Introduction and Background
VR is rapidly gaining steam lately with the recent launch of several capable platforms. I’ve briefly sampled the various iterations of development kits and pre-release units coming through our office, and understanding how they tracked the headset position was relatively easy. Then we got to play with an HTC Vive, and things got a bit more interesting. The Vive is a ‘whole room’ VR experience. You’re not sitting at a desk with a game controller. Instead, you are holding a pair of controllers that behave more like extensions of yourself (once you get used to them, that is). Making all of this work took some extra pieces included with the kit, and the electronics technician in me was dying to know just what made this thing tick. I’d imagine other readers of this site might feel the same, so I thought it appropriate to do some digging and report my findings here.
Before diving straight into the HTC Vive, a brief history lesson of game system positional tracking is in order.
I'll start with the Wii Remote controllers, which had a front mounted IR camera that ‘saw’ a pair of IR LED banks mounted in the ‘Sensor Bar’ – an ironic naming as the ‘sensor’ was actually in the Remotes. This setup lets you point a Wii Remote at the television and use it as a mouse. Due to the limited number of points in use, the system could not tell the Wii Remote location within the room. Instead, it could only get a vector relative to the Sensor Bar itself. Wii Remotes also contained accelerometers, but those were typically not used to assist in the accuracy of the pointing (but were used to determine if the remote was inverted, as the Sensor Bar had only two light sources).
The Oculus Rift was essentially a reversing of the technology used in the old Nintendo Wii Remotes. The headset position and orientation are determined by a desk-mounted IR camera which ‘looks’ at IR LEDs mounted to the headset. The system dubbed ‘Constellation’, can decode the pattern (seen faintly in the above photo) and determine the headset position and orientation in space.
Even the sides and rear of the headset have a specific LED pattern to help the camera lock on to someone looking away from it. If the IR camera sees the triangular pattern on the headset strap, it can conclude that the viewer us looking behind them.
The HTC Vive takes a different approach here. Since it was launching with a headset and two controllers that would all need to be tracked in space simultaneously. The Wii Remote style idea would only work with a much larger grid of sensor bars (or QR codes) peppered all over the room, so that idea was out. The Rift’s constellation system might have a hard time identifying unique light patterns on multiple devices that could be far away and possibly occluding each other. So if having cameras on the headset and controllers is out, and having a camera on the desk is out, what’s left?
Subject: General Tech | April 5, 2016 - 04:47 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: NVMe, SAS, sata, PCIe SSD, low latency
The Register have put together a nice graphic and table displaying current storage technologies and how they relate to each other. They constructed the graph to demonstrate the major boundaries in storage, between cache/memory, local storage and external storage and how these are going to move thanks to new technology. NVMe-over-fabric will enable companies to utilize external storage at latencies lower than internal storage that still uses SATA or SAS, with only pure PCIe local storage outpacing its potential. X-Point, assuming it lives up to the hype, will blur the line between local storage and memory/cache storage, offering latency previously only seen in system memory or on-die cache.
They also provide a table to give you some rough ideas how this translates between storage media, normalizing it a theoretical task which would take L1 cache 1 second to access, this can make it somewhat easier to comprehend for some than nanoseconds.
"Two technology changes are starting to be applied and both could have massive latency reduction effects at the two main storage boundary points: between memory and storage on the one hand, and between internal and external, networked storage on the other."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Alphabet's Nest To Deliberately Brick Revolv Hubs @ Slashdot
- Meet Jide's Remix OS: Android on the desktop done right @ The Inquirer
- Google pushes April Android security update to Nexus devices @ The Inquirer
- FreeBSD 10.3 lands @ The Register
- Quinones and graphite make green battery @ Nanotechweb
- A One Year Redux On The Basement Computer Room For Benchmarking 50+ Systems Daily @ Phoronix
- AMD Details Bristol Ridge AM4 Performance @ Hardware Canucks
- Samsung starts mass producing 10nm-class NAND chips @ The Inquirer
Subject: General Tech | April 4, 2016 - 06:33 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft
Microsoft has been slowly shifting Windows and the rest of their software toward a dark theme over the last couple of years. This is the case on Visual Studio, Edge, and... some of the operating system's user interface. You can see it in the taskbar, in a few context menus on the desktop, and so forth. If you then open the system settings, you are greeted with light grey and white.
According to Brad Sams at Thurrott.com, Windows 10 will receive an actual dark theme option in the upcoming Anniversary Update. It could have been unlocked in the registry since before Windows 10 initially launched last year, but it was very incomplete. I also don't exactly like enabling experimental things in the registry, because you never know if Microsoft will test all possible combinations of work-in-progress flags when said feature actually goes public.
Speaking of which, the Windows 10 Anniversary Update is expected at some point in July. You know, the one-year anniversary of Windows 10 reaching
RTM totally not RTM, because Windows 10 doesn't go RTM.
