Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: The Khronos Group

Maybe Good that Valve Called their API OpenVR?

Update, December 6th, 2016 @ 2:46pm EST: Khronos has updated the images on their website, and those changes are now implemented on our post. The flow-chart image changed dramatically, but the members image has also added LunarG.

Original Post Below

The Khronos Group has just announced their VR initiative, which is in the early, call for participation stage. The goal is to produce an API that can be targeted by drivers from each vendor, so that applications can write once and target all compatible devices. The current list of participants are: Epic Games, Google, Oculus VR, Razer, Valve, AMD, ARM, Intel, NVIDIA, VeriSilicon, Sensics, and Tobii. The point of this announcement is to get even more companies involved, before it matures.

khronos-2016-vr-members-2.png

Image Credit: The Khronos Group

Valve, in particular, has donated their OpenVR API to Khronos Group. I assume that this will provide the starting point for the initiative, similar to how AMD donated Mantle to found Vulkan, which overcomes the decision paralysis of a blank canvas. Also, especially for VR, I doubt these decisions would significantly affect individual implementations. If it does, though, now would be the time for them to propose edits.

In terms of time-frame, it’s early enough that the project scope hasn’t even been defined, so schedules can vary. They do claim that, based on past experiences, about 18 months is “often typical”.

That’s about it for the announcement; on to my analysis.

khronos-2016-vr-perpectives-2.png

Image Credit: The Khronos Group, modified

First, it’s good that The Khronos Group are the ones taking this on. Not only do they have the weight to influence the industry, especially with most of these companies having already collaborated on other projects, like OpenGL, OpenCL, and Vulkan, but their standards tend to embrace extensions. This allows Oculus, Valve, and others to add special functionality that can be picked up by applications, but still be compatible at a base level with the rest of the ecosystem. To be clear, the announcement said nothing about extensions, but it would definitely make sense for VR, which can vary with interface methods, eye-tracking, player tracking, and so forth.

If extensions end up being a thing, this controlled competition allows the standard as a whole to evolve. If an extension ends up being popular, that guides development of multi-vendor extensions, which eventually may be absorbed into the core specification. On the other hand, The Khronos Group might decide that, for VR specifically, the core functionality is small and stable enough that extensions would be unnecessary. Who knows at this point.

Second, The Khronos Group stated that Razer joined for this initiative specifically. A few days ago, we posted news and assumed that they wanted to have input into an existing initiative, like Vulkan. While they still might, their main intentions are to contribute to this VR platform.

Third, there are a few interesting omissions from the list of companies.

microsoft-2016-hololens-hero.png

Microsoft, who recently announced a VR ecosystem for Windows 10 (along with the possibly-applicable HoloLens of course), and is a member of the Khronos Group, isn’t part of the initiative, at least not yet. This makes sense from a historical standpoint, as Microsoft tends to assert control over APIs from the ground up. They are, or I should say were, fairly reluctant to collaborate, unless absolutely necessary. This has changed recently, starting with their participation with the W3C, because good God I hope web browsers conform to a standard, but also their recent membership with the Khronos Group, hiring ex-Mozilla employees, and so forth. Microsoft has been lauding how they embrace openness lately, but not in this way yet.

Speaking of Mozilla, that non-profit organization has been partnered with Google on WebVR for a few years now. While Google is a member of this announcement, it seems to be mostly based around their Daydream initiative. The lack of WebVR involvement with whatever API comes out of this initiative is a bit disappointing, but, again, it’s early days. I hope to see Mozilla and the web browser side of Google jump in and participate, especially if video game engines continue to experiment with cross-compiling to Web standards.

It's also surprising to not see Qualcomm's name on this list. The dominant mobile SoC vendor is a part of many Khronos-based groups including Vulkan, OpenCL, and others, so it's odd to have this omission here. It is early, so there isn't any reason to have concern over a split, but Qualcomm's strides into VR with development kits, platform advancements and other initiatives have picked up in recent months and I imagine it will have input on what this standard becomes.

And that’s all that I can think of at the moment. If you have any interests or concerns, be sure to drop a line in the comments. Registration is not required.

