Gadgets – TechCrunch Devin Coldewey

While the field of VR headsets used to be more or less limited to Oculus and Vive, numerous competitors have sprung up as the technology has matured — and some are out to beat the market leaders at their own game. StarVR’s latest headset brings eye-tracking and a seriously expanded field of view to the game, and the latter especially is a treat to experience.

The company announced the new hardware at SIGGRAPH in Vancouver, where I got to go hands-on and eyes-in with the headset. Before you get too excited, though, keep in mind this set is meant for commercial applications — car showrooms, aircraft simulators, and so on. What that means is it’s going to be expensive and not as polished a user experience as consumer-focused sets.

That said, the improvements present in the StarVR One are significant and immediately obvious. Most important is probably the expanded FOV — 210 degrees horizontal and 130 vertical. That’s nearly twice as wide as the 110 degrees wide that the most popular headsets have, and believe me, it makes a difference. (I haven’t tried the Pimax 8K, which has a similarly wide FOV.)

On Vive and Oculus sets I always had the feeling that I was looking through a hole into the VR world — a large hole, to be sure, but having your peripheral vision be essentially blank made it a bit claustrophobic.

In the StarVR headset, I felt like the virtual environment was actually around me, not just in front of me. I moved my eyes around much more rather than turning my head, with no worries about accidentally gazing at the fuzzy edge of the display. A 90 Hz refresh rate meant things were nice and smooth.

To throw shade at competitors, the demo I played (I was a giant cyber-ape defending a tower) could switch between the full FOV and a simulation of the 110-degree one found in other headsets. I suspect it was slightly exaggerated, but the difference really is clear.

It’s reasonably light and comfortable — no VR headset is really either. But it doesn’t feel as chunky as it looks.

The resolution of the custom AMOLED display is supposedly 5K. But the company declined to specify the actual resolution when I asked. They did, however, proudly proclaim full RGB pixels and 16 million sub-pixels. Let’s do the math:

16 million divided by 3 makes around 5.3 million full pixels. 5K isn’t a real standard, just shorthand for having around 5,000 horizontal pixels between the two displays. Divide 5.3 million by that and you get 1060. Rounding those off to semi-known numbers gives us 2560 pixels (per eye) for the horizontal and 1080 for the vertical resolution.

That doesn’t fit the approximately 16:10 ratio of the field of view, but who knows? Let’s not get too bogged down in unknowns. Resolution isn’t everything — but generally, the more pixels the better.

The other major new inclusion is an eye-tracking system provided by Tobii. We knew eye-tracking in VR was coming; it was demonstrated at CES, and the Fove Kickstarter showed it was at least conceivable to integrate into a headset now-ish.

Unfortunately the demos of eye-tracking were pretty limited (think a heatmap of where you looked on a car) so, being hungry, I skipped them. The promise is good enough for now — eye tracking allows for all kinds of things, including a “foveated rendering” that focuses display power where you’re looking. This too was not being shown, however, and it strikes me that it is likely phenomenally difficult to pull off well — so it may be a while before we see a good demo of it.

One small but welcome improvement that eye-tracking also enables is automatic detection of intrapupillary distance, or IPD — it’s different for everyone and can be important to rendering the image correctly. One less thing to worry about.

The StarVR One is compatible with SteamVR tracking, or you can get the XT version and build your own optical tracking rig — that’s for the commercial providers for whom it’s an option.

Although this headset will be going to high-end commercial types, you can bet that the wide FOV and eye tracking in it will be standard in the next generation of consumer devices. Having tried most of the other headsets, I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t want to go back to some of them after having experienced this one. VR is still a long way off from convincing me it’s worthwhile, but major improvements like these definitely help.

Gadgets – TechCrunch Natasha Lomas

It’s been a long and trip-filled wait but mixed reality headgear maker Magic Leap will finally, finally be shipping its first piece of hardware this summer.

We were still waiting on the price-tag — but it’s just been officially revealed: The developer-focused Magic Leap One ‘creator edition’ headset will set you back at least $2,295. So a considerable chunk of change — albeit this bit of kit is not intended as a mass market consumer device but is an AR headset for developers to create content that could excite future consumers.