Subject: General Tech | April 4, 2016 - 05:35 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: Privacy, rift, Oculus, facebook
As expected, Facebook has added some questionable features to the Oculus Rift and if any of it surprises you then you haven't been paying attention. The Register went through it to pull out a variety of terms than many may find questionable. Your usage will be tracked while you are using the headset and just like Facebook and many other social media apps it will use the data collected for targeted advertising. There does not seem to be any incognito mode, so think twice before using the Rift for certain applications unless you want some interesting adverts showing up on your Facebook page.
A Slashdot post points out a different concern for content creators, if you use the Oculus to create something original then while Oculus can't claim to own it, it can use it without your consent and without having to pay you for for using it. Again, this should not be surprising but if you weren't aware of the possibility, you should consider these T&C's before picking the Rift.
"THOSE OF a weak disposition should look away. News has reached us that face fun virtual reality machine, and eye of Facebook, the Oculus Rift has features that track things that people do, and use the information for the purposes of advertising."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Winbond, C-Media enter Oculus supply chain, says report @ DigiTimes
- Boosty uses mobile signal to improve shonky broadband connections @ The Inquirer
- Top Firefox extensions can hide silent malware using easy pre-fab tool @ The Register
- Microsoft lures top Linux exec from Oracle to Redmond @ The Register
- Doogee S1 Smartwatch @ TechARP
- NikKTech & Scythe Keep It Cool EU Giveaway
Subject: General Tech | April 4, 2016 - 05:30 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: zelda, webgl, Nintendo
Before it invariably gets taken offline, you might want to check out a remake of the original Legend of Zelda. It's not just a straight port of the original, though. Its pixel art assets were remade in voxels, which are rendered in WebGL at an angle that's similar to what the original pixel art implies. Original NES controls are overlaid on the screen, which is useful for multi-touch, but keyboard also works.
Most of the game is plugin-free and running in the browser. The only thing that requires plug-in support is audio, and it doesn't play nice with click-to-activate. It would have been nice for them to implement it in WebAudio API, and implement Gamepad API while they're at it, but who am I to criticize a passion project that will likely be challenged by Nintendo in a handful of days?
I'm not sure how complete the game is. They seem to imply that all eight dungeons are available, but I haven't had a chance to check.
Subject: General Tech | April 1, 2016 - 05:55 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: Xeon E5-2600 v4, Intel, Broadwell-EP
Yesterday, towards the end of the day, Intel announced the arrival of their newest Xeon chips, the v4 series of Xeon E5 CPUs. As you would expect of server chips there is no GPU present however there are new features to improve your servers performance. The new Broadwell-EP chips will have up to 22 cores and 44 threads, an impressive 55MB of cache on some models and support for DDR4-2400. As far as raw performance goes, Intel advertises these chips as delivering about 5% instructions per second compared to Haswell and handles AVX instructions more efficiently, allowing cores not running these tasks to remain at full speed. The Register has a great breakdown of the other new features which these Xeons can provide.
"These chips follow up 2014’s Xeon E5 v3 parts, which used a 22nm process size and the Haswell micro-architecture. Intel shrunk Haswell to 14nm, and after some tinkering, codenamed the resulting design Broadwell."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Google Updates: beef, Trump and Snoop @ The Inquirer
- OS 9.3.1 arrives with fix for link-crashing glitch @ The Inquirer
- Reddit's warrant canary shuffles off this mortal coil @ The Register
- HPE adds power-fail-protected NVDIMM tech to servers @ The Register
- Stacker NAND Technology TRIPLES Flash Capacity @ TechARP
- BlackBerry Priv will get Marshmallow in May, but sales remain a mystery @ The Inquirer
- Nvidia Shield Android TV @ Kitguru
- Impressive StarCraft 2 AI More Fair to Fleshy Opponents @ Hack a Day
Subject: General Tech | March 31, 2016 - 06:52 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: epic games, unreal engine, unreal engine 4
It has been in preview since December, but Epic Games has finally released Unreal Engine 4.11 for developers to create awesome things with. This version focused on performance and the features that were added for Paragon, which entered early access two weeks ago. DirectX 12 is still considered experimental, and Vulkan is missing officially (although John Alcatraz has a tutorial to add it to Unreal Engine built from source), but the rendering back-end has received significant changes to accommodate the new graphics APIs in the future.
The three features that I'm most interested in, apart from free performance, are lighting channels, capsule shadows, and improved building of static light. Light channels are very difficult to implement in a deferred renderer, but Epic managed. This means that you can have dynamic lights only affect certain objects in the scene, either for performance, if enough lights are ignored to justify the cost of the channels themselves, or for special effects, like making a specific object stand out in a scene. They also added new shading models for eyes, hair, skin, and cloth, and added a bunch of interesting audio features.
