Announcing Renew VR – The World’s First VR Wellness Portal
RenewVR.com is proud to announce the launch of RE:NEW the company’s VR wellness portal. Decades of research studies have shown that virtual reality has unique powers to increase health and wellness of the mind and body.
RenewVR.com is the only place to discover the growing number of VR wellness products. Meditation, nature, mindfulness, stress relief, personal development, music, and atmospheric environments are just some of the categories of VR wellness apps that can be found at RE:NEW.
RE:NEW covers products from all the major VR platforms including Google Cardboard, Apple iTunes, Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR, PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive. RE:NEW is the only place where people can see all the wellness apps from all of these different platforms in one place.
In addition to the comprehensive, cross-platform virtual reality product directory RE:NEW offers articles about the most recent developments in transformative technology, podcasts, events, and insights from the leaders in the VR wellness community.
RenewVR.com is brought to you by NewPathVR.com, developer of research-driven VR experiences for personal empowerment and emotional intelligence.
NewPathVR is the creator of personal development and emotional intelligence applications in virtual reality. The company uses research-based methods to create wellness applications for VR with the goal of evoking positive change through transformative technology. We also power the world’s first VR wellness portal — RE:NEW.
Here are a few trending efforts that creators are using to push the envelope with sound.
The industry will embrace object-based audio for every kind of experience.
Just as a 360 camera captures an entire 3D scene from one point, an Ambisonics microphone is used to represent an audio snapshot of a 360 scene at a given time. Ambisonics signals are great for transmitting general ambiance, but they can be less than perfect for accurately pinpointing individual sounds, a shortcoming that has aggravated audio engineers for quite some time.
Starting earlier this year, more audio engineers began to use a mix of object-based audio and scene-based audio to create more realistic listening experiences. Essentially, object-based audio refers to an individual sound captured with a lavalier mic, while scene-based audio refers to the general sphere of sound captured with an Ambisonics mic. In physical reality, you hear sounds that are close or important to you with great detail (object-based audio), while everything else is perceived as background sound (scene-based audio). It’s only a matter of time until this combination of object and scene audio, and not exclusively Ambisonics, will be the industry standard for VR audio workflows.
Utilizing object-based audio also gives more creative freedom to content creators since it’s easier to manipulate post-production effects on a single sound — think of it as a single raw element as opposed to a big, messy sound glob. In addition, object-based audio works perfectly for 6DOF (six-degrees-of-freedom) VR content, which is rapidly growing in popularity.
6DOF content is just like a game — the character moves around within the space in every direction and has the agency to interact with objects in the environment. When the character does either of these things, the sound needs to change accordingly. Because it is better at pinpointing sound and easily reflecting the changes during gameplay, object-based audio has actually already been used in 3D game engines for quite some time. As more 6DOF content is being built on game engines, it’s plausible that more audio engineers will be forced to learn how to mix and master sound in game engines rather than their traditional Digital Audio Workstations.
Quality VR content will be published with more players embracing spatial audio.
Spatial audio is key in delivering lifelike VR experiences. Spatialized sound sources have three-dimensional positional data to make listeners feel like sounds are actually coming from those visual locations. As of right now, YouTube and Facebook are the only well-known player platforms that currently support spatial audio.
These limits on publishing platforms have discouraged content creators from fully embracing spatial audio in their productions. Still, as sound is met with increased appreciation, renderers or players will eventually have to support spatial audio. When Vimeo launched Vimeo 360 in March to support 360 content, a huge amount of the requests from users involved a desire for a spatial audio feature and the official help page states that they are planning to support spatial audio in the near future. Smaller players and platforms will follow the path laid out by Facebook, YouTube, and Vimeo. As user standards for VR content quality continue to rise, adoption for spatial audio will race to keep pace.
Out of the many reasons that have kept content publishing platforms from adopting spatial audio, the primary one has been the absence of a dedicated VR audio format along with a compatible renderer. With more emphasis being put on object-based audio, Ambisonics alone will be phased out as the standard format of the future.
In an attempt to unify spatial audio workflows, GAO format was introduced early this year to deliver superior sound localization and quality for VR audio. Developed by LA-based spatial audio company G’Audio Lab, GAO combines object and Ambisonics signals as well as stereo signals.
“We’ve seen a lot of people watch our demo pieces that start in regular stereo format. When they get to the part where the sound is spatialized and delivered in Ambisonics format, they’ll usually start to smile. Then when they watch the GAO portion, a lot of people will involuntarily let out a little laugh from being so pleasantly surprised.” said Brooklyn Earick, the director of business development at G’Audio Lab. Since GAO comes with a compatible renderer SDK, adopting spatial audio will be easier than ever before for platforms of all sizes.
Creators will push beyond post-production to create new listening experiences.
VR audio is already close to achieving accuracy when matching visuals with their corresponding sounds. The next step will be exploring exciting new techniques during post-production (or even earlier) in order to leverage the full spectrum of possibility exclusive to VR.
