Another VR post and some updates

VR3

In a previous post, DIY VR Part 1, we took a look at apps that allowed a user to stream PC games to a smartphone in stereoscopic 3D, which could then be used with a Google Cardboard compatible headset to experience VR.

This worked well, however the apps examined in the previous post did not support or were not optimized for games specifically designed for SteamVR. For SteamVR to start up a compatible HMD (Head Mounted Display, like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive) needs to be detected, something the apps covered previously did not support, with the exception of TrinusVR which does support this, however it does not support USB tethering with iOS which has a significant negative effect on the experience.

Today we will look at an app that does fully supports this functionality, iVRy.

iVRy is an iOS app that allows SteamVR games to be streamed to an iPhone, and as with the previously mentioned apps, utilizes the phone’s gyroscope and accelerometers for head tracking and movement.

iVRy comprises of a app that is installed on your iPhone and a SteamVR HMD driver to be installed alongside SteamVR on your PC.

The iPhone is then connected to the PC either via Wi-Fi or USB (preferably USB as the results are greatly improved). The next step is to start the iVRy app on the phone and then lastly launch

SteamVR (which will detect the phone as a compatible HMD) and you are up and running.

The app has various settings to optimally configure your VR experience, such as lens distortion correction and field of view settings, with a large list of Google Cardboard Compatible Headsets preconfigured for ease of use.

Another feature of the app is that it auto adjusts image quality to ensure a high frame rates, reducing VR sickness.

iVRy supports a lot of SteamVR titles, working with any game that does not require motion controls, so any game that supports a traditional controller should work. Saying this a controller is pretty much required and any Steam compatible controller will work.

iVRy has a free trial version that does not limit play time, but reduces color saturation after 5 minutes of play time, making the image appear in shades of grey. To unlock the full premium version of iVRy costs $6.99, which removes the 5 minute limitation.

If you are an Android user a similar app is available called VRidge by RiftCat, which costs $14.99. It does however offer a great deal more functionality, thus the higher price.

Now on a related topic, I recently had the opportunity to play around with a HTC Vive at the Microsoft Store at NorthPark Center in Dallas Texas, and it was an amazing experience. I played through a series of experiences, starting with a tutorial based on the game Portal and then flowing into The Blu, AudioShield and finally Space Pirate Trainer. The experience was extremely immersive and I got goose bumps, it was truly mind blowing. The motion controls and room tracking of the Vive work extremely well and helps greatly with the immersion. If you ever have an opportunity to use a HTC Vive I would highly recommend it.

While I was in Dallas I also went to see some interesting sights, like the Oculus VR Dallas offices, where John Carmack is based.

Now for a quick update on the DIY VR Headset Version 2. I have acquired the parts for the new headset, including two 1920×1280 (60 Hz) 3.5inch (89mm) displays (one for each eye) and a Leap Motion, which I will use to implement motion controls. I have decided for the version 2 to use two smaller independent displays mounted in portrait mode (similar to what is done in the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, post Development Kit 1 which used one screen).

I will also look at using iVRy with the Leap Motion to get motion controls working in Steam VR. So watch this space, some exciting things are coming.

Another VR post and some updates

Google Cardboard: V1 vs. V2

In a previous post, I has a look at the original Google Cardboard or the version 1 as it is now known. The version 1 of the Google Cardboard was initially released in 2014. It was very well received with over 5 million units sold. In 2015 a new updated and improved version 2 was released, so how does the Google Cardboard version 2 measure up to the amazing version 1? Let us take a look.

Firstly from a fit and comfort perspective the version 2 has significant improvements compared to the version 1. The nose hole on the version 2 is much larger and has foam padding around the rim, which greatly improves the comfort of using the headset, especially for longer wear times.

The version 2 also comes bundled with head-straps, whereas with the version 1 they had to be ordered separately upon initial release.

Another difference between the version 1 and version 2 is how they interact with VR applications. Both have an action button, but how they function is very different. They version 1 has a magnet which slides up and down and triggers an action on certain android smartphones similar to a screen tap. The problem with this magnet based action button is that it only works with certain android phones and not on iPhones, thus limiting the Cardboards’ functionality on all but fully supported phones.

The version 2 on the other hand utilises a lever based design which presses a conductive pad against the phones screen, fully replicating a finger touching the screen. This works on all touch screen smartphones, including iPhones, and is a great improvement over the version 1, especially for people using non-Android Smartphones.

The version 2 is also designed in a manner that holds a phone more securely, thus reducing the anxiety resulting from the fear of having your phone fall out mid VR experience.

Additionally the version 2 contains much larger and better lenses, which are fitted more securely and flush, than the version 1.

