Feedback Loup: Oculus Go’s Baby Steps for VR

Source: cnet.com

  • Facebook announced the release of their Oculus Go standalone VR headset at the F8 developer conference on May 1st, and gave every attendee at the conference a free device.
  • The Go is an easy access point for getting into VR with its $199 price tag and built-in software eliminating the need for wires or other devices to power the device.
  • Though not a breakthrough, it is a step toward the mass adoption of VR. Still, we believe the much more important test comes with Oculus’s Santa Cruz project.

A proof-of-concept product. Facebook’s F8 giveaway reinforces the objective of the Oculus Go: to make VR more accessible and get the technology in the hands of more users. Unlike the Gear VR or Google Daydream, the headset doesn’t require a compatible smartphone to work, opening the door for other Android and iPhone users to get into VR at an accessible price point. The reason it must be “other Android and iPhone users” and not “anyone and everyone” is that a smartphone app is required to get the Go up and running. Fortunately, once the registration is done the app is unnecessary. The visuals and overall experience are pretty much the same as the Go’s smartphone-based cousins, but, while this means no new fancy bells and whistles, it also means that the quality of the experience is preserved in the leap from mobile to standalone VR. The controller, being one-handed with limited functionality, hinders the Go’s gaming capabilities, making video and other interactive experiences the most compelling apps available. As time goes on we believe developers will begin to get the hang of creating for this new platform and the experiences will improve. Nonetheless, the novelty of standalone VR is well-demonstrated with the Go – pull the headset over your eyes, and you’re in VR. No need to fumble with your smartphone or the outright daunting hardware of PC-based VR that makes the technology inaccessible. The Oculus Go is a great entry-point into virtual reality, and will hopefully expose many more people to the technology. Despite this fact, the Oculus Go comes up short in producing true ‘wow’ moments that can sway VR skeptics’ minds.

A promotional image for the Oculus Santa Cruz.

A promotional image for the Oculus Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz in sight. Successfully replicating the Gear VR/Daydream experience on a standalone device bodes well for Oculus’s more ambitious standalone VR project, the Santa Cruz. Announced in 2016, the Santa Cruz is the standalone version of Oculus’s high-end Rift VR system, just as the Go is the standalone version of Gear VR (and Daydream). The Santa Cruz headset will have six-degrees-of-freedom through inside-out tracking and two full controllers for a much more robust experience. It is a logical progression to make the less intensive smartphone-quality VR content work on a standalone device before trying to replicate what high-end PCs are capable of. Providing a PC-quality (or better) VR experience anywhere will be far more effective than the Oculus Go in convincing people that VR is for real and here to stay. While this first generation of standalone headsets isn’t exactly a watershed moment, it is a positive and important step in VR innovation.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

Feedback Loup: Model 3 Test Drive

It has been a tough day for Tesla. Shares opened down 5% and drifted lower throughout the day after Wednesday night’s circus disguised as an earnings call. On the call, Tesla provided incrementally negative commentary regarding Model 3 profitability. As believers in the Tesla story, spirits at Loup Ventures HQ were a bit low.

Then the day took a turn. At about 10 o’clock in the morning, we had an unexpected visitor, Bo Hu, the proud new owner of a Tesla Model 3. Bo picked up his Model 3 earlier this week and stopped by our office because he wanted us to see the car. We had been on a staged test ride in a Model 3 at the hand-off event last summer, but this time was different for two reasons: 1. we got to drive the car for the first time, and 2. we witnessed firsthand how Model 3 owners become Tesla evangelists. We felt like it was 2007 and we were listening to an early iPhone user sing the praises of his new device.

The driving experience. There’s not much that we can add that hasn’t been well-documented regarding the experience of driving a Tesla. The overall experience, including ease of use, acceleration, smoothness, comfort, and attention to detail, exceeded our high expectations. The one issue was an error message on the display reporting an open charger port which was in fact closed. We view this as a small but important data point that suggests the Model 3 is not airtight today. That said, it’s easy to see how Tesla will work those bugs out of the system over the next 6 to 12 months. We left the test drive a little jealous of Bo, and with the feeling that purchasing another vehicle in this price range is simply foolish – a feeling that Bo shares, as he mentioned that any new car purchase for his family going forward would undoubtedly be a Tesla.

