It’s Just So Nreal at AWE 2019

It’s Just So Nreal at AWE 2019

As soon as the Expo floor was opened at the Convention Center on Day One at this year’s 2019 AWE conference in Santa Clara, much of the crowd gathered in the congested nreal booth at the main entrance of the hall.  With great anticipation, hoards were checking out the various AR demos on display, as well as queuing up in long lines getting ready to ask questions regarding the release of the upcoming SDK developer kit.

Six nreal glasses were on display surrounding the booth and demonstrated non-stop and around the clock with impressive mixed reality and even trailers of movies, such as the latest installment of “Mission Impossible”.  There were longer demos that required longer wait times, but it was truly worth it, as the demos showcased an impressive demo reel of 3D AR experiences.  

nreal, not to be confused with the elite graphics game engine, “Unreal”, though like “Unreal”, this company seems to put its priority on delivering high quality and immersive visuals in the Mixed Reality landscape that are quite “eye popping”, as well.

Indeed, nreal is one of the newest and exciting consumer product companies to emerge recently.  They were this year’s recipient at CES 2019 for “Best Startup” company by Engadget, and have been actively developing ready-to-wear mixed reality devices since 2017.  In addition to attending the CES show in Las Vegas early this year, they also made an appearance at the GDC (Games Developer’s Conference) in San Francisco in March.

At the Augmented World Expo in Santa Clara last Thursday, they announced that they will be shipping the nreal Light Consumer Kit ($1199), which sports a 1080p resolution, 52-degree field of view smart glasses and a 3DoF controller and computing unit.  In addition they will also be shipping the smart glasses without the controller and computing unit for $499, which can also be used in conjunction with any smartphone using the Snapdragon 855.

To achieve its relatively low price, the nreal Light Consumer Kit requires consumers to use Android devices that are powered by the Snapdragon 855 chip by Qualcomm, who nreal is also partnering with.  Phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 series, Sony Xperia 1, LG G8, and the Lenovo Z5 Pro GT all contain the 855 processor and are fully compatible with the nreal Light.

Weighing at a light three ounces, these comfortable MR glasses sport an industry-leading wide-screen vivid display with a stunning 1080p HD resolution, bypassing the visual quality of the Microsoft’s Hololens and MagicLeap. Combined with its SLAM-based environment-understanding AI algorithms, nreal offers a truly immersive MR experience for their flagship product.

“We’re excited to finally make nreal Light available to consumers, which at just $499 has dramatically lowered the barrier to adoption and introduces a new category for mixed reality devices that are finally within the reach of an average consumer,” said Chi Xu, CEO and founder of nreal, in a statement.

The cost makes this truly affordable for this type of technology. 

Based in Beijing, this company  just seemed to just come out of nowhere and has a good chance to become a major player in the wearable A/R smart glasses market industry in the coming years.  Looking forward to seeing how they advance the industry.

A Wide Array of Innovative Products at SF PEPCOM Show

A Wide Array of Innovative Products at SF PEPCOM Show

Pepcom’s “Digital Experience just had their show late last month at San Francisco’s Metreon City View, where a wide array of technology companies exhibited their latest innovative consumer products to the members of the press.  The demo showcase was a much more intimate affair compared to previous shows.  The usual categories ranging from computers, connected home, and personal health were there, as were some unusual products like mine detectors, hacking games and digital license plates. 

As a journalist who eagerly looks forward to this event every year, but at the same time is beset with miserable seasonal allergies, it can be quite challenging to have enough energy for me to even get to the venue.  Around this time, I have a sniffling, runny nose along with a cough that I can’t ever seem to get rid of.  Unfortunately, this year was my worse bout with allergies ever and wasn’t even sure if I was suffering from just allergies, a cold, or a combination of the two.  To top it off, I had a sinus infection, as well.

Luckily I stumbled upon the Tivic Health booth where they were demonstrating their bioelectronic device called the “ClearUp Sinus Pain Relief”.  Since I was still suffering from allergies and a sinus infection, I couldn’t think of a better candidate than myself to try it out.  Using non-evasive microcurrent waveforms, the procedure just took five minutes of gliding the product around the nose, top of my cheek and above the eyes, the product vibrates certain treatment points on my face.