Sound is not just a storytelling cue that can be used to encourage VR users to look in a certain direction. In some new use cases, you are actually able to hear certain sounds over others within the same experience if you want. The following recorded 360 video, for example, lets users hear what they are looking at more clearly than the other instruments placed all around them.
This new wave of sound won’t just be part of an evolution of current techniques. In many cases, it will give way to revolutionary new forms of entertainment. The virtual canvas for artists is expanded 360 degrees horizontally and 360 degrees vertically beyond the physical dimensions of a stage in real life. Musicians will now be able to play with “virtual location,” along with their traditional considerations of pitch, loudness, and timing. They’re also learning how to exploit human auditory perception to influence these experiences at an even deeper level. Some psychoacoustic principles that you have already experienced in real life can be taken advantage of in VR to make each experience different at the individual level. While there is a whole lot to consider in that realm, our collective knowledge about it continues to grow.
Advances in VR audio are going to be key in perfecting the experience for mainstream consumers and for giving pioneers the tools they need to drive innovative experiences. These three trends will go a long way toward achieving both goals and will help shape the industry in the years to come.
Trying to capture what someone is experiencing when they’re head-first in a VR game has been an interesting problem to crack. By matching up live video and a digital environment with the help of a green screen setup though, you can essentially create a video that places you straight in the action—one that better communicates the immersion of a VR game than a simple first-person screen capture. Oculus recently revealed in a blog post that in the past months they’ve been working on bringing native mixed reality capture support to Oculus Rift, and it’s available today for developers to start creating mixed reality videos.
Oculus has recently published a guide to teach developers how to capture mixed reality with two important tools (besides a VR headset): a green screen and an external camera. The company says developers can create mixed reality content with either a stationary camera or a mobile camera that can be attached to a virtual, in-game object—letting you capture the scene from various vantage points and making the action even more immersive for non-VR viewers.
To help create a fixed or mobile camera that lets you capture you while in the physical world, Oculus has also provided a 3D-printable CAD model so webcams and small DSLRs can be attached to an extra Oculus Touch controller and either mounted on a tripod or supported by hand.
It’s not to say everyone with a VR-ready computer can create these sorts of videos though, as the requirements for mixed reality capture are likely higher than the ‘minimum spec’ published by Oculus that allowed computers as affordable as $500 to run VR games. To help out with the additional bandwidth requirements of mixed reality capture, Oculus suggests a number of components including its Oculus-approved Falcon Northwest Tiki computer (MSRP $2,899). The company hasn’t released any hard and fast requirements for mixed reality capture, but has mentioned its selected motherboards “work well” when paired with 16 GB RAM, an SSD hard drive and a GTX 1080.
As for cameras, Oculus provided support for “any USB camera,” but says that higher-spec cameras, including HDMI cameras, will predictably result in higher-quality mixed reality capture scenes.
Mixed reality setups are notoriously fiddly to build, and the company says their native mixed reality integration “does require numerous steps and a certain level of technical proficiency,” and that users should follow documentation “as precisely as possible, and pay special attention to the directions regarding Oculus sensor setup, USB ports, and chipsets.” Among Oculus’ setup guide, other guides for integrating mixed reality capture support Unity and Unreal apps are also available (Unity, Unreal, Native).
Somebody call Neo: virtual reality landscapes are once again the hot new thing, in life and in media. And just as The Matrix helped redefine our view of virtual worlds way back in 1999, television’s newest trend paints the rebooted tech with an air of menace.
But why? And why now? What is it about virtual reality that, decades after the technology was first introduced, TV has embraced the technology whole-heartedly for major storylines on network, and cable? We’ve got a few ideas in that direction, but first let’s talk a quick look back through the complicated history of virtual reality, and its existence (eXistenZ?) in media.
Naturally, whenever any new technology hits the market, Hollywood tries to integrate and grapple with it, often with mixed results (look for Rise of the Fidget Spinners to hit theaters some time next Fall). The hacker thrillers of the 2000s proved there’s nothing less exciting than actors furrowing their brows while furiously typing on computers. Arguably, it took another decade and a half until Mr. Robot figured out how to make hacking into gripping entertainment, and that’s mostly due to a focus on characters over computers; married to a slick, visual style helmed by show creator Sam Esmail.
Although interactive storytelling may be an unruly step too far for the masses wedded to traditional forms and formats, VR is creating such new ways to consume and experience content that it’s in pole position to embrace a radically experimental concept like branching narratives.
By offering 360-degrees worth of viewing options, VR users are already comfortable with entry-level narrative freedom. After years of consuming a director’s fixed vision, users seem to be enjoying the refreshing autonomy that goes with VR. So let’s deepen this newfound freedom by adding narrative options to VR’s already-existing multitude of perspective options. Going from perspective-based interactivity to narrative-based interactivity is a massive step up that’s bound to get users even more hooked whilst hailing VR’s points of difference.
