(VRfun18) The XR Week Peek (2022.09.19): Pico 4 is launching on 22nd, PSVR 2 gets reviewed, and more! [+ Giveaway]

This is the last newsletter of this Summer 2022! The weather is starting to get cold here, but our XR ecosystem is getting hot, with the upcoming launches of Pico 4 and Quest Pro, not to mention the upcoming NVIDIA GTC where I hope to see RTX40 graphics cards being revealed! Are you excited? Because I am…

Top news of the week

(Image by Pico)

Pico to launch Pico 4 on September, 22nd

Chinese manufacturer Pico has just officially announced that on September, 22nd (that is, in 3 days) it is going to launch a new product. The image shows what looks like a quite thin headset, and two arcs that look a lot like the Pico 4 controllers I leaked a few weeks ago.
 There is no official news on this device, but the leaks give us some interesting info about it. It should be dubbed Pico 4 and come in two variants: Pico 4 and Pico 4 Pro. Pico 4 should be something like a consumer-oriented headset meant to compete with Quest 2, while Pico 4 Pro should be a prosumer one meant to compete with Quest Pro. Pico 4 Pro should feature next-gen functionalities like RGB passthrough, eye tracking, face tracking, and automatic IPD adjustment.
 Both headsets should be thin thanks to the use of pancake lenses, which allow the display to be closer to the lenses, for a smaller form factor. This would make them smaller than Quest 2 and more comfortable to wear. It’s not clear anyway what will be its resolution, FOV, and especially content and price, and this information is crucial to understand how Pico 4 can really compete with Meta’s headsets. Rumors say that the headset will be heavily subsidized, though.
 Anyway, my very positive review of the Pico Neo 3 Link makes me hope very well for this device, which is the first headset with which Bytedance tries to seriously compete with Meta. I’m pretty excited by this launch, and I’m curious to discover everything about it because for the first time we have a company that could put an end to Meta’s monopoly in the XR sector.

More info (Pico teasing a launch in China)
More info (Pico announcing the launch of the new device in the West)

Other relevant news

(Image by Sony Interactive Entertainment)

PSVR 2 is great according to reviews, but…

We finally have some hands-on impression of PlayStation VR 2. Sony Interactive Entertainment has let many famous journalists and influencers (like Mike Virtual Reality Oasis) try the new headset in dedicated sessions where they could play four upcoming games: Horizon Call of the Mountain, Resident Evil Village, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners — Chapter 2, and Star Wars: Tales From the Galaxy’s Edge.
 The feedback from all of them is extremely positive. The headset is very comfortable; the visuals are very crisp, thanks also to the OLED screen with HDR that can provide vivid colors and dark blacks; the FOV is slightly larger than usual; the controllers never lose the tracking, even when one occludes the other; the controllers also have very well defined haptics; the passthrough vision is very neat, even if still black and white; eye tracking allows for easy IPD adjustment and foveated rendering. All the reviews were enthusiastic, even if all reviewers complained about the lack of integrated audio, which seems like an unforgivable problem for a headset to be released in 2023. The cable was an issue only for some reviewers, and only for games that required very fast movements. Another issue for which many complained was some kind of motion blur, or ghosting from the previous frame to the current one, but Sony is already looking into this problem
 The hardware is so good that Upload’s David Heaney, which has tried many headsets in his career, defined it as “the most immersive consumer headset I’ve tried to date”. This says a lot about the quality of PSVR 2. And if the hardware is good, the software is amazing. All the games showcased with the headset impressed the journalists, and some of them were able to offer something more with respect to the version available on the other platforms: for instance, Star Wars: Tales From the Galaxy’s Edge had high-quality graphics, and The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners — Chapter 2 had a chainsaw that felt real thanks to PSVR 2 haptics. But the king of PSVR 2 content has been Horizon Call of the Mountain, about which everyone was impressed. Many said that its graphical level is similar to the one of Half-Life: Alyx. Considering the small interest from game developers in graphics after the release of Quest 2, I am very intrigued to see again titles that push the visual limits to their maximum, and I wonder if this can create positive effects for the PC VR market, too.
 Some other games have been already announced for PSVR 2, like for instance Low-Fi, Alvo, and Demeo. The bad news on the content side is that all games made for PSVR won’t be compatible with PSVR 2, because the two headsets are too different. This is a huge bummer for the people owning a large PSVR catalog and is really the worst news about PSVR 2 from this week.
 PSVR 2 was also showcased to the general audience for the first time at the Tokyo Game Show, getting good impressions from gamers, too.