Razer Joins The Khronos Group

Subject: General Tech | December 2, 2016 - 12:58 AM |
Tagged: VR, razer, osvr, Khronos

The Khronos Group is the standards body that maintains OpenGL, Vulkan, OpenCL, along with several other APIs and formats. They are made up of several members, which include companies of various sizes along with educational institutions, with a couple of tiers where members of the higher level, Promoter, get board nomination rights.

khronos-group-logo.png

The lower level, Contributor, has just received a new member: Razer. The Khronos Group published a little statement to their front page, but didn’t provide a way to permanently link it and the Read More just directs to Razer’s homepage. Also, Razer didn’t provide a press release on their website, at least by the time this news was published, so I included the statement below to prevent it from getting buried in a few days:

The Khronos Group is proud to announce that Razer has joined as a Contributor Member. Razer is a world leader in connected devices and software for gamers. Its award-winning design and technology span systems, peripherals, audio and wearable technologies. Razer co-founded OSVR, an open-source platform that integrates VR, AR and mixed reality hardware and software APIs that support a universal VR ecosystem.

Based on this, it’s easy to speculate that Razer is looking to have a say and a vote in how graphics APIs evolve, nudging it as needed for OSVR, their co-founded virtual reality platform. Basically every other VR developer worth mentioning is already a member, including Google, Microsoft, Oculus VR, Samsung, Sony, and Valve. Likewise, Vulkan is undergoing rapid development, and the next version, codenamed Vulkan Next, has VR as one of its “top priorities”. It seems like a good time for Razer to get involved.

Otherwise? Not much to speak of here. Razer is a fairly big company that wants to be active in technology development, and it can easily afford the Khronos Group membership fee. I mean, the amount they spent on USB ports with a specific shade of green would cover about twenty years of membership to the Khronos Group, so it seems within their reach.

Valve Adds Support for OSVR

Subject: General Tech | November 25, 2016 - 08:51 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, VR, osvr, razer, sensics

There’s a few competing VR standards at the moment. Obviously, mobile has a bunch of them; Google technically has two of their own. On the PC, the top two are Oculus and SteamVR. A third one, Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR), was co-founded by Razer and Sensics.

Valve has now added their platform to Steam, including the tools that users will need to filter compatible content for that headset.

osvr-2016-hdk-2-hero.png

OSVR is an interesting initiative. For instance, when they released their second developer’s kit, HDK2, they also released an upgrade kit for the original. Currently priced at $220, it upgrades the screen to 2160x1200. They also have a Leap Motion upgrade, although that’s currently listed as “coming soon”. It has also been added to Unreal Engine 4 for the last few versions, so engine developers are considering it worthy of first-party support.

Source: OSVR

Podcast #425 - Samsung 960 EVO, NZXT S340, NVIDIA revenue, wireless Vive, Serious Sam VR, Steam VR on Linux and more!

Subject: General Tech | November 17, 2016 - 03:53 PM |
Tagged: wireless, VR, video, valve, TPCAST, tempered glass, steam, serious sam, Samsung, S340, podcast, nzxt, linux, htc, 960 EVO, 375.86

PC Perspective Podcast #425 - 11/17/16

Join us this week as we discuss new Samsung 960 EVO, NZXT S340, NVIDIA revenue, wireless Vive, Serious Sam VR, Steam VR on Linux and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

Hosts:  Allyn Malventano, Josh Walrath, Jeremy Hellstrom, and Sebastian Peak

Program length: 1:13:46

  1. Week in Review:
  2. News items of interest:
  3. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week
    1. Ryan:
  4. Closing/outro

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

Please State Your Name; looking at performance in this short VR film

Subject: General Tech | November 16, 2016 - 01:33 PM |
Tagged: VR, nvidia, gaming, amd

VR offers a variety of new creative opportunities, not simply a new way to make games.  For instance StudioDisrupt has created a VR movie called Please State Your Name about a decapitated robot's head in a garbage dump.  While the movie has a script which it runs through, you have the freedom to move your perspective around the world.  While this may not sound overly interesting, Kyle over at [H]ard|OCP has watched this movie 25 or 30 times this week even before embarking on this review so there must be something to it.  Check out their full look at the performance of AMD and NVIDIA cards in this VR movie by following that previous link.  A second version of the movie is available for those using their cellphone as a VR headset, somewhat more limited but seeing as how the movie is free you should take the opportunity.

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"Please State Your Name is not a game, it is not really an "experience" either, but rather a short film done in a Virtual Reality world, which puts you right in the middle of the story. This genre of VR is where AMD has been putting a lot of its resources. Can we expect the Radeon RX 480 to show us its VR prowess once again?"