But it is – of course – not just the users who are adapting to new storytelling mindsets. VR content creators are also having to acclimatize. We are learning to sacrifice the surety and control that comes from linear narratives. It’s why we’re investing an awful lot of time and energy into developing new visual and spatial audio cues that guide users through an experience. With all this breakout thinking, something as disruptive as interactive narratives feels like it could be the next logical evolution in VR.
For me, though, as a socio-political VR storyteller, the really exciting thing about branching narratives is its potential to push the empathy factor to the max. I hate using the term ‘empathy factor’ because it already feels like a VR cliché. But it’s a cliché because it’s very real: VR lends a user the physical and psychological perspective of another person like no other medium in the world. And this is arguably its most powerful USP. But imagine how much more powerful that USP becomes when you throw branching narratives into the mix.
Branching narratives, especially if used in socio-political VR, could have a dramatic impact on empathy. Not only would we be helping the user see the world through someone else’s eyes, we’d also be asking them to make crucial decisions on the protagonist’s behalf. If you thought giving a user someone else’s perspective was powerful, just wait until we ask them to take charge of this person’s life by taking responsibility for their choices. Suddenly, it becomes the type of experience that leaves an indelible, unforgettable imprint on the user.
The VR community is well known for being jam-packed with trailblazers who are hungry to break established rules. So although the concepts of interactive storytelling and branching narratives may feel abhorrent to traditionalists, their power to ramp up user freedom and narrative experimentation is something that’s just aching to be used by VR’s signature challenge-hungry pioneers. So forget what the doom mongers say about interactive narratives. For VR creatives, it’s a newer and even bigger opportunity to completely rewrite the storytelling rules.
Announced today via the official Vive blog, HTC now has three VR bundles available with 6, 12, and 24-month financing plans in an effort to help customers afford the high upfront cost of the system and the required hardware. Bundles now include the option of a graphics card, laptop, or desktop PC to compliment the Vive system. This adds to the existing financing options for the Vive itself, which can bring the cost down to $40 per month for the $800 hardware.
Spreading the cost of expensive VR hardware over several months could make a more manageable entry point for some customers, particularly if they are also in need of additional horsepower to meet the required PC specifications. Following the financing options introduced for Vive hardware in February, allowing regular payments across 6 to 24 months, comes three new options that include ‘VR Ready’ PC hardware. The 6 and 12 month payment plans are offered interest free via PayPal financing options, while the 24 month option will add an 8% APR to the total cost.
VR GPU Bundle
Firstly, the Nvidia GTX 1070 graphics card, one of the most-recommended choices for a VR PC upgrade, can be purchased with a Vive system for $1,000 for a limited time (until April 24th), or $49 per month for 24 months. Vive says this is a $200 discount compared to buying them separately
VR Laptop Bundle
For those looking for a brand new VR-capable PC, the MSI GS73VR laptop is the second hardware bundle with a Vive system for $125 per month. This desktop-replacement laptop has a clear gaming and performance focus, with a large 17.3” display favouring low latency over resolution, running at 1080p and 120Hz. Its GTX 1060 GPU and i7 CPU means it comfortably meets the ‘VR Ready’ minimum specifications, making it an ideal ‘portable Vive machine’.
The new VR app takes some of the best social features of Facebook and brings them into your VR space, letting you spend time with friends and family like you’re really there. You can step inside 360 videos with friends and even draw and play with Touch controllers.
The beta launches today for Rift and looks to deepen the sense of immersion. Facebook Spaces lets you create an avatar so you’ll be familiar to the people who know you best. Choose one of your Facebook photos and the app will generate several options that recreate your likeness in VR. Start with one of these options, then customize until it feels just right. You can change your eye color, hairstyle, facial features and more until your look fits your identity.
Once you’ve created your avatar, it’s now time to join your friends. Use the magic marker to draw up anything from tic-tac-toe boards to fencing swords, then grab your drawing and hand it to a friend—wherever they are.
You’ll also find Facebook content at your fingertips to view with friends in VR, including 360 videos and photos that can transport you to new places. You and your friends can relive personal memories from your own Timelines, or even make new ones as you explore things that interest you from people and Pages you follow.
Also shown on stage is the ability to use Messenger to call friends who don’t have a VR headset via video chat. They’ll take the call on their device in the real world, but they’ll talk to your avatar in VR. From there you can show off your latest 3D drawing, play a 360 video for your friend or just spend time chatting.
And of course there is the selfie stick. Use it to take photos of your experience and share the memories you create to your Facebook feed.
This is only the beginning of Facebook’s social VR efforts. Now launched in beta, Facebook hopes to add new features based on feedback and also plan to bring the experience to more platforms over time, which could be just what VR needs to bring the platform mainstream. Because we all know, VR is always better with friends.