The bigger story. As Model 3s hit the road, everyday drivers will become Tesla evangelists. Bo is an engineer by trade, more the technical type than a salesman, but the way he talks about the car and his experience with Tesla is a compelling pitch. This is common among Tesla owners, and we anticipate that Model 3 sales ramp, word of mouth will be a powerful demand driver. Bo mentioned several of his friends that own Mercedes or BMWs that have recently put in Model 3 reservations since seeing the car.

Bo’s visit couldn’t have come at a better time. Just as we were disappointed with Tesla’s latest turn of events, driving a Model 3 refocused us on what matters most, a product that delights consumers backed by an inspiring mission.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

Feedback Loup: Star Wars Holochess

Now you play chess in AR just like R2-D2 and Chewie. On Wednesday, Star Wars Holochess was released as an additional game mode on the Star Wars Jedi Challenges iOS app. This version of Holochess uses ARKit and allows users to play the game right on their smartphone. Holochess, officially known as ‘dejarik’ in the Star Wars universe, is a chess-like augmented reality game where players compete against an opponent with holographic monsters on a game board. Holochess was one of the early mainstream examples of augmented reality in the media, first appearing in 1977 in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Source: StarWars.com

Holochess was previously available with Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, but the hardware was required to play. It’s now available on the App Store, but it’s apparent that it was ported over from the headset version. The experience isn’t perfect, and the controls aren’t very intuitive, but for Star Wars fans, the novelty of playing Holochess on your table is enough to download the app.

The game’s visuals are crisp, the creature models look good, and each has their own animation (faithful to the films) for both doing damage to an enemy and eliminating one. However, the user can’t change the size of the board or choose its location once it’s been placed. In order to get a closer look or read descriptions and stats for creatures, the user must physically get closer to the board with their phone. The creature in the center of the picture below is an example. Its name, number of hit points, and damage dealt are all displayed but very difficult to read and there’s no way to make it more legible short of peering closely.

If anything, this edition of Holochess is an example of the high expectations we have for augmented reality being met with the harsh reality of what the technology is, or is not, capable of today. Yes, it’s true that you can now play Holochess in your living room and don’t need to travel to a galaxy far, far away, but it’s not something you will spend hours playing. This is not the Star Wars AR experience you’re looking for. For that, you’ll have to buy the headset and controller from Lenovo, which allows you to have full on lightsaber battles in your living room, among other things.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

Feedback Loup: PlayStation VR vs HTC Vive

Head-to-head. We compared two of the most popular tethered virtual reality headsets, the PlayStation VR and the HTC Vive, to get a sense of where VR experiences are today, what needs to improve, and where they might go tomorrow. While each headset has its own specs and limits, VR experiences differ mainly as a result of the type of machine driving them, a computer (Vive and Rift), a video game console (PSVR), or a smartphone (Daydream and GearVR). The takeaway is that the HTC Vive delivers an unmatched experience around visuals, motion tracking and overall performance, but the PSVR is easier to use. Virtual Reality technology as a whole is more developed than many realize. If it is your first time in VR, both of these headsets will blow you away. While we mostly tested games, our experience with these headsets leaves us more optimistic than ever about VR’s future in consumer and commercial use cases from entertainment to training and therapy.

The PSVR is the most popular VR headset out today (2m units in the year after its Oct-16 release), while the Vive – along with the similar Oculus Rift – is on the high-end of both cost and performance. We believe there will be 536m VR users in 2023 with a market value of $62B compared to the 25m users in a $3.5B market today. These headsets have reinforced our faith in the technology’s potential, but have also shown us there is still a long road ahead.

Untethered VR around the corner. Last week Lenovo announced Mirage Solo, an untethered standalone hardware VR headset, that runs on Google’s Daydream platform.  It will be priced around $400 and ship in the spring of 2018. We believe Mirage Solo will mark a measurable step forward in the utility of VR. More later this week.