After the treatment nearly a month later, it seems my allergies were minor and nearly non-existent. I’ve never breathed freely in the month of May and June in over a decade.  It’s been a big relief for me, since I usually am coughing in the middle of the night for several weeks at a time and not getting any sleep.  Perhaps it was a combination of the antibiotics and the treatment, but I can swear this gizmo seemed to work pretty well for me, even by trying it once.  I really may just want to buy one of these for my well being, as it just got its launch on Indiegogo this month.

In terms of latest and greatest in innovation in the Entertainment arena, one of the best products for movies, music and gaming comes from a company mainly known for gaming; HyperX.  They developed an amazing gaming 3D 7.1 surround headset, powered by Audeze 100mm Planar Magnetic Drivers, that can rival audiophile headsets.  Not only do you get the best in gaming effects, but the best in movie sound effects, as well as a pure live sound in music that tracks your head, using Waves Technology, in a 360 degree environment.  This is an item that brings out the best in sound effects for anything you listen to.  I couldn’t take the headset off as I was impressed with the technology of this gadget.  This headset will be released in Q3.

Kingston Technology added a new product in their microSD line with another innovative product that will tailor to the needs of security cameras, including home surveillance and dash cams.  The Kingston MicroSD High Endurance series (32GB, 64GB, 128GB) will stand through the most extreme conditions as it can continuously record 20,000 hours of 1080p video on a 128GB card on security cameras and dash cams.  That’s about 2 years and 3 months of non-stop recording.  No need to worry about the housing of the card, as it will protect no matter how cold or hot the temperature becomes or no matter how blistery or wet it becomes.

We all heard of Miracle-Gro plant food that we feed our plants with.  Now they have come out with an innovative hydroponic growing system called the Miracle-Gro Twelve Indoor Growing System., which was also designed to be stackable, if more plants are needed.  This would be useful for people who have a need for herbs all year around, such as basil and mint or vegetables, such as lettuce and kale.  Now no need to worry about whether or not the herbs are in season ever again.  No watering systems are needed; just electricity and some space indoors.  Via Bluetooth, you can control watering, feeding and the lights from your smartphone’s app.  Notifications may warn you when you are low in water or if the water pump is stalled.  Seems like anyone can now be a Tom Thumb if they have a smart-phone, but don’t forget to give it some Miracle-Gro nutrient food.

There is a new resurgence in searching for precious metals these days.  Like the 49’ers  in California back in the 1800’s searching for gold, today’s technology has improved with the combination of a smartphone app as it can detect what metals are underneath the surface ground.  Miners and adventurers alike are now buying metal detectors in droves, making Minelab the global leader in metal detection technology in Gold mining.

Offering two different metal detectors, the “Go Find” series, which makes an affordable and fun activity for the entire family, just like how mushroom hunting can be, and the “Equinox” series, for the die hard user with a multitude of options who knows exactly what type of metal they are searching for.  Designed more for the archaeologist or mine squad experts.

The Reviver Company has come out with an industry first: a digital licence plate.  They have been working very closely with state regulatory agencies in collaboration with the DMV.  They have been fully approved by California and Arizona with Texas and Florida not far behind as they have already passed legislation with more states to follow.

Of course, the real question is do we really need a connected licence plate?  It may sound funny, but it is simply an advancement of the “smart-car-connected car” going full fledge into the smart cities infrastructure world that we will be all apart of .

It will help benefit consumers, businesses and state agencies —from automated vehicle renewals, to parking and tolling, to safety and security.  Since the plates are essentially built-in hardware that is capable of updating via software, it will make it much more fun for the registered vehicle user to be able to customize their plates and adding their personal messaging, such as “I’d rather be running…for president”.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind having one saying, “I’d rather be at Pepcom”.

Welcome to Omniverse – One Shared Unified World for Filmmakers

Welcome to Omniverse – One Shared Unified World for Filmmakers

At the GTC 2019 Keynote conference in San Jose this month, Nvidia’s CEO and founder Jensen Huang announced Omniverse, an open collaboration platform to simplify studio workflows for real-time graphics.

This has been in the works for nearly 25 years with the company, who have been long trying to make this happen throughout the years, worked closely with Pixar Animation Studios.  With Omniverse, the production pipeline in producing a full featured animated film now has become much simpler and more efficient in the process, as well as being a big money saver for the Hollywood animation studios.

Huang explained, “If you take a look at a major film and it cost something like $300M to 350M to produce that film and the vast majority of it is post production which is otherwise known as rendering and it might take something along the lines of that year and a half a year to year and a half.”