Unreal Engine 4.11 is available now from Epic's Launcher. It's free to use, but Epic takes a royalty on certain revenues.
Subject: General Tech | March 31, 2016 - 05:29 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: toshiba, recall, fire
Forget the concerns about fertility when using a laptop placed directly on your lap, having your lap catch fire is a bit more of a concern. If you are using a Toshiba laptop right now, quickly flip it over and check if it is on fire, or if the serial number resembles G71Cxxxxxxxx. If either of those conditions are true, please contact Toshiba customer support on this page, which also has a software utility you can run to see if you are affected by this recall. According to The Register, some of these batteries may have been sold individually or as repair kit for Satellite, Portégé and Tecra models so you should check; better safe than on fire.
"Toshiba is recalling the battery packs in 39 notebook models over fears they could be prone to catching fire."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Foxconn pays £2.5bn to swallow Sharp in cut-price takeover deal @ The Register
- Google's Project Zero names and shames 'ridiculous' Trend Micro bug @ The Inquirer
- SideStepper: iOS 9 exploit targets enterprise iPhones and iPads @ The Inquirer
- Google launches Cardboard SDK for iOS and VR View tool @ The Inquirer
Subject: General Tech | March 31, 2016 - 05:17 PM | Ken Addison
Tagged: podcast, video, VR, htc vive, oculus rift, vive pre, evga, SC17, logitech, g900, phil spencer, uwp, asus, echelon, gtx 950, acer, Predator, z850
PC Perspective Podcast #393 - 03/31/2016
Join us this week as we discuss the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, EVGA SC17 Notebook, UWP games and more!
The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!
- iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the Store (audio only)
- RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader (audio only)
- MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file
Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, and Josh Walrath
Program length: 1:37:33
Week in Review:
0:45:10 This episode of PC Perspective Podcast is brought to you by Braintree. Even the best mobile app won’t work without the right payments API. That’s where the Braintree v.0 SDK comes in. One amazingly simple integration gives you every way to pay. Try out the sandbox and see for yourself at braintreepayments.com/pcper
0:57:35 EVGA 650W GQ Power Supply Review
News items of interest:
Hardware/Software Picks of the Week
Ryan: Heat shrink tubing
Subject: General Tech | March 30, 2016 - 10:16 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: ubuntu, linux, mediatek, SoC, arm, tablet
Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system, is now offering up its first Ubuntu tablet with Spanish manufacturing partner BQ. The Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition is a 10-inch tablet powered by ARM and loaded with Ubuntu 15.04.
The tablet features an all black (or white) case with rounded edges and a matte back. Mobilegeeks managed to get hands on with the Android version of the Aquaris M10 which you can check out here. The internals are a bit different on the Ubuntu Edition, but the chassis and design remains the same. It measures 8.2mm thick and weighs in at 470 grams (1.03 pounds). The front is dominated by a 10.1” AHVA touchscreen display that comes in either 1280 x 800 or Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution depending on the model. A capacitive home button sits below along with two 0.7W speakers while a 5MP webcam is positioned above the display. There is an 8MP rear camera, and the sides hold Micro HDMI, Micro USB, Micro SD, and 3.5mm audio ports.
The Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition is powered by a quad core MediaTek SoC with Mali-T720MP2 graphics, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of eMMC storage (with approximately 10GB usable by end users) that can be expanded via Micro SD cards up to 64GB. The Full HD model uses the MediaTek MT8163A clocked at 1.5 GHz while the HD Aquaris M10 uses the slightly lower clocked MT8163B running at 1.3 GHz.
Wireless capabilities include 802.11n (dual band) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and GPS. It is powered by a 7,280 mAh Li-Po battery. BQ has pre-loaded the tablet with Ubuntu 15.04 which users will likely want to update once drivers are ready as it is End-of-Life.
The Aquaris M10 is available for pre-order now, with expected ship dates in early April. The HD Ubuntu Edition tablet is listed at €259.90 ($295) while the Full HD version will run you €299.90 ($340). Currently, the Full HD tablet comes in black and the HD tablet is all white. Both models come with a screen protector and case as a pre-order bonus.
It is interesting to see an official Ubuntu tablet, but I wonder if this is too little, too late for the open source OS. Canonical is positioning this as a daily driver that can be a tablet when you want to be mobile, a PC when propped up with a case and paired with wireless keyboard and mouse, and a media streamer when connecting it to the big screen with HDMI. I would expect performance to improve over time once the community gets a hold of it and starts tweaking it though the hardware is going to be a limiting factor. I want a Linux tablet to succeed, and hopefully this will open the door for higher end models. I don’t see myself jumping on this particular one though at this price.
Are you excited for the Ubuntu Edition M10?