More info (PSVR 2 hands-on — Road To VR)
More info (PSVR 2 hands-on — Upload VR)
More info (PSVR 2 hands-on — Mike VRO)
More info (PSVR 2 can’t play PSVR 1 games)
More info (Every game announced for PSVR 2)
More info (Star Wars: Tales from the galaxy’s edge on PSVR 2)
More info (Hands-on Horizon Call Of The Mountain on PSVR 2)
More info (Demeo on PSVR 2)
More info (PSVR 2 showcased at Tokyo Game Show)

Somnium Space is working on an open-source headset called “Somnium VR ONE”

Somnium Space is one of the most important social virtual spaces built on top of Web3 technologies. Some months ago it had announced that it was going to build a headset of its own, the “Somnium VR ONE”, exploiting the expertise of VRgineers, the Czech company behind the XTAL headset, and of which Somnium is an investor. This week we had new interesting updates about this project.
 First of all, Somnium Space has added another company to the mix: together with it and VRgineers, there will be also Prusa Research, a 3D printing company with a very open approach. Then, Somnium reiterated the idea of wanting to build a completely open headset: the operating system will be an opensource version of Android, and even all the 3D models of the hardware will be shared, so that people will be able to print the headset at home, if they want. “In order to be cost effective, the Electronics and proprietary lenses will be mass manufactured in partnership with Vrgineers and sold by Somnium Space online. Meaning that anyone with the ambition of building their own headset can purchase these components and build the headset by themselves. On the other hand, all customers will be able to purchase a fully assembled Somnium Space headset directly.” says the blog post with the partnership announcement.
 But there is even more: the specifications of the upcoming headset are literally amazing for a standalone device:

  • CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2
  • 512 GB UFS
  • Wifi 6e
  • Display 2x 3.2inch 2880RGB*2880 Fast LCD
  • Horizontal FOV 120 °, Vertical FOV 100 °
  • MicroSD card extension
  • Wireless PC VR Streaming
  • Tethered USB-C PC streaming
  • Native wired PC Mode (lossless)
  • HMD Native SteamVR support (working on native SteamVR tracking and controllers)
  • Integrated high quality stereo microphones
  • Headphone jack
  • Inside-Out 6DoF tracking Support for controllers
  • External battery pack using USB-C (no accumulator inside)
  • 2x USB-C 10 Gbps for external accessories (USB 3.2 Gen2) +1 charging UBS-C (USB 2.0)
  • OS Android 11 AOSP port opensource
  • Direct open access to sensors and cameras

On paper, this is an astonishing project. It’s a standalone headset that has cutting-edge specifications, which works both as a standalone and PC device, is completely open source on the software and hardware standpoints, and completely open as features (e.g. you have access to camera data). This is the dream of every XR developer out there, and a breath of fresh air for a community where the top vendor offers a walled ecosystem.
 But on the other side, I’m in this space since too much time to believe every promise. The specifications of the device are really high, and I wonder for instance how the XR2 can support such a high-resolution screen without eye tracking. Then I question the polish of these features: wireless streaming is easy to implement, but it is hard to offer it so that it is smooth and crisp. And, in the end, I also wonder what will be the price for this device, which since won’t be subsidized, shouldn’t be cheap. And the content simply is not there, because it’s all on Meta and Pico, now.
 I’m not saying to not believe these claims, I’m just suggesting you all not to hype this device too much before seeing if Somnium can actually deliver it in the right way. I personally appreciate a lot the vision, and I absolutely hope they can offer what they are promising, because I love the open approach it has. Somnium is a company with a good reputation in providing software, and VRgineers has manufactured the XTAL 3, which is one of the best enterprise headsets out there. So they have the capabilities to deliver… but I know from experience that doing hardware is very hard, and doing it well and affordable is even harder, so I will believe it only when I see it. In the meanwhile, good luck to Somnium!
 (Thanks Enrico Speranza for the tip!)

