HTC's virtual reality ambitions don't end at headsets and games. The company is constantly investing in VR startups around the world with its Vive X accelerator program, and very so often HTC brings those startups together to show off what they're working on.
We went along to its latest Vive X demo day, where 26 projects were detailed, and some of which were available to try out. From brain-computer interfaces to solving the limits of our physical space, some of these technologies aren't just intriguing, but potentially important for the future of VR.
Read this: Best VR headsets 2018
Since July 2016, HTC has invested in a total of 80 ideas. Here are some of the highlights we've picked out from the 26 most recent startups.
Quark VR: High-end VR on a MacBook
High-end virtual reality is an expensive endeavor, and while there are plenty of more affordable options out there, you'd best prepare to lower your expectations. Enter Quark VR, the Pied Piper of VR, and its compression technology to let you stream high-powered VR from its servers through more modest technology.
I know it works because I played Job Simulator on a HTC Vive Pro via a MacBook. That's right, a MacBook. Though the resolution was noticeably reduced to maintain frame rate, the latency and tracking felt as good as they've ever been, and Quark VR CEO Krasi Nikolov told us the company is aiming to support 4K-per eye resolution when the technology is ready.
This also means it can stream to multiple headsets at once, which is why it could be invaluable technology for VR arcades and theme parks. Quark VR is headset agnostic too, so expect to see it working with the Rift and possibly even the PS VR. There were some pretty impressive ideas on show at the Vive X accelerator, but this might be the most useful technology we saw all day.
Neurable and Looxid: Mind-reading VR
We're combining two mind-reading technologies here. Neurable is creating a brain-computer interface that interprets EEG signals in real time, translating that into virtual reality to essentially let you control things with your brain. It works with a helmet of ERP (event-related potential) signal readers that replaces the normal HTC Vive head strap. It reads four emotions: valance (pleasure, displeasure), arousal (excitement), liking and dominance (how in control of the situation you feel).
Its headset is in the hand of a few developers right now though a limited beta, VP Michael Thompson told us, with plans for a wider release in about 18 months time.
Looxid Labs is also working on mind-reading VR, but it's integrating this technology into its own mobile headsets too. Here's how we got on when we used Looxid's technology to play Tinder in VR.
Configreality: Altering our sense of space
Even with room-scale technology, you're eventually going to smack into a wall. Trust us, we've done it more times than we can count (probably because of the amnesia). Configreality, based in Tel Aviv, has created a locomotion technique to manipulate our perception of space when in virtual reality. Using what it calls a 'Redirected Walking Algorithm', it that alters the user's sense of direction and location to make it feel like they're exploring a much larger space.
Sadly it wasn't available to try, so we can't say how well it works in practice, but Configreality has our attention. The company says the tech is better when used in larger spaces, which makes sense, and it could even sync real-world walls with the in-game ones for added realism, while still altering your perception of space in between.
Astral Vision: VR for theme parks
VR is finding a home in theme parks, sometimes building rides from scratch to incorporate the tech. But for those who want to add a virtual layer to existing attractions, Astral Vision is stepping in, offering a more affordable way to build VR rides.
It's already signed a deal with theme park company Antonio Zamperla and has brought VR to Coney Island's Luna Park, where the WindstarZ ride can be enjoyed with a VR headset to make the user feel like they're hang gliding. The Vive is currently used in a lot of theme parks incorporating VR right now, and investing in a company like Astral Vision is smart if it wants to bring its headsets to more in a way that isn't cost-intensive to implement.
Quantum Capture: Chatbots that seem real
Toronto-based Quantum Capture is building an engine named CTRL Human that makes AI feel more lifelike, while being more cost effective and efficient than alternative tools as it can tap into pre-existing chatbots and bring them to life. We were put in a short demo where a chatbot appeared in front of us as a hotel concierge, describing the facilities with lifelike facial animations. As we moved around the room, his eyes followed us, making the bot feel even more alive.
The company's work is already out in the wild: it produced the head and body scans of Guillermo del Toro in Hideo Kojima's upcoming game, Death Stranding. In fact, the company was founded by former AAA game developers, so they understand the needs of this industry. But CEO Morgan Young told us that he also sees a lot of the potential in the retail space, our demo being a perfect example of how you could explore a holiday destination before jetting off.
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