Use is made of protective plastic tape in the version 2 where your forehead comes in contact with the headset. This protects the headset from damage due to sweat, a common complaint in the version 1.

So, up to this point the version 2 has clearly taken the lead. But there are however 2 key areas in  which the version 1 outperforms the version 2.

The first of these key areas is price. The version 1 costs approximately half what the version 2 does.

The second area is the support of Augmented Reality Apps. The version 1 has a cut out where the phone camera is located, whereas the version 2 does not. Without this hole for camera access, Augmented Reality Apps can not function due to their reliance on the phone camera.

Even considering these 2 areas, except if you are extremely price sensitive or dead-set on AR apps, the version 2 is a much better option, especially if you have an iPhone or any other non-Android phone. 

The improvements and design changes made in the version 2 are all vast improvements over its predecessor. Although the price did roughly double it is still not a large amount of money, and in my opinion the version 2 is well worth the extra cost.

As an iPhone user I am very happy with the Google Cardboard Version 2 and how it was enhanced for better support of non-Android phones.

If you have never owned a Google Cardboard, I would definitely recommend picking up the version 2 over the version 1. And even if you already have a version 1 I would still recommend upgrading to the version 2 due to its improvements and better phone support.

The Google Cardboard Version 2 is a great upgrade to an already great product, so pick one up, for the money you won’t regret it.

Google Cardboard: V1 vs. V2

Fitbit

I have been a loyal Fitbit user since 2013 and I love their devices and ecosystem. They are easy to use and very durable.

Flex

Approximately 3 years ago I received a Fitbit Flex as a gift and I loved the device, but it had one major flaw, which is also the reason why I no longer have it. The mechanism by which the strap locks on is completely inadequate and while I was in Seattle I actually lost it because the strap came loose.

ChargeHR

While in the US I got a Fitbit Charge HR, which has a strap similar to most wristwatches, which is a lot more secure than that of the Fitbit Flex. It also has various additional features such as a heart rate monitor and floors climbed counter.

There are a lot of things I like about Fitbit in general. They are not bound to any mobile ecosystem and works on Android, IOS and Windows Mobile. I also like the Fitbit community with badges that can be earned for certain milestones based on things like steps and floors climbed and also the challenges that can be entered against friends.

Both the Fitbits I have owned were rubberized, which make them feel rugged and durable. While mountain biking I am never scared that the device might get smashed or damaged, as would be the case with something that has a large screen (such as the Apple watch or even the new Fitbit Blaze).

It is important to note that except for the Fitbit Blaze, none of the other Fitbit devices are smart watches, they are fitness devices. And if that is what you are looking for, I would really recommend Fitbit. 

Fitbit

FODA Mini Quadcopter

Numerous mini quadcopters are currently available so I decided to give one a try. As far as I could tell the feature set of all the mini quadcopters are very similar as are their prices.
I decided on the FODA Mini Quadcopter, for no particular reason other than it being very widely available. The FODA mini quadcopter is available in four colours – blue, yellow, green and white.

Box

The box contains the tiny quadcopter, the remote control, an extra set of blades, a protection cover to protect the blades during flight, a charging cable and an instruction manual.

The quadcopter is tiny, measuring in at a length and width of just under 5cm and a height of just under 2cm.

Controlling the quadcopter is quite difficult as the controls (especially the blade speed control) is extremely sensitive. Additionally these mini quadcopters do not have the built-in auto stabilisation functionality as with larger quadcopters, so learning to fly it takes a fair amount of practise and the quadcopter is very sensitive to any air movement.
After spending about 30 minutes playing with the tiny quadcopter I finally got the hang of it and I can say the quadcopter is quite resilient as I crashed it a few times and it took no damage.

quad

A close inspection of the quadcopter shows how truly amazing the little device really is, from the tiny motors to the fact that it contains a rechargeable battery is truly unbelievable.

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I would recommend the FODA mini quadcopter for anyone interested in quadcopters who do not want to spend a great deal of money. These mini quadcopters are in no way a real reflection of the larger, and much more expensive quadcopters, but they do provide a basic and inexpensive sneak peek at the mechanisms and controls of these type of devices.

I found learning to fly the mini quadcopter challenging and fun, and for the price I recommend giving one a try.

FODA Mini Quadcopter

Pololu Zumo Robot

I recently ordered a Zumo robot shield manufactured by Pololu and found it to be a great little robot.

It comes preassembled and has various integrated sensors and actuators, including a 3-axis accelerometer, a 3-axis magnetometer, a Buzzer, a motor driver, an IR reflective sensor array, amongst others.