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Source: [H]ard|OCP

Valve says VR is soon coming to Linux

Subject: General Tech | November 14, 2016 - 01:31 PM |
Tagged: linux, mac os. valve, steam, VR, steamvr, OpenVR

Valve's OpenVR based project, which goes by the obvious moniker of SteamVR, has been shown powering an HTC Vive, using Vulcan on an unspecified Linux distro.  This proof of concept is to back up their claims that SteamVR should be available to consumers very soon.  At the moment their are few VR games using either OpenGL or Vulkan so your software choices will be limited.  At the same time, you may also be limited in the headset you can choose as Oculus developers have stated that all Mac OS support projects are currently on hold.  Road to VR has the full presentation from Valve’s Joe Ludwig embedded in their post here.

vr-620x.jpg

"However, Valve will soon move to encourage a diminishing of that monopoly, as it plans to bring SteamVR – the company’s Steam-integrated VR platform – to both Linux and Mac OSX platforms within the next few months."

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Source: Road to VR

Podcast #424 - AMD Radeon Pro GPUs, Corsair Carbide Air 740 Review, MSI Gaming Notebook Overview, VRMark, and more!

Subject: General Tech | November 10, 2016 - 02:22 PM |
Tagged: VRMark, VR, video, Red Alert 2, radeon pro, podcast, nvidia, notebook, NES Classic, nasa, msi, Mate 9, Leica, laptop, Kirin 960, gaming, DeepMind, carbide air 740

PC Perspective Podcast #424 - 11/10/16

Join us this week as we discuss new AMD Radeon Pro GPUs, Corsair Carbide Air 740 Review, MSI Gaming Notebook Overview, VRMark, and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

Hosts:  Allyn Malventano, Josh Walrath, and Jeremy Hellstrom

Program length: 1:09:34

  1. Week in Review:
  2. Casper!
  3. News items of interest:
  4. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week
    1. Ryan: I am applying for a position in this administration! going to change the direction of technology policy
  5. Closing/outro

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

Oculus Launches Asynchronous Spacewarp, 45 FPS VR

Subject: Graphics Cards, Systems | November 10, 2016 - 11:44 AM |
Tagged: VR, rift, Oculus, atw, asynchronous timewarp, asynchronous spacewarp, asw

Oculus has announced that as of today, support for Asynchronous Spacewarp is available and active for all users that install the 1.10 runtime. Announced at the Oculus Connect 3 event in October, ASW promises to complement existing Asynchronous Timewarp (ATW) technology to improve the experience of VR for lower performance systems that might otherwise result in stutter.

A quick refresher on Asynchronous Timewarp is probably helpful. ATW was introduced to help alleviate the impact of missed frames on VR headsets and started development back with Oculus DK2 headset. By shifting the image on the VR headset without input from the game engine based on relative head motion that occurred AFTER the last VR pose was sent to the game, timewarp presents a more accurate image to the user. While this technology was first used as a band-aid for slow frame rates, Oculus felt confident enough in its advantages to the Rift that it enables for all frames of all applications, regardless of frame rate.

ATW moves the entire frame as a whole, shifting it only based on relative changes to the user’s head rotation. New Asynchronous Spacewarp attempts to shift objects and motion inside of the scene by generating new frames to insert in between “real” frames from the game engine when the game is running in a 45 FPS state. With a goal of maintaining a smooth, enjoyable and nausea-free experience, Oculus says that ASW “includes character movement, camera movement, Touch controller movement, and the player's own positional movement.”

Source: Oculus

To many of you that are familiar with the idea of timewarp, this might sound like black magic. Oculus presents this example on their website to help understand what is happening.

Source: Oculus

Seeing the hand with the gun in motion, ASW generates a frame that continues the animation of the gun to the left, tricking the user into seeing the continuation of the motion they are going through. When the next actual frame is presented just after, the gun will have likely moved slightly more than that, and then the pattern repeats.

You can notice a couple of things about ASW in this animation example however. If you look just to the right of the gun barrel in the generated frame, there is a stretching of the pixels in an artificial way. The wheel looks like something out of Dr. Strange. However, this is likely an effect that would not be noticeable in real time and should not impact the user experience dramatically. And, as Oculus would tell us, it is better than the alternative of simply missing frames and animation changes.