The augmented reality startup, which has raised at least $2.3 billion, according to Crunchbase, attracting a string of high profile investors including Google, Alibaba, Andreessen Horowitz and others, is only offering its first piece of reality bending eyewear to “creators in cities across the contiguous U.S.”.

Potential buyers are asked to input their zip code via its website to check if it will agree to take their money but it adds that “the list is growing daily”.

We tried the TC SF office zip and — unsurprisingly — got an affirmative of delivery there. But any folks in, for example, Hawaii wanting to spend big to space out are out of luck for now…

Magic Leap specifies it will “hand deliver” the package to buyers — and “personally get you set up”.

So evidently it wants to try to make sure its first flush of expensive hardware doesn’t get sucked down the toilet of dashed developer expectations.

It describes the computing paradigm it’s seeking to shift, with the help of enthused developers and content creators, as “spatial computing” — but it really needs a whole crowd of technical and creative people to step with it if it’s going to successfully deliver that.

 

Gadgets – TechCrunch Matt Burns

Gather around, campers, and hear a tale as old as time.

Remember the HTC Dream? The Evo 4G? The Google Nexus One? What about the Touch Diamond? All amazing devices. The HTC of 2018 is not the HTC that made these industry-leading devices. That company is gone.

It seems HTC is getting ready to lay off nearly a quarter of its workforce by cutting 1,500 jobs in its manufacturing unit in Taiwan. After the cuts, HTC’s employee count will be less than 5,000 people worldwide. Five years ago, in 2013, HTC employed 19,000 people.

HTC started as a white label device maker giving carriers an option to sell devices branded with their name. The company also had a line of HTC-branded connected PDAs that competed in the nascent smartphone market. BlackBerry, or Research in Motion as it was called until 2013, ruled this phone segment, but starting around 2007 HTC began making inroads thanks to innovated touch devices that ran Windows Mobile 6.0.

In 2008 HTC introduced the Touch line with the Touch Diamond, Touch Pro, Touch 3G and Touch HD. These were stunning devices for the time. They were fast, loaded with big, user swappable batteries and microSD card slots. The Touch Pro even had a front-facing camera for video calls.

HTC overlayed a custom skin onto Windows Mobile making it a bit more palatable for the general user. At that time, Windows Mobile was competing with BlackBerry’s operating system and Nokia’s Symbian. None was fantastic, but Windows Mobile was by far the most daunting for new users. HTC did the best thing it could do and developed a smart skin that gave the phone a lot of features that would still be considered modern.

In 2008 HTC released the first Android device with Google. Called the HTC Dream or G1, the device was far from perfect. But the same could be said about the iPhone. This first Android phone set the stage for future wins from HTC, too. The company quickly followed up with the Hero, Droid Incredible, Evo 4G and, in 2010, the amazing Google Nexus One.

After the G1, HTC started skinning Android in the same fashion as it did Windows Mobile. It cannot be overstated how important this was for the adoption of Android. HTC’s user interface made Android usable and attractive. HTC helped make Android a serious competitor to Apple’s iOS.

In 2010 and 2011, Google turned to Samsung to make the second and third flagship Nexus phones. It was around this time Samsung started cranking out Android phones, and HTC couldn’t keep up. That’s not to say HTC didn’t make a go for it. The company kept releasing top-tier phones: the One X in 2012, the One Max in 2013 and the One (M8) in 2014. But it didn’t matter. Samsung had taken up the Android standard and was charging forward, leaving HTC, Sony and LG to pick from the scraps.

At the end of 2010, HTC was the leading smartphone vendor in the United States. In 2014 it trailed Apple, Samsung and LG with around a 6 percent market share in the U.S. In 2017 HTC captured 2.3 percent of smartphone subscribers and now in 2018, some reports peg HTC with less than a half percent of the smartphone market.

Google purchased a large chunk of HTC’s smartphone design talent in 2017 for $1.1 billion. The deal transferred more than 2,000 employees under Google’s tutelage. They will likely be charged with working on Google’s line of Pixel devices. It’s a smart move. This HTC team was responsible for releasing amazing devices that no one bought. But that’s not entirely their fault. Outside forces are to blame. HTC never stopped making top-tier devices.

The HTC of today is primarily focused on the Vive product line. And that’s a smart play. The HTC Vive is one of the best virtual reality platforms available. But HTC has been here before. Hopefully, it learned something from its mistakes in smartphones.