More info

News worth a mention

(Image by Qualcomm)

Qualcomm may be working on the 2nd generation of XR1 and XR2 chipsets

According to two different rumors found on the web, Qualcomm may be working on a refresh of its XR-dedicated chipsets. But it won’t be releasing an XR3 chip, but a refreshed 2nd generation low-end XR1 and high-end XR2 chips. This second generation shouldn’t be ready for the release of Pico 4 and Quest Pro but may be the foundation of the rumored Quest 3. It’s good to know that we are getting more powerful headsets in the future, because XR2 is starting to show its age.

More info (2nd generation of XR2 chip)
More info (Leaked info about 2nd generation of both XR1 and XR2 chips)

Cognitive3D raises $2.5M to offer spatial analytics

Startup Cognitive 3D has just got a $2.5M investment to keep improving its spatial analytics tools. Last week I shared with you a post highlighting how the tools to analyze user behavior on a PC or mobile (like Google Analytics) are totally inappropriate for XR, and so we need dedicated tools for that. It is so very timely that this week I saw the news about Cognitive3D getting an investment to develop exactly that kind of tools. Using Cognitive3D suite it is so finally possible to analyze in detail what your users are doing in your XR application, and what parts of your experience generate more engagement. The company is meant especially for enterprise usage, and so claims high standards for privacy management, which is absolutely welcome in this case.
 (Disclaimer: Cognitive3D is a patron of mine, but my reporting of this news is totally unrelated to that)

More info

Starbucks Odyssey shows the right way to implement NFTs

Starbucks has revealed Odyssey, which is its foray into the NFT world. It is a part of its loyalty program, an initiative to make people collect NFTs to enter the Odyssey club and have exclusive advantages. But what is amazing is that the company never mentions NFT in the Odyssey program: it just focuses on what the user can collect (called “journey stamps”) and what it can be offered to him, which are free perks in the real world.
 This is exactly what we need Web3 to become: a technology used to offer something to the user, a means and not a purpose, and especially something useful for the user and for speculators. And the company also chose a greener blockchain than Ethereum to implement this. Kudos to Starbucks to have implemented NFTs in the best way possible (and thanks to Tom Ffiske for having made me discover this through his amazing newsletter).

More info

Some news on the metaverse

Here you are the best articles I have found this week about the M-word:

  • The European Union plans to introduce some regulations about the metaverse next year, plus understand how to tax it so that to give money to telcos in order to make them offer a network that can sustain it. I honestly don’t know what to think about this news: regulations could be good or bad depending on how they are made. I wait to see what they are going to propose next year, but I’m quite worried
  • Louis Rosenberg has written two interesting articles about privacy in the metaverse. In one, he details how we should have a “privacy mode” for XR headsets, in which the applications can’t identify a user just from its biometric data. In the other one, instead, he details some basic rights we should have in the metaverse, like the right to “emotional privacy”. I am a big supporter of these initiatives.

More info (The EU wants to regulate the metaverse)
More info (Incognito mode in the metaverse)
More info (Basic rights in the metaverse)

VR in China is growing, but still is behind the West

IDC has released some interesting statistics about VR in China. According to the market research institute, in the Red Country have been shipped 500,000 AR/VR headsets in the first half of 2022. If you consider how many Quest headsets have been sold since its release (more than 10M), you see how the Chinese market is still lagging behind the West, waiting for its “Quest moment”. The trend of sales of XR devices in China is positive though, and Pico is taking the lead in the market, so things may improve in the upcoming months.

More info

AppliedVR gets FDA approval for its back pain treatment

AppliedVR has just got approval from the FDA for its VR treatment for chronic lower back pain. The solution lets people treat lower back pain without using opioids and has been proven effective in clinical trials. The VR program outperformed the placebo, with improvements of at least 40% each in pain, mood, stress, and sleep. This is good news for people suffering from this illness, which this way can reduce their dependency on drugs.

