware and platform markets.
  • Estimates future growth of each of the major VR categories.
  • Explores barriers to mass market consumer adoption for each of the VR hardware categories.
  • Considers how developer sentiment is driving the growth of various platforms. 
  • Assesses how the market will shake out over the next five years in terms of size and the success of various VR hardware categories. 

Interested in getting the full report? Here are two ways to access it:

  1. Subscribe to an All-Access pass to BI Intelligence and gain immediate access to this report and over 100 other expertly researched reports. As an added bonus, you’ll also gain access to all future reports and daily newsletters to ensure you stay ahead of the curve and benefit personally and professionally. » Learn More Now
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Microsoft’s futuristic HoloLens headset is one of the wildest bits of tech I’ve ever experienced (MSFT)

rob price business insider hololens microsoft headset

We’re not in the future yet, but you can see it from here.

Last week I had the opportunity to try out HoloLens — Microsoft’s futuristic head-mounted computer.

It’s pretty wild. Not wild in the woah-this-game’s-graphics-are-so-realistic-wild sense, or a this-computer-is-lightning-fast-and-responsive-wild.

I mean jesus-christ-there’s-robotic-scorpions-coming-out-of-the-goddamn-walls-wild.

Yes, there are obvious limitations and flaws, and some boring caveats.

But to put it plainly, it was unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced first-hand before.

It’s the real world — enhanced.

HoloLens maps out the (real) world and inserts virtual, interactive objects into it. In the demos I tried, that meant the magnified, editable innards of a luxury watch, sitting on a desk in a mock-showroom display. A Skype chat app hanging like a picture beside me as I tried to fix a (real world) lightbulb, with a Microsoft employee drawing instructions directly onto my vision. A two-foot pulsating cross-section of a human heart floating in the middle of the room. Robots breaking out of walls and shooting rockets that I had to leap and duck around like a loon to avoid.

In short: It’s augmented reality (AR) — just don’t call it that. Microsoft prefers the term mixed reality.

“Mixed reality for us really connotes that real kind of volumetric [shape] … it’s about the fact it is a 3D object that’s in your environment, and it’s mixing your real world with that object,” explained Leila Martine, Microsoft UK’s director of new devices. “It connotates as a very different impression it leaves you with than just augmenting the real world … augmenting is not necessarily that those two things are coexisting in reality.”

Whatever your preferred nomenclature, it’s a seriously novel experience. And while virtual reality (VR) may have the potential to be more immediately breathtaking and fun, the potential for AR to slot itself into your daily life is near-endless.

Microsoft HoloLens PivotPoint RGB mockup augmented reality

… But it’s not a consumer product.

If this has you excited about augmented reality gaming and hanging virtual pictures in your home — sorry.

As Martine emphasised to me again and again (and again and again) the current HoloLens is not a consumer device. It’s aimed squarely at businesses and creative industries, with Microsoft touting NASA, Volvo, Case Western medical school, and architectural studio Trimble as key organisations currently utilising the tech.

Google GlassThink radically enhanced car showroom demos, and medical tuition involving 3D life-size manipulable organs, rather than home entertainment.

(Plus, it costs an eye-watering £2,719/$3,000, going up to £4,529/$5,000 for the “Commercial” edition. It’s available in the US now, and starts shipping in the UK at the end of November.)

And it has its limitations. Most obviously, the field-of-view is somewhat narrow, so the augmentations (sorry, holograms) don’t fill all of your vision. There might be one on the desk in front of you, but if you’re not looking down, you’re not going to see it. That alone would severely restrict any potential consumer-level uses — although not the more business-focused uses that Microsoft is aiming at.

Augmented reality may one day be as common as “eating three meals a day”

But I found myself looking past any hardware shortcomings, because of what HoloLens represents. Augmented reality, like its sister technology virtual reality, is seriously buzzy right now. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook speaks highly bullishly about the tech, claiming that in the future it will be as important and common-place as “eating three meals a day” — all-but confirmation that Apple is quietly working on developing the tech.

microsoft hololens augmented mixed reality international space station scott kellyBut right now, there’s nothing else out there, in commercial production, like Microsoft’s HoloLens. Secretive multi-billion-dollar startup Magic Leap has yet to launch a product. The closest Google has is Tango, an AR platform that runs off smartphones rather than a headset. Apple is just making positive noises.

No, the HoloLens isn’t going to change the lives of ordinary people. And although Microsoft is ahead of the pack now, there’s no guarantee that it will be the company that first successfully brings augmented reality products to the masses. (Microsoft declined to discuss its future plans or sales figures.)

But consumer-level AR is coming — and having tried HoloLens, I expect it to be one of the most radical shifts in how we interact with computers in my lifetime.

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