The main difference between the Playstation VR and the Rift/Vive is that it works with the Playstation 4 gaming console instead of a high end (~$1500 and up) decked out gaming PC. The headset itself is cheaper too: $400 vs $800 for the Vive. So if you don’t have any pre-requisites, this is a much cheaper way to get into VR – and no, I don’t think of Google Cardboard as a viable alternative.
The VR headset itself is slick, as one would expect from Sony. The way it sits on your head feels comfortable. There’s no elastic bands nor cushions involved.
They would let you play one out of five games, and that’s it. I chose to play Eve Valkyrie in which you get to fly a spaceship and have space dogfights. I had never played before, and the demo dude didn’t explain how to play, so I was on my own. This compares poorly to the Vive demos at Microsoft, where they guide you through a few very simple, very different games.
But whatever, I got to fly a spaceship. You see yourself sitting in the cockpit and it wasn’t too hard, although I had no idea who I was shooting at. You can do barrel rolls and those made me a little sick. Interestingly, I felt mildly sick for a few hours and it was those barrel rolls. YMMV.
The headset seemed to be of good quality and the immersion and tracking seemed to be on par with the other systems in spite of the cheaper price and specs. But the fact that you can walk around in the Vive still sets it apart, in my opinion.
Manuel (of the opposing team) recorded all their Volleyball matches using a little Geek Pro. They use them to analyze their matches, correct their mistakes, improve on their technique… or to make fun of each other. He sent me the video of last Thursday’s Championship match which was right around one hour long.
Because nobody wants to watch a one hour long video of mediocre amateur volleyball, I thought it’d be a good idea to edit out the significant dead time. But that’s a lot of tedious work, even for me.
Cleverly named after the 18th century fake chess playing machine; which I thought was a well known story but turns out I only know about it because of my odd childhood reading habits; Mechanical Turk is a service that allows you to set up jobs for someone else to do. It’s a great way for those who earn in US Dollars or Euros (but not British pounds!) to get people in China or India or some other low income country to do their menial tasks.
In any case, I uploaded the video to Dropbox and set up a gig, offering $5 to whoever does it.
They have an HTC Vive demo setup at the local Microsoft Store (a. k. a. Bizarro Apple Store). This is a Virtual Reality headset, the biggest competitor to and not too different from the Oculus Rift that I tried out two years (!) ago.
So how is this different? Well, other than the obvious two years of software polish and CPU/GPU advancements, this thing has two really cool things:
Positional tracking: you can walk around a small area/room and it knows where your head is. What you see matches your movements. The Oculus Rift I tried two years ago doesn’t have this, although the one going to consumers does. It doesn’t allow you to walk around though.
Really cool controllers: This is very impressive. While “inside” VR you cannot really see yourself. But you can see the two controllers you are holding floating in the right spot.
They had 3 demo apps.
theBlue: Encounter puts you under the sea on a shipwreck. You can walk around a little but it’s mostly about looking around and listening. Very pretty.
Tilt Brush by Google really wowed me. You use one of the controllers to “paint” in 3D space. With the other controller you can change brushes and colors. You can walk around your “paintings”. I started with a life-size stick figure, but when I reached the feet I figured I can draw in 3D space so started doing a running pose, one feet in front, the other in the back, etc. So much fun.
Space Pirate Trainer is a shooting game in which. It’s really well made. You can hold a see-through shield on one hand. You can move around and dodge shots against little floating robots. Very neat.
Am I going to get one? Who knows. I rarely play video games lately. But I can see this being extremely fun. It’s expensive though, $800 for the Vive + ~$1200 for a decent gaming PC that I don’t own. I’d need to set it up in a room. It sure is an attractive idea. But one needs to keep in mind that trying out demos for 10 minutes in not the same as using this for hours at a time.
At this stage these VR rigs are really impressive, and they will only get progressively better: higher resolution (pixels are still too obvious), faster response, smoother tracking, wireless headsets, lighter headsets.
Do yourself a favor and try it out. It’s worth trying on off-peak hours in order to avoid lines.
The remote on one of my garage doors stopped working. Coincidentally, right around that time Trung mentioned the ESP8266, a very cheap (around $3) Chinese chip with built-in WiFi and a bunch of GPIO. Also, there’s a project called NodeMCU around this chip, which puts a Lua interpreter on it.
What does this all mean? That with very little investment and some time, I can create a small circuit that connects to the motor of my garage door so I can control it from my iPhone.
Long story short, I went through several different versions of boards with the chip. I started with the super cheap but barebones ESP-01 but using that required too many extra things (USB-Serial adapter, 3.3 V power supply, more wiring). I finally settled on the official NodeMCU devkit, which is extremely nice. I hadn’t done any electronics in many years, but that went well.
I ended up writing a general purpose web server for NodeMCU: the Open Source and creatively named nodemcu-httpserver. The garage door opener software is just a small web application running off the chip itself. It’s one of the demos I packaged with the server.