“If you could even save one month on what is otherwise a one year long project, the amount of money you could possibly say is in the millions and so this is one of the reasons why this industry is such in a hurry to find ways to accelerate the rendering process and to accelerate the production process.”

Making animated films has always been labor intensive throughout the complete complex rendering pipeline; from the beginning of its concept, modeling, texturing, rigging, animation, lighting and finally, the rendering process itself.

“You have to render it make it look totally perfect…and then once you create the character, you have to composite a whole bunch of other characters in the scene and all the environments and all the special effects…are done in physics simulation it is so so complicated.”  Huang continued, “…a few shots may be assigned to a studio, a few shots would be assigned to another studio… as a result, multiple studios in multiple sites are all working on a movie at the same time.”

Omniverse includes portals — two-way tunnels — that maintain live connections between industry-standard applications such as Autodesk Maya, Adobe Photoshop and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine.

This new open collaboration platform streamlines 2D and 3D product pipelines across industries. Omniverse is built around the latest industry standards for design collaboration.

It supports Pixar’s Universal Scene Description technology for exchanging information about modeling, shading, animation, lighting, visual effects and rendering across multiple applications. It also supports NVIDIA’s Material Definition Language, which allows artists to exchange information about surface materials across multiple tools.

In addition to Pixar, there are presently more than 200 animation film studios around the world but you can now work with any film studio no matter which continent they are located in.

Astonishingly, graphic artists and designers will be able to view updates made in real time, as though they are in the same room sitting next to each other through NVIDIA’s Omniverse Viewer, which gives users a live look at work being done in a wide variety of tools.  No matter where the filmmakers or studios are, even if they are working with on remote laptops, Omniverse connects and unifies all the designers together from anywhere making it one identifiable project, instead of hundreds of small projects that studios have been so accustomed to throughout the years.

To top it off, the Omniverse Viewer delivers the highest quality photorealistic images in real time by taking advantage of rasterization as well as support for NVIDIA RTX RT Cores, CUDA cores and Tensor Core-enabled AI.

“With Omniverse, NVIDIA has created a product artists will be eager to put to work,” said Guido Quaroni, vice president of Software at Pixar. “When we open sourced USD, our goal was to make it easier to combine complex characters and environments into a single scene. Omniverse raises the bar, leveraging USD to enable scalable real-time collaborative workflows across some of the industry’s major software packages.”

With Omniverse, artists can see live updates made by other artists working in different applications. They can also see changes reflected in multiple tools at the same time.

As a result, artists now have the flexibility to use the best tool for the task at hand.

For example an artist using Maya with a portal to Omniverse can collaborate with another artist using UE4 and both will see live updates of each others’ changes in their application.

Whether it’s Epic Games, Adobe or Autodesk, or any other Pixar collaborator, they are all encouraged by the new platform, as it allows artists to collaborate regardless of the tool they use and without the need for time-consuming conversions.

“We love the idea of connecting tools from all vendors to enable collaborative workflows,” said Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games. “We adopted USD and MDL to streamline workflows where assets originate from many different applications, so it’s great to see NVIDIA extend that ecosystem to enable live connections with simultaneous updates.”

“Omniverse is an exciting concept that will enable artists around the world to collaborate on digital content creation,” said Sebastien Deguy, vice president of 3D and Immersive at Adobe. “We look forward to seeing its development and evolution.”

“We’re thrilled to explore the potential of NVIDIA Omniverse to give our customers access to immersive, interactive and collaborative experiences across industries,” said Amy Bunszel, senior vice president of Design and Creation Products at Autodesk. “We share their vision of better world modeling and simulation. By combining USD and RTX, Omniverse promises to accelerate the future of design and make.”

Huang professed at the Keynote address, “I can’t wait to see the first major motion movie made by Pixar, rendered completely on RTX”.  With Omniverse, it should be even more productive.

“To infinity and beyond!”

Here is a video demonstrating Omniverse at the Keynote, with CEO Jensen Huang.

To 4K or Not to 4K?…That is the question…

To 4K or Not to 4K?…That is the question…

Funny how most consumers felt they were future-proofing their DVD player when they replaced it with an HD-DVD or Blu-ray player just ten years ago, just a few years after flat screen HDTV’s were initially introduced to the consumer market, replacing the traditional bulky CRT (cathode ray tube) televisions that hardly ever changed much since it was invented back in the Fifties.  Yet again, it seems history is about to repeat itself thanks to the advent of the latest Ultra HD technology or 4K.