Verdict. The clear winner was the HTC Vive. The games look better in Vive because its based on a PC that’s capable of better graphics. The superior visuals of the Vive played a significant role in our feeling of immersion compared to the PSVR. Another major advantage for the Vive is the positional tracking via the sensors versus the PSVR which only uses a camera-facing headset. While both have 6 degrees of freedom (meaning it can track up/down, right/left, and forward/back), the Vive’s sensors allow for a “freer” experience than the PSVR. There were a number of times playing the PSVR where we moved out of the camera’s view to peek around a corner or duck behind cover and it caused the game to pause and instruct us to get back into view of the camera. With the Vive we avoided tracking problems almost entirely. The more we played, the more we came to realize that the Vive is simply a better system.

Price. The Vive retails for $599 but requires a PC with sufficient performance specs, which bumps the total cost to around $1000 at a minimum. The PSVR headset sells for $299, but a $430 bundle should be considered the true base price since the camera and controllers are necessary to get the optimal experience (that bundle also includes a full-length game in addition to VR hardware). However, that $430 doesn’t include the actual PlayStation 4 console ($300) bringing the total cost of PSVR to $730 if the bundle route is taken, more if it isn’t. Both devices have a high price point, and to us that means that a quality experience requires significant investment. The PSVR is considered more accessible because of the large install base of the PlayStation 4, while the average PC owner often needs to upgrade their graphics card or buy a new machine with the processing power to handle VR.

Performance. We experienced very few technical problems with either device. We had a couple instances with the Vive where the display in the headset, but not the computer monitor, would go gray for a second and then return to normal. It’s an issue with the headset not being properly tracked, but we were unable to replicate it when we tried. The handheld controllers in both systems tracked beautifully (when unobstructed by each other in the PSVR’s case). They were responsive, felt natural, and have intuitive navigation and controls. One of the games we played in the Vive, Superhot VR, relies exclusively on the tracking of the headset and hands in order to dodge, aim, and throw objects at enemies. We were completely blown away by the system’s ability to accurately detect our every move.

Visuals. The Vive outshined the PSVR here. The PSVR’s graphics are not the PS4’s graphics. They actually look a little worse than PS3 graphics, which was released in 2006. The Vive was notably better, though both headsets suffered from the “screen door effect”, where it appears as if there’s a screen door between the wearer and what’s seen in the headset. The new Vive Pro headset, unveiled earlier this week at CES, reportedly cuts down on this effect while improving overall resolution. In the PSVR we have been playing a lot of SkyrimVR, the repurposed version of 2011’s smash hit fantasy RPG. Skyrim is famous for its stunning visuals, so as you can imagine there was a great deal of excitement over being able to experience it in VR. Unfortunately, we were disappointed by the PSVR’s visuals relative to its two-dimensional counterpart; it was unable to deliver the beautiful in-game graphics we were hoping for. That being said, the giant spiders were still incredibly unsettling in a very visceral way, and we believe that to be a credit to the headset’s ability to fully immerse its wearer.

Comfort and fit. Both headsets felt comfortable but the Vive edged out the PSVR because it was easier to put on, calibrate to different wearers, and lighter. We enjoyed the velcro straps on the Vive to secure the headset over your eyes more than the tightening wheel on the back of the PSVR. The fitting system on the PSVR has a “head squeezing” feel and while not uncomfortable, it didn’t fit quite as well as the Vive. The Vive also closed off the area below the eyes more completely than the PSVR, meaning less light was allowed to seep through the bottom part of the wearer’s periphery.

Problem areas. The biggest shortcoming for both headsets was in-game movement. The headsets are both tethered to the PC/PS4 so there isn’t much freedom to physically move around. Most games use a form of teleporting, where the player presses a button and selects where on the ground (in the display) around them they would like to move to. It feels clunky and definitely is immersion-breaking. In Skyrim we were able to change the settings to move normally, without teleporting, which felt much more natural. Separately, eliminating or even mitigating the screen-door effect on visuals is imperative. Cutting the cord is also a must – they get in the way, become tangled, and in general are a hassle. We recognize these as growing pains that should be expected of any new tech product, but this issue is already being addressed by the Oculus Santa Cruz project and the Vive Pro.