Without further ado, the video:
The nodemcu-httpserver project I started has gotten some traction. The server, while limited (the chip has very little memory), works relatively well. It’s pretty cool to see that other people are using the software and starting to contribute. And it’s making rounds:
A while ago, after we installed our Nest thermostats in our respective homes, Jaramillo and I got together and created a LabVIEW API for controlling the Nest – meaning it makes it super easy to control the Nest from your LabVIEW (NI‘s graphical programming language) program.
My guess is that the number of 1) LabVIEW programmers with a 2) Nest thermostat who want to 3) write their own programs to control it is quite small. But it was a nice little learning project.
It has since been posted in LabVIEW MakerHub and improved upon. They even made a video:
I expect zero The MKX® readers to use it, but at least it’s now been recorded here for posterity.
Chances are you aren’t quite sick of hearing about The Hearbleed Bug just yet. But you will be soon. While it’s still relevant and if you hurry up, you can be the coolest nerd around by wearing a new Hartbleed Bug t-shirt. Three classy designs available, way more severe than #gotofail, only at The Heartbleed Bug Unofficial Store.
Over a year ago, the Leap Motion was announced and it looked to cool to resist (for me). A long time and two address changes later, it finally arrived – to the right address, mind you.
Leap Motion is a little black doohickey that plugs in to your computer and sits in front of the keyboard. It can track your hands in 3D space with surprising accuracy. I’m not sure how it does it, I suspect it uses technology similar to the MS Kinect; which projects a star field of infrared dots and then uses cameras to map out 3D space based on how the star field hits things.
The box is huge given the size of the contents. It reminds me of the boxes used for Apple products. What a coincidence.
It doesn’t ship with drivers. You must go to the website and download them. They have drivers for Mac and for Windows.
After you download and install the drivers , a program called Airspace launches. There’s an intro/demo with yoga music in the background that lets you wave your hands and see pretty stuff on screen. This happens while a few other programs download from the app store (how original!) in the background.
One of these programs is Cut the Rope. This game is quite good on touchscreen…. how good can it be in thin air?
Ok, obviously this is my first game, it’s late and I’m tired, and I am recording it while I’m playing. Perhaps I’ll get better with time.
Readers of this blog know I am an avid RSS reader. Specifically, I’ve used Google Reader for years but now they’re closing. People panicked – but they shouldn’t. This is just as if people had panicked when Netscape Navigator died: “the end of the web!”? No. Just use a different web browser.
I just moved my 240 feeds to feedly. So if you came here to see my detailed analysis of all the competitors then you came to the wrong place. I picked feedly because it was free and Reeder works (or will work) with it. I don’t like that it uses my Google account – I like to keep my accounts independent of each other.
Have you been affected by the Apocalypse closing of Google Reader? What have you migrated to? I’m interested to hear.
Moi pre-ordered the famous Pebble watch on Kickstarter. It was supposed to arrive in December… it finally did in March. Since he lives in Mexico, he ordered to my house, which means I get to test drive it. Here are my quick observations.
Quick observation: We have WANs (Wide-Area Networks, as in cell phone networks or the Internet) and LANs (Local-Area Networks, as in your WiFi network). I first read about PANs (Personal-Area network) a long time ago: a bunch of devices you wear communicating with each other. Honestly I thought it was a utopian futuristic pipe dream.
The future kind of snuck up on us, even though Bluetooth has been around for a long time. I have a smartphone in my pocket, wirelessly connected to my Bluetooth headset on my head. And now a watch that communicates with the phone. Some people use other devices: heart rate monitors, little Nike+ shoe thingies… it’s crazy, it actually happened.
The watch looks good in the same way a decent but cheap watch does. A little bigger than I’d like but my wrists are smaller than average. The buttons are big (good) but squishy (bad). The monochrome screen is low-resolution but readable enough. Animation is choppy. You can more or less tell what tradeoffs they had to make in order to have decent (~7 days) battery life. You recharge with a special cable that uses magnets to attach to the watch. All in all it’s good looking enough.
Pebble promises all sorts of apps. Too bad they aren’t out yet. Today this is all you can do:
Change the watch face from many downloadable ones (use the iPhone app).
See what song is playing on your phone.
Control the music.
See some notifications like text messages from your phone.
Basic things like a stopwatch are still missing. The promised apps better come soon.
I don’t wear a watch, and the Pebble doesn’t provide enough cool things to change that. If there was something really cool then things would be different: RunKeeper integration, lap counter for swimming, or some super cool thing I haven’t thought of.
I decided to Moi can keep his watch.
One last thing
Nothing is for free. Usually by the end of the work day my phone still has 30% or so battery charge. On my Pebble test day I did not use my phone much more than the usual. But at the end of the work day my battery was all but dead.