4K “everything”, whether it’s Ultra HDTV’s, computer monitors, projectors, cameras, phones, media streamers, or Ultra HD Blu-ray players has become the hottest consumer trend in the market this holiday season.  It seems everyone wants a piece of the format.

In fact, according to the forecast by ABI research, they have predicted that more than a third of all households globally are anticipated to be 4K UHD TV’s by the end of 2021.  It will be very soon that the Ultra HD TV Market will be the new top-shelf standard of High Definition

Let’s face it, your standard 1080p HDTV that you bought is already looking drabby  compared with the latest technology.  Ultra HD TV’s or 4K televisions with its 3840×2160 lines of resolution has four times the pixels (as opposed to standard HD with 1920×1080 lines of resolution), translating into four times the sharpness. Not to mention, they are a dramatically thinner, lighter, and faster.

You get the picture?

The same obsolescence applies to Blu-Ray technology which has been the de facto standard for the last ten years.  Like Ultra HD TV’s compared to the standard HD TV’s, with the latest Ultra HD Blu-ray, you get double the resolution as standard Blu-ray, but you also get four times the sharpness.

Now with an ever-increasing number of UHD Blu-ray players out on the market today, is it worth upgrading your Blu-ray player to an Ultra HD Blu-ray player?

According to Victor Matsuda, the BDA Promotions Committee Chair, who was here promoting and representing the Blu-Ray Disc Association at the most recent Pepcom showcase in San Francisco; it certainly is and the HDR Side by Side demo at their booth clearly indicates his answer.  It is not just the number of pixels of resolution that makes it a “must own”, but it’s the contrast and color; the HDR (High Dynamic Range) and its WCG (Wide Color Range) that gives a whole gamut and spectrum of colors; from the darkest of darks and the lightest of lights with a higher bit rate which gives much more information. It’s much more immersive and realistic to the viewer.

Matsuda says that today’s consumer can become a “superhero” when they partner their 4K TV with an Ultra HD Blu-ray player. “You’re becoming a superhero for the family, but you’re not a real superhero for the family unless you get that super hero partner.”, Matsuda continued, “You have a Robin for every Batman, there’s a Tanto for every Lone Ranger, and that superhero partner for the 4k UHD TV is Ultra HD Blu-rays.”

The UHD Blu-ray player is the “Swiss knife for your entertainment center at home…it plays hard disks and plays all your streaming as well.”, Matsuda continued, “90% of the Ultra Blu-rays have HDR (the mandatory HDR-10 or proprietary premium HDR of Dolby Vision), but just make sure your 4K television supports HDR, as well. Pretty much all the major brands do support it: LG, Sony, Samsung, Panasonic…”

Matsuda explains; “Number, one, it’s the best quality that you can get for the TV, especially now that you have internet-based services and products…the disks are not reliant on any internet speed services.”  In other words, you don’t need a high-speed internet connection.  In order to stream and have a proper 4K experience with HDR you need at least 25mb per seconds as your internet speed to stream Apple or Netflix.

However,  currently only 20% of households have that as an average speed, though it is up from last year from 14%, and only 30% -35% have HDR on their internet-based product. With the future of 5G technology, this percentage is expected to increase dramatically.

In regards to Ultra HD Blu-ray catalog titles, as a general rule of thumb, studio movies that do well at the box office get released on the Ultra 4K format, however, Matsuda sites that there are three more factors that are helping bringing out titles. There is a demand for episodic television, such as “Game of Thrones”, and, older movies, such as the “Twilight” series which Lionsgate will be re-releasing. He also says that even smaller film studios are contributing to the mix.

Sales of Ultra HD Blu-ray players has seen a dramatic increase in year-to-year sales.  According to Matsuda – There has been a 66% increase from 2016 to 2017, as well as an increase in the number of disk releases; from 250 in 2017 to 430 titles in 2018.

“This is going to be the last format for Blu-ray players”, Matsuda remarked, which is itself a pretty surprising and bold statement coming from the Association that represents the technology. 

If you do have a 4K TV with HDR, or intend to buy one soon, maybe it’s time to future proof your disk player yet again, but this time, become a superhero for it.

