How John Carmack pestered Microsoft to let him make Minecraft for Gear VR

25 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Netflix streams into VR, shares up nearly 6%.

Samsung Electronics and Facebook’s Ove unveiled a new version of theGear VR headset, aimed at bringing what executives said was the “power of virtual reality to the mainstream.” To reach the masses, the headset will be priced at $US99 and work with the full slate of 2015 Samsung Galaxy phones: Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6 Edge+, S6 and S6 Edge. Facebook-owned Oculus VR wooed software makers on Thursday with the promise of a budding “virtual reality era” and an alliance with streaming television powerhouse Netflix.While there’s plenty of attention on virtual reality technology at the Oculus Connect 2 developers conference, Oculus chief technology officer John Carmack emphasized that virtual reality “content needs the most effort” during his Thursday keynote. The new headset is 22 per cent lighter and “much more comfortable” than the previous Innovator editions, which Samsung first released last year to fine-tune its consumer product. FB 0.47 % ’s Oculus virtual-reality unit is lining up additional content, including movies and games, ahead of the planned launch of its consumer headset early next year.

During the opening keynote, which preceded Carmack’s talk, Oculus announced that its Oculus Cinema — an app designed to allow a user to view content in a virtual movie theater — was being relaunched as Oculus Video in conjunction with new content deals. The Gear VR includes a trackpad, back button and motion sensors to detect acceleration and gyroscopic position, but it still requires the brains and high-resolution screen of a smartphone to work. Facebook bought Oculus VR last year in a deal valued at US$2 billion, heralding virtual reality as the next-generation computing platform and one that will let people instantly “travel” to new places. “It was like teleporting to some other place just by putting on a headset,” Zuckerberg said while recounting the first time he tried a Rift prototype at Oculus offices. “It was so good, I didn’t want to really leave.

At a conference in Los Angeles Thursday, Oculus announced deals for streaming movies and TV shows from Netflix, NFLX 5.80 % games such as “Minecraft” and movies including “The Hunger Games” series, to make the technology more attractive for consumers. Among them, Twentieth Century Fox and Lionsgate will provide movie content for the service, which can be rented or purchased on the Oculus Store; a new Netflix app will allow VR users to access the Netflix library; and streaming services including Hulu, Twitch, Vimeo and Tivo are also planning to offer streaming content. I was seeing the next great technology platform.” The first Rift virtual reality headset is on track for release in the first quarter of next year, followed shortly thereafter by the debut of Touch controllers designed to let people reach in and interact with faux worlds. Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told the approximately 1,500 conference attendees that the company “is committed to [virtual reality] for the long-term….We’re going to work hard to serve this community.” Mr. Carmack asserted that these content deal would make Gear VR a successful platform, and discussed a few of them. “One of thing on my list was Minecraft,” he said, citing a game deal. “On the video side, there are branches on the tree that are important — short downloads, and we hit that point with Vimeo; download movies, [for which] we have studio deals]; and you also want a paid streaming service for content.

Zuckerberg has repeatedly said virtual reality will be the next major computing platform, making it possible to enjoy a courtside seat at a game or consult with a doctor face-to-face. Netflix was at the top of the list.” Oculus’ parent company Facebook is also part of the VR strategy. “We have people working on panoramic content in Facebook,” Carmack said. “I’m of the opinion that panorama in 2D is sort of gimmick.

Oculus has yet to disclose what it will charge for Rift headsets, but said that Oculus Ready computers coming to market will have prices less than US$1,000. “This is a once-in-a-generation moment where we can create something that inspires millions of people… something that will change their lives forever,” Oculus chief executive Brendan Iribe told the audience. “This is the dawn of the virtual reality era.” Samsung Gear VR headgear powered by Oculus software is already on the market. Carmack said he met with Netflix engineers last month and work began on the app, which was expected to hit the Oculus VR app store Thursday. “It was very rewarding to be able to do this work right before Oculus Connect and make it available to all of our users in such a short timeframe,” Carmack said. An improved version will debut in the United States in November at a price of US$99, according to Peter Koo, a senior vice-president in the mobile communications division of the South Korean consumer electronics titan. What we want to have soon is the ability to find this content on Facebook and view the content in VR.” Another research project, “view-dependent streaming,” is exploring how image quality might be improved in VR. “We have about one-eighth the resolution we’d like to have,” Carmack said. “We can do 4K, 30 frames per second [in 2D] and it looks pretty good.

People are already sharing 360-degree video and playing immersive games using Gear VR headsets, which let the company’s smartphones serve as display screens. And if you want stereoscopic, it’s half again.” During his talk, Carmack projected gaming would come to represent a little less than half the time people spend in VR and he opined that animation is “highly underutilized” in VR game development. “It’s a tragedy how much work goes into the artistry that’s not appreciated,” he said. “Animation is something that I want to see much more, big, in our face — something occupying the stereoscopic sweet spot.

Ron Bredow, an executive at Disney’s Lucasfilm unit, said the company was experimenting with five- to 10-minute videos. “Is that going to be the kind of thing that’s compelling enough as its own medium to hold your attention for two hours?” Mr. Popular online building game Minecraft made by Swedish studio Mojang is diving into virtual reality with the launch next year of Rift, according to Oculus founder Palmer Luckey. Oculus in January launched a studio that has produced two movies: “Henry,” a cartoon about a lonely hedgehog looking for friends, and “Lost,” about a robot hand searching for its owner in a dense, dark forest.

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