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.

MVP for Dummies: Robotic Enhanced Training Here to Stay

Visit to the toy department. We visited the robotics toy department in the form of a high school football field to test the Mobile Virtual Player (MVP) Drive, an $8,000 robotic tackling dummy that has been adopted this year by 15 NFL, 33 college, and 50 high school football teams. Today, the goal of Drive is to reduce practice injuries and improve or modify drills. In the future, MVP will enter new markets, including law enforcement and military training (think dynamic target practice).

Robotic enhanced training is the future. While there’s no substitution for replicating game contact and real life situations, there are many uses where robotics can improve readiness. After spending an hour with the product, we left as believers that robotic enhanced training is here to stay.

MVP for dummies. If you’re new to the robotic enhanced training field, like we are, this note will get you up to speed. First, the facts about the MVP-Drive (Football) and MVP-Tactical (Military and Law Enforcement) products:

  • Height: 5’8″
  • Weight: 190lbs
  • Speed: 20mph
  • Battery Life: 6hrs
  • Charging Time: 6hrs
  • Price: ~$8,000

Safety. Traditional football and military training dummies are stationary or require physical direction by a human to move. The MVP-Drive dummy is the first mobile, remote-controlled, self-righting (when it falls down it gets back up) training dummy. Anyone can operate the dummy using an RC remote control. As you know, for the past 10 years there has been ongoing research on concussions and the impact of conditions such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) on former NFL players. Concussions are typically associated with huge, one-off hits; however, concussions more often occur from repeated impacts such as the continuous head-to-head contact that occurs during practice. According to MVP, more than 50% of both injuries and concussions occur during practice at the high school and collegiate level. MVP Training dummies eliminate the need for player-on-player contact, while still allowing players to practice proper fundamentals with full-speed reps.

Improve or modify drills. Drive gives coaches an added element to drills to create different scenarios. For example, Drive could act as pass rushers, moving tackling dummies, or even help players practice pursuit angles.

Passed Loup Ventures ease of use test. Drive’s speed and ease of control surprised us. Below, Loup Ventures put Drive to the test. With Alex Schwappach at the controls, Mark Grangaard attempted his best Jadeveon Clowney impression using MVP-Drive.

Top: Jadeveon Clowney, Bottom: Mark Grangaard

What coaches say. As mentioned, MVP-Drive is used today by 15 NFL teams, 33 NCAA programs, and 50 high schools. The Pittsburgh Steelers were the first NFL team to use the MVP-Drive in practice, and Head Coach Mike Tomlin said Drive has had a material impact on player safety and performance. At the NCAA, level Rich Rodriguez of Arizona and Chip Kelly (recently) of UCLA have also made comments about safety and performance improvements from using Drive. We believe as long as coaches see a direct correlation between dummy usage in practice and regular season games won, adoption will increase.

Additional markets of law enforcement and military. Similar to the MVP-Drive, the MVP-Tactical dummy allows military and law enforcement units to practice real-life scenarios with a mobile target. The current military training options are either fixed or reactive and only allow static, two-dimensional short-range training. Current options are predictable, do not provide instant feedback, and most of all fail to replicate the stress of a true operating environment. Mobile solutions do exist, however almost all of them have restricted motion and are inviable for training in close-quarters combat, a critical function of military and law enforcement. The MVP-Tactical dummy has 3 armored layers and is designed to withstand a .50 caliber bullet, yet will still protect against shrapnel and ricochet. It’s a great improvement from existing options.

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: Apple Watch Streaming Music Passes Battery Test With Flying Colors

Yesterday, Apple released the much anticipated update to Apple Watch that enables music streaming over Apple Watches with LTE. We tested the impact of streaming music on Apple Watch’s battery and were surprised to find after 6 hours of music streaming (and two sets of AirPods), the battery charge on on our 42mm Apple Watch LTE went from 100% to 68%.  We had expected 6 hours of music streaming to bring our Apple Watch charge down to 20%.  To put the battery charge decline into perspective, we measured the battery for our Apple Watch with LTE without streaming music over the same 6 hour period, and found it went from 100% to 82%.  Kudos to Apple for a rare positive battery life surprise.

What Apple Watch Means to the Apple Story. We believe Apple Watch will provide fractional (~1%) upside to the Street numbers in FY18. We’re modeling for 59% Apple Watch unit growth in FY18 compared to the Street at ~25%. In total, we’re expecting 26m Apple Watches next year.

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: Early iPhone AR Apps

Since the launch of iOS 11, we’ve been testing popular AR apps available on the App Store. We’ve had fun, and found some useful new tools, but it doesn’t seem like we’ve unlocked the true utility of AR – yet.

After testing out a a few of the more popular AR apps, we have four takeaways:

  1. AR apps offer a new, semi-immersive experience. What began with Pokemon Go has expanded to an entire category of apps; AR enables an entirely new app experience, particularly as it relates to gaming. These apps have consumers using iPhones and iPads in an entirely new way, as a window into a mixed reality.
  2. AR apps demonstrate the novelty of AR but don’t provide true utility – yet. Outside of measuring distances and placing furniture, there is little utility value available in these early AR apps. iPhones and iPads can only provide a window into an augmented reality, not a fully augmented reality. Until some form of wearable technology comes along, we won’t have a seamless AR experience.
  3. AR apps are meaningfully better on the iPhone 8 and (soon) iPhone X. Right now, AR apps leveraging iOS 11 work on iPhone 6S and newer models. But while these apps can run on older phones, the experience isn’t the same. Older iPhones have a harder time picking up surfaces and objects.
  4. Don’t Forget About Audio AR. iOS 11 and ARKit have spawned a new category of AR apps layering digital objects on horizontal planes, but we view audio (not just visuals) as a huge opportunity for our devices, like AirPods, to augment our realities. Imagine a co-worker speaking to you in Mandarin, but hearing English in real-time translation.

Here are some of the AR applications that we reviewed:

Follow Me Dragon – The VR Company. Follow Me Dragon gives users their own imaginary dragon that follows them around. At one point, Magic Johnson even tweeted about Follow Me Dragon’s success.

My Very Hungry Caterpillar AR – StoryToys Entertainment Limited. I’ve been playing My Very Hungry Caterpillar with my 4 and 7 year-olds and they’re enthralled. More than a few times, they’ve looked around my iPhone to see the AR caterpillar directly, only to find that it’s not really there.

TapMeasure AR Utility – Occipital, Inc. One of the higher utility apps that we used, TapMeasure, allows users to measure distances with their iPhones. We used TapMeasure to help confirm that we were illegally parked – but just barely. Ultimately, though, distance measurement will be just one ingredient that developers will use to create killer AR apps.

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.