Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Samsung to sell VR headset to rival Playstation; Microsoft buys AltSpace

Samsung to sell VR headset to rival Playstation; Microsoft buys AltSpace

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AltSpace is a social platform for virtual reality that had run out of funding this summer.

SAN FRANCISCO — One thing’s for certain. While compelling virtual and augmented reality content remains in short supply, there’s no shortage of headsets flooding this still tepid market.

On Tuesday, Samsung planned to take the wraps off a new high-end VR headset called the HMD Odyssey, which boasts built-in microphones, position sensors and AKG headphones. The company also claims to have the “highest resolution in the industry” thanks to dual AMOLED displays that are commonly found in smartphones.

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The $499 HMD Odyssey, which was to be revealed at Microsoft’s Mixed Reality demo here, is available for pre-order Tuesday and will begin shipping in early November. As with most AR/VR headsets, it comes with hand controllers to enhance the experience. HMD Odyssey will run Microsoft’s Mixed Reality platform.

At that price point, the new Samsung product competes directly with devices such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony PlayStation VR. It also is a huge step beyond Samsung’s $130 Gear VR headset, which uses an Android smartphone.

“When we began designing and engineering the Samsung HMD Odyssey with Microsoft, there was only one goal in mind, create a high performing headset that’s easy to set up and can transport people to the incredible world of virtual reality,” said Alanna Cotton, vice president of Samsung Electronics America.

AltSpace gets a second life

Microsoft also said it had bought AltSpaceVR, a leading social platform for virtual reality that had run out of funding this summer and announced it was shutting down.

Alex Kipman, who leads Microsoft’s mixed reality vision, said the coming release of hardware and software indicates that “what is possible is set to be transformed as we enter a new era of computing, the era of mixed reality. We have started to see this transformation take place in the modern workplace and soon we’ll see it in every facet of life.”

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Leaping into new worlds without leaving your room may sound thrilling, but it has yet to translate into big sales. If anything, some experts feel that the biggest advances won’t be made by expensive headsets that are powered by computers, but rather through smartphone-based devices.

Industry advisors Digi-Capital recently predicted mobile augmented reality could become the primary driver of a $108 billion VR/AR market by 2021, $83 billion of which would be claimed by augmented reality. At Apple’s recent iPhone 8 and iPhone X launch, CEO Tim Cook dedicated some of the presentation to explaining how iPhones can use AR to play games as well as enhance live sporting events.

Microsoft's Mixed Reality platform will be supported

Microsoft’s Mixed Reality platform will be supported by a growing family of devices that include it’s $3,000 untethered HoloLens (front row, center) to new tethered devices in the $400 range from companies such as Samsung, HP and Acer. (Photo: Microsoft)

HMD Odyssey represents not only an effort to compete with Facebook-owned VR pioneers Oculus — with which it partnered with to develop its Gear VR headset — but also a conscious step toward Microsoft’s burgeoning Mixed Reality software platform.

Last month, Microsoft announced that a number of AR/VR devices built by partner companies such as HP, Dell and Acer that are anchored to Windows Mixed Reality would be coming out around the holidays at around $400 each.

In all these cases, the headsets are powered by and connected to desktops or powerful laptops via a cable. Microsoft makes a cordless headset that can overlap holographic images over the real world, aptly called HoloLens, but it costs $3,000 and is still limited to developers.

More: Get ready for thousands of augmented reality Apple apps

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There is little doubt that prices are coming down on headsets while their technological refinements improve, including the ability to track a user’s movements with positioning sensors inside the headset as opposed to relying on cameras mounted in the room.

But virtual and augmented reality has not taken off as some tech experts initially predicted due not only to initially high costs for headsets and computers alike, but also because content remains sparse and staying in a VR environment for long periods of time can be a challenge for users.

Gamers so far are the biggest fans and users of VR, but companies such as Oculus and Microsoft are banking on the tech being adopted not only by companies looking for teams to collaborate in virtual reality, but also by consumers who might want the thrill of a travel experience or another educational escape through a headset.

Microsoft recently announced that Ford Motor employees were using HoloLens to work together to create new automotive designs using a holographic template, while its rollout of partner headsets and its Mixed Reality platform is meant to spur developers to produce apps that might pull in consumers.

Follow USA TODAY tech writer Marco della Cava on Twitter.

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