Bottom line. The Vive is without doubt the superior headset, however the PSVR is great and any PS4 owner interested in VR should consider getting one. The two were not without their drawbacks, but overall we came away feeling optimistic about the future of VR. The industry has hit a rough patch and isn’t seeing the adoption many were expecting, leading some to believe VR will go the way of the HD DVD instead of Blu-ray. We, however, are still strong believers in VR. It’s fun, the games are accessible and attractive to non-gamers, it has limitless potential outside of gaming (despite only being in the embryonic stage), and above all it works. The biggest concerns for VR are whether technology can advance to a point that allows VR to fix its current problems as well as improve on what we have today (smaller headsets, better graphics, haptic feedback), and allow for compelling content to be created. Only time will tell.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

Feedback Loup: Switching From Android to iOS

Written by Alex Schwappach

The grass is always greener. I’m an intern at Loup Ventures and I just got my first iPhone, an iPhone 8 Plus. It’s still early, but three weeks into my ownership I’m undecided about my next phone purchase in 1-2 years, and could see myself going back to Android. I’m not sold on the iPhone yet, but my next phone decision will likely be based on which phone has the best AR and VR experience. I guess it’s stories like mine that keep Tim Cook up at night, which pushes the competitive bar higher and benefits us all with better phones.

Background.  It’s been 9 years, 6 months, and 5 days since I received my first flip-phone on my 15th birthday, and up until 2 weeks ago my family and I have been solely Team Android for our mobile devices. As a kid I remember it being a big deal to have a phone, but as I got older the conversation centered more on “which” phone you had. Being an iPhone user became increasingly cool and the phrase I have been hearing for years, that “everyone has an iPhone,” seemed to feel more real because everyone appeared to be moving into the Apple ecosystem. Apple is second in global market share for smartphones at roughly 15%, versus first-place Samsung at around 23%. In the U.S, Samsung outweighs iPhone share at 54% vs. 43%, but the U.S. gap is shrinking given a year ago Android’s market share in the U.S. was 60%. Outside of the U.S., Apple continues to grow it’s presence in Europe while companies like Huawei, OPPO, or Xiaomi gain traction in Asia.  Separately, Apple has a leading share in devices per household in the U.S. According to a CNBC All-America Economic Survey earlier this year, 64% of Americans own an Apple device and the average Apple device per household has risen from 1.6 in 2012 to 2.6 in 2017. So, while not everyone in the U.S. has an Apple smartphone, two-thirds do own an Apple device (iPhone, iPad and Mac).

My new phone. Three weeks in and I am very satisfied with my iPhone 8 Plus. I am surprised at how much I like iMessage and the seemingly simpler layout of the phone. I tried to be fair in my comparison because my last phone, the Samsung Galaxy S6, is 2 years older and things like screen size and battery life have come a long way.

  • Things I like
    • iMessage (Being viewed in blue has been a huge hit with other iPhone owners)
    • Circular Home Button
    • Bare necessity Apple apps as a base (My Android devices came pre-loaded with an unnecessary number of apps with similar capabilities)
    • 3D touch, especially for keyboard
    • App icon in messaging, can slide through other app icons
    • FaceTime
    • Ring/Silent Button
    • Seamless integration with other Apple devices
  • Things I miss
    • Saying I don’t have an iPhone
    • The back button, multi-menu buttons (native iPhone users will never appreciate the luxury of having a back button instead of needing to press the tiny back arrow icon in the upper left-hand part of the iPhone screen)
    • “Close All” app capability (I hear I don’t need to shut my iOS apps down but I still have the urge)
    • Ability to add apps to folders inside of the folder (“+” sign at the bottom of folders to add several apps at once made it easier to customize)
    • Quick connect features for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi (there needs to be a 3D Touch way to switch network connections)
    • Swipe text as the default keyboard setting (you need to download an app to switch your iPhone keyboard)

Waiting for killer AR and VR. Give iPhone credit, I still access my camera, use apps, and make calls in a similar way, but I appreciate how intuitive iOS is and Apple’s focus to protect user data. That said I can see myself going back to Android. I switched because I was curious and wanted to experience an iPhone even though my Samsung phone was working fine. I’m not loyal to the Apple brand and will continue to be curious, so I’ll consider buying the next great phone that comes out. But defining a great phone for the future is difficult because there are unknowns that will play a bigger role in my next phone decision, notably which phones have the best AR and VR experiences. These markets will grow rapidly over the coming years, and companies will be forced to optimize around AR and VR features to stay competitive. iPhone, if you win in AR and VR, you win my loyalty.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.