It comes with 2 75:1 HP micro metal gear motors, so it has a fair amount of power for such a small robot. The robot is within the 10cm x 10cm size limit of most robot sumo competitions, and with its very low centre of gravity combined with its speed and power it would be a serious competitor.

sideFront

An Arduino Uno R3 acts as the robots’ brain and simply slots onto the top of the robot, exactly like any other shield. All programs are then loaded onto the Arduino Uno as per normal and Pololu provides various example programs, including line following, maze solving and robot sumo programs.

  

The robot has an expansion area through which some pins are exposed that can be used to integrate some additional sensors and actuators.

I am looking forward to customising this robot and seeing how much more I can expand it.

I will write more about what I am doing with this robot in a future post and I will also be posting a video of the robot in action on my Youtube Channel in the near future.

Pololu Zumo Robot

Dark Carnival Geek Box

I recently decided to give the Dark Carnival Geek Box (http://www.darkcarnival.co.za/) a try. It is a South African offering based on international offerings such as Loot Crate, 1Up box, etc. whereby you pay a monthly subscription fee (usually between $20 to $40(USD)) and in return receive a package every month that contains a few surprises. It usually contains 4 to 10 items consisting of anything from T-shirts to toys, all with a geeky theme. The Dark Carnival Geek Box is priced at R505 (ZAR), which included packing and delivery fees. At time of writing the price equates to about $41 (USD), so as these surprise box services go the cost is at the high-end of the spectrum. But as the other before mentioned services do not deliver to South Africa, there is very little competition in the market for a service like this.

The box is a normal cardboard shipping box with a sticker on top, as opposed to the specially designed boxes used with the international services. geek box closed Let us have a look of what we get inside.

geek box open

The box contained 6 items:

Hatbatman bag  MaskStickBig Hero 6

tickets

A plushy hat, a canvas bag, a small mask, a batman selfie stick, a Big Hero 6 bobble head and 2 tickets to GeekFest 2015. The quality of the plushy hat and mask were pretty poor. However the bobble head, selfie stick and canvas bag were all good quality (note however that as far as I can see none of the items are officially licensed goods). The tickets for GeekFest (which cost R80 (ZAR) each, approximately $6.50 (USD), which is an event hosted by Dark Carnival, were a nice touch.

My favourite item was the bobble head, and least favourite was the mask.

That said the value offering is far from what the international offerings provide, where in some cases you can get up to double the value as compared to the price. With the Dark Carnival Geek Box you might barely get your money back in terms of value, maybe I would have felt differently if I had been able to go to GeekFest. I might try the service again in a few months to see if the offering has improved, but for now would I recommend the Dark Carnival Geek Box? No, I can’t say I would.

box2

Dark Carnival Geek Box

Google Cardboard

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Cardboard cardboard

I recently purchased a Google Cardboard even-though my expectations for this little cardboard gadget were far from high. But to my amazement my pre-perceived ideas turned out to be completely wrong.

The item ships as a flat cardboard envelope, which you simply open, tear off some indicated bits and then fold as instructed to form the headset (I did have to use a bit of tape to get it to hold together). There are 2 lenses, 2 strips of Velcro and some magnets already fitted on the cardboard, so very little assembly is actually required.

After the headset is folded your phone can be placed into the front of the headset, which then acts as the screen.

Cardboardcardboard2

The Google Cardboard utilises the phone to run its apps as well as utilising its accelerometers and gyroscopes for head tracking.

Various apps are available that utilises the headset on the Google Play Store and even on the Apple App Store. I used my iPhone with the headset and it worked perfectly except for the slide magnet button that can be utilised with Android phones on the side of the headset, which did nothing with the iPhone.

Just note that although the Apple App Store has very little in the line of Google Cardboard specific apps, all FIBRUM VR apps work perfectly with the Cardboard headset.

The headset provides a true stereoscopic 3D effect, which is amazing given that it is simply a piece of cardboard with 2 lenses. Additionally the head tracking is truly surprising! And is far more accurate than I could have ever expected.

The best apps that I tried using my iPhone were:

  • Sisters (this is a first person horror experience)
  • War Of Words (this is a graphic representation of Siegfried Sassoon poem “The Kiss” based in World War 1)
  • FIBRUM Crazy Swing VR (A VR Swing-chair theme park ride)
  • FIBRUM Roller Coaster VR (A VR Roller Coaster)

For the price Google Cardboard is truly remarkable and is the cheapest way to experience stereoscopic 3D at your home.

I highly recommend picking up a Google Cardboard, there are very few things that can provide so much entertainment for such a small price.

Google Cardboard