More info

Chinese company appoints humanoid robot as CEO

The WTF of the week comes from China. NetDragon Websoft, a Chinese metaverse company, officially appointed an AI-powered humanoid female bot as its chief executive. I guess the company increased its productivity because it is hard to say no to your boss when she is Terminator.

More info

Contractors is becoming popular for its mods

A recent update to Contractors has improved the moddability of the game. The game is already a great shooter per se, but it is becoming even more popular because of its many mods. The community has already created Halo and Star Wars versions of it, and it is not stopping here for sure.

More info

Half-Life 2 VR is the most praised game of the week

The VR mod for Half-Life 2 has been released and it has instantly become one of the most appreciated games by the whole VR community. And it promises to become even better with an upcoming refresh of the textures and other graphical elements. Kudos to the great modders that made this possible!

More info

Some news on content

  • Upload VR has gone hands-on with Espire 2, Drop Dead The Cabin, Ancient Dungeon, and Hellsweeper. Ancient Dungeon got a “recommended” badge for its satisfying combat style. Hellsweeper had just a hands-on article (so without a final score), but it was very positive as well
  • Niantic launched Marvel World Of Heroes, a new mobile AR game which probably will be a flop like all the Niantic games which are not Pokemon Go
  • NFL Pro Era, the first official NFL game for standalone VR, has been released on Quest Store for $29.99 and will come soon on PS Store
  • Zombie Range, a game mixing zombies with fitness and sports training, is having a huge price discount and now costs only €0,99!

More info (Espire 2 hands-on)
More info (Drop Dead The Cabin hands-on)
More info (Ancient Dungeon review)
More info (Hellsweeper hands-on)
More info (Marvel World Of Heroes)
More info (NFL Pro Era)
More info (Zombie Range)

Other news

According to its CTO, soon Meta Avatars could let you see the legs of the other people

Learn more

It seems that Disney is studying ways to let you enjoy Disney park rides at home via VR

Learn more

Meta is offering 40 grants worth 20 lakhs (circa €25K) to promising Indian XR startups

Learn more

A new research project shows that making your arm vibrate could help you in perceiving better the weight of VR objects

Learn more

The amazing Alex Coulombe has tried Nanite and Lumen in UE5 in a VR project, and they look fantabulous

Learn more

News from partners (and friends)

Virtual Reality Day is back!

November, 19th 2022 will be again the Virtual Reality Day! I expect 24 hours of conferences about AR and VR, as it has happened every year. There is a form on the website for people that want to participate in the organization, and I invite you to fill it out!

Learn more

Into The Radius Giveaway!

As teased in the title of this roundup, I have a cool giveaway to offer to you! One of you will be able to bring home a key for Into The Radius, one of the best games being released these days, which just got a good score on Road To VR. To participate in the raffle, click the link below… but if you can’t wait, just go to the Oculus store and buy the game! 

Learn more (Read Into The Radius review on Road To VR)
Learn more (Buy the game on the Quest Store)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Some XR fun

This VR is so realistic… and wet
Funny link

No, sorry, you can’t see that
Funny link

I’m a senior developer and I can totally confirm that
Funny link

Donate for good

Like last week, also this week in this final paragraph I won’t ask you to donate for my blog, but to the poor people that are facing the consequences of the war. Please donate to the Red Cross to handle the current humanitarian situation in Ukraine. I will leave you the link to do that below.
 Let me take a moment before to thank anyway all my Patreon donors for the support they give to me:

  • Alex Gonzalez VR
  • DeoVR
  • GenVR
  • Eduardo Siman
  • Jonn Fredericks
  • Jean-Marc Duyckaerts
  • Reynaldo T Zabala
  • Richard Penny
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  • Nikk Mitchell and the great FXG team
  • Jake Rubin
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  • Cognitive3D
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  • Francesco Salizzoni
  • Alan Smithson
  • Steve R
  • Brentwahn
  • Pieter Siekerman
  • Simplex
  • Matias Nassi

And now here you are the link to donate:

Support The Red Cross in Ukraine

(Header image by Pico)

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