Some ASW interpolation changes will be easier than others thanks to secondary data available. For example, with the Oculus Touch controller, the runtime will know how much the players hand has moved, and thus how much the object being held has moved, and can better estimate the new object location. Positional movement would also have this advantage. If a developer has properly implemented the different layers of abstraction for Oculus and its runtime, separating out backgrounds from cameras from characters, etc., then the new frames being created are less likely to have significant distortions.

I am interested in how this new feature affects the current library of games on PCs that do in fact drop below that 90 FPS mark. In October, Oculus was on stage telling users that the minimum spec for VR systems was dropping from requiring a GTX 970 graphics card to a GTX 960. This clearly expands the potential install base for the Rift. Will the magic behind ASW live up to its stated potential without an abundance of visual artifacts?

Oculus-Rift-Promo.jpg

In a blog post on the Oculus website, they mention some other specific examples of “imperfect extrapolation.” If your game or application includes rapid brightness changes, object disocclusion trails (an object moving out of the way of another object), repeated patterns, or head-locked elements (that aren’t designated as such in the runtime) could cause distracting artifacts in the animation if not balanced and thought through. Oculus isn’t telling game developers to go back and modify their titles but instead to "be mindful of their appearance."

Oculus does include a couple of recommendations to developers looking to optimize quality for ASW with locked layers, using real-time rather than frame count for animation steps, and easily adjustable image quality settings. It’s worth noting that this new technology is enabled by default as of runtime 1.10 and will start working once a game drops below the 90 FPS line only. If your title stays over 90 FPS, then you get the advantages of Asynchronous Timewarp without the potential issues of Asynchronous Spacewarp.

The impact of ASW will be interesting to see. For as long as Oculus has been around they have trumpeted the need for 90 FPS to ensure a smooth gaming experience free of headaches and nausea. With ASW, that, in theory, drops to 45 FPS, though with the caveats mentioned above. Many believe, as do I, that this new technology was built to help Microsoft partner with Oculus to launch VR on the upcoming Scorpio Xbox console coming next year. Because the power of that new hardware still will lag behind the recommended specification from both Oculus and Valve for VR PCs, something had to give. The result is a new “minimum” specification for Oculus Rift gaming PCs and a level of performance that makes console-based integrations of the Rift possible.

Source: Oculus

Red Alert 2 VR Fan Proof-of-Concept in Unreal Engine 4

Subject: General Tech | November 9, 2016 - 06:25 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, VR, ue4, red alert, command and conquer

Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2 was a 2D real-time strategy game about a science-fiction alternate universe version of Cold War Allies vs Soviets. The base-building mechanic involved collecting funds from captured neutral structures and harvesting resources throughout the map. Ádám Horváth, a fan of the series, with 3D assets created by an artist who goes by the name Slye_Fox, created a VR implementation in Unreal Engine 4.

The interface implementation is quite interesting in particular. It looks almost like someone hovering over a board game, interfacing with the build menu via a virtual hand-held tablet. The game mechanics look quite complete, with even things like enemy AI and supply crates (although think the camera didn't catch when it was actually picked up) implemented. It definitely looks good, and looks like it could form the basis for a full real-time strategy interface for VR.

A VR capable machine for less than the headset?

Subject: Systems | November 9, 2016 - 03:31 PM |
Tagged: VR, vive, rift, Oculus, htc, build guide, amd

Neoseeker embarked on an interesting project recently; building a VR capable system which costs less than the VR headset it will power.  We performed a similar feat this summer, a rig which at the time cost roughly $900.  Neoseeker took a different path, using AMD parts to keep the cost low while still providing the horsepower required to drive a Rift or Vive.  They tested their rig on The Lab, Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine and Waltz of the Wizard, finding the performance smooth and most importantly not creating the need for any dimenhydrinate.  There are going to be some games this system struggles with but at total cost under $700 this is a great way to experience VR even if you are on a budget.

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"Team Red designed this system around their very capable Radeon RX 480 8GB video card and the popular FX-6350 Vishera 6-Core CPU. The RX 480 is obviously the main component that will not only be leading the dance, but also help drive the total build cost down thanks to its MSRP of $239. At the currently listed online prices, the components for system will cost around $660 USD in total after applicable rebates."

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Source: Neoseeker