VR Games in the Esports League

VR Games in the Esports League

A mere four years ago, at the Games Developers Conference (GDC 2014), VR gaming was going through yet another revival after several decades and had another chance to revolutionize the gaming industry.  During that time, Oculus was just a small little company funded from a Kickstarter campaign that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere before being acquired by Facebook.

Immediately after that, Sony PlayStation decided to jump on the VR bandwagon, joining Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.  Many thought it had the potential to completely disrupt and revolutionize the game industry and that everyone would be abandoning their game controllers in favor of VR headsets. In addition, many assumed Sony would take the PS4 platform into more of an online VR community of VR gamers, much like they have done with the success of their traditional online games.  Sony and Xbox had dominated with over the years allowing you to be put in the same community as your friends no matter where you are in the world.

Instead, VR gaming has mainly been a one-person/player experience, being shut into an environment virtual reality world where you are in isolation.  However, through social media and online communities, things are beginning to change all that.  Especially the devoted community for Survio’s “Sprint Vector” which recently made it’s debut on Esports in the VR League at Oculus Connect 5 this year.

Andrew Abedian, the Senior game designer at VR game company, Survios, was recently at the 2018 XRDC conference in San Francisco and talked about the grassroots evolution of how their game, “Sprint Vector” was turned from an early speed-running prototype that evolved into a pioneer multiplayer VR title in Esports, thanks mainly through the help of their online community. “Humanity loves sports…there’s a great drive towards watching it because it’s so physical and athletic and stamina based…there’s a mental game with teamwork and strategy.  When you see a player going down the field you get a sense of what they are going through and the heart they are putting into it”.  Abedian continued, “On the other side of the coin you have Esports…which is really a mental game…highly dexterity based and drives with the mind”. “VR Esports are the middle ground”…”Sprint Vector is built around those concepts”. He explained that “Sprint Vector” is the “middle gap” of real sports and Esports, where real sports is very physical and gaming is very mental.

In “Sprint Vector”, players achieve speed and mobility by pumping their arms like a runner and turning their heads to steer.  Other controls allow them to jump and climb, drift and fly at tremendous speeds.  It is a very physical game and to be a contender at a high level, contestants really do need to be athletic and fit.

Replacing the more conventional traditional teleport locomotion or joystick for moving around, Survio’s developed and utilized their proprietary “Fluid Locomotion” system in “Sprint Vector” which nearly eliminates nausea.   90-95% of the people have reduced nausea or no nausea”, explains Abedian.  That essentially makes it much easier for the players to stay in the games longer.

For spectators of traditional sports, this makes Esports much more credible compared to watching couch potatoes with close up shots of showing their incredible finger dexterity.  These players are sweating it out with their arms, twisting and turning.  Action in movement creates excitement within a real competition and it’s much more exciting to watch the players getting a real workout.

Prior to its official release this year, “Sprint Vector” was able to gain much exposure through GDC2017 where their booths were gathering crowds and their events were becoming spectacles by themselves with many onlookers cheering and watching above from the guard rails. They also had tournaments, such as the Alienware VR Cup at CES2018, along with leader boards and prizes, sponsored by partners Alienware, Nvidia and Intel. After its release in February, despite the game’s exposure throughout GDC and CES, the game was wearing thin after a few months and it was near impossible to find players online to compete with.  Many were already losing interest in playing the game and the numbers were dropping rapidly.

That all changed when Survios reviving the small but passionate community by organizing Happy Hours on Saturday nights, along with Speed Running Tournaments, facilitating game rooms and ensuring game play for those that were interested.   In addition, they also offered prizes for online competition. Suddenly, the community started getting bigger and bigger.

Even ESL started to take note of the devoted community and they eventually chose “Sprint Vector” to participate in this year’s Oculus Connect 5 show and into the VR League making their major debut on Esports.  $12,000 was awarded in prizes for the “Sprint Vector” competition.  “Not bad for a game that originally had no intention of being an Esport.” Abedian noted.  It was just last year’s Oculus Connect 4 Conference where Mark Zuckerberg announced his lofty ambition goals for VR – “We’re setting a goal: we want to get a billion people in virtual reality.”

According to CCS Insight, there are approximately 22 million VR headsets that were sold this year and the number is expected to grow four fold to 121 million next year.  If that’s the case, then Zuckerberg will certainly hit his goal soon. Maybe in the future we can have a VR League marathon involving thousands of participants.