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CES 2018

Despite a power outage on Wednesday, the annual Consumer Electronics Show has been having a particularly fun conference with such whimsical inventions as a rolled up television, a new Aibo, a ping pong playing robot, and a robot that folds and organizes your laundry without human intervention.

We got more exciting VR news than we did last year as well. Last year’s big announcement was the Snapdragon 835 System-on-a-Chip, but it took until this year’s show to bear fruit in the form of consumer ready standalone headsets with positional tracking capability.

HTC Announces Upgraded Vive Pro

Arguably the biggest VR announcement was HTC’s Vive Pro. The upgraded headset has higher resolution screens (1440×1600 per eye, the same as the Samsung Odyssey Windows MR headset). It has a new headstrap with integrated audio (similar to but not the same as the $99 deluxe audio strap accessory available for the current model), and dual cameras on the front for stereo vision pass through, which developers may find more useful than the single camera on the original Vive. It could open up possible mixed reality and tracking capabilities. Speaking of tracking, the new headset supports Valve’s Lighthouse 2.0, which allows up to four sensors to track an area up to 10 meters square.

HTC also demonstrated a first party solution for wirelessly streaming the display signal to the Vive using Intel’s WiGig wireless technology. Hands-on reports concur that it works extremely well. It supports both the Vive and the Vive Pro.

Oculus Partnered with Xiaomi on Go

Oculus needs to be less dependent on Samsung, so it’s no surprise that they looked for another hardware partner to help with Oculus Go. It turns out that partner is Xiaomi, one of China’s biggest smartphone companies. That’s no coincidence—Facebook’s Vice President of Virtual Reality Hugo Berra was Xiaomi’s Vice President Global from late 2013 until April 2017, helping the company expand its brand beyond China’s borders.

Xiaomi has taken advantage of Google’s difficulties with the Chinese government to carve out its own powerful app market and related services. Its success is evidenced by the recent inclusion of their Mi GameCenter as a deployment target in Unity. Xiaomi will sell the Oculus Go under its own branding and in its own Xiaomi VR storefront. This is the exact opposite of Samsung’s relationship with Oculus, in which Oculus controls the storefront and Samsung controls the hardware. However, with Facebook usually banned or disrupted behind the Great Firewall of China, pushing the Oculus storefront into China would have been an uphill battle.

It was also revealed that the Oculus Go/Mi VR Standalone will be powered by the Snapdragon 821 processor, which John Carmack had hinted at during Oculus Connect when he stated that the Go would have performance similar to the Samsung Galaxy S7. Not announced, but revealed by an FCC listing, is the detail that the Oculus Go will likely be sold in two variants, with 32GB or 64GB of storage space.

Lenovo Shows Mirage Solo Standalone Daydream Headset

Lenovo let reporters go hands on with its Mirage Solo Daydream-based standalone headset. The headset does indeed support Google’s WorldView inside out tracking technology for 6 Degree-of-Freedom movement, but relies on the standard Daydream remote for input. Given the placement of the tracking cameras directly in front of the user’s eyes, it seems unlikely that 6DoF controller support can be added later without additional hardware. The Snapdragon 835 based system will retail for somewhere around $400, and, according to Lenovo, will have a very impressive 7 hours of battery life.

Mirage Camera & Yi Horizon

Lenovo announced another Google collaboration alongside the Mirage Solo HMD. The Mirage Camera is a simple stereo 180 camera that shoots 4K video at 30 frames per second, about the maximum that the majority of VR capable cell phones can play back comfortably. The camera does not include a display or viewfinder, but users can preview its output through a smartphone app. Video can be saved to a micro SD card or live streamed over the internet. The device will cost about $300.

A similar device from Chinese action cam maker Yi Technology, called the Yi Horizon, will be slightly more capable. It records 5.7K footage (but can only stream 4K) and has a 2.2 inch touchscreen on the back to frame the shot without having to connect to a phone first.

These devices may not be destined to displace smartphones as the capture technology of choice—to use them properly, you’ll need a tripod that can hold it stably at sitting or head-height; Handheld footage will be barf-inducing for most people. But there are few better ways to capture immersive recordings with minimal effort right now. These will be truly awesome tools for consumers interested in preserving memories of loved ones, capturing vistas on their vacations, and, well, you can probably guess what the third most popular use case will be.

Intel Shows Off Stadium Scale Volumetric Capture

Intel’s keynote spectacular was capped with the onstage flight of a full-sized flying car, but perhaps their coolest demo was a stadium-scale volumetric capture solution called True View. Similar to solutions from Microsoft and 8i, dozens of cameras are arrayed around a football field and create a voxel representation of a photogrammetric reconstruction that can be viewed in Virtual Reality from any angle. For example, a user can pause the action then line their POV up with Tom Brady’s to get a first hand look at the field from his perspective. The scale of the scene being captured is more than an order of magnitude greater than in previous systems, and it records data at a rate of 3 terabytes per minute. No greenscreen is required, although there are some halos visible as a side effect.

More Cool Stuff

TPCast showed off a new version of their wireless desktop VR streaming technology that does away with the clunky router from the first version and allows hot swappable batteries. The company says Windows MR support is coming alongside the existing Rift and Vive support. [UploadVR]