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October 22, 2018
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Virtual Reality

Oculus co-founder is leaving Facebook after cancellation of ‘Rift 2’ headset

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Brendan Iribe, the co-founder and former CEO of Oculus, announced today that he is leaving Facebook, TechCrunch has learned.

Iribe is leaving Facebook following some internal shake-ups at the company’s virtual reality arm last week that saw the cancellation of the company’s next generation “Rift 2” PC-powered virtual reality headset which he had been leading development of, a source close to the matter tell TechCrunch. Iribe and the Facebook executive team had “fundamentally different views on the future of Oculus that grew deeper over time” and Iribe wasn’t interested in a “race to the bottom” in terms of performance, we are told.

So much has happened since the day we founded Oculus in July 2012. I never could have imagined how much we would…

Posted by Brendan Trexler Iribe on Monday, October 22, 2018

The cancellation of the company’s next-gen PC-based “Rift 2” virtual reality product showcases how the interests of Facebook’s executive leadership have centered on all-in-one headsets that don’t require a connection to an external PC or phone. In May, Oculus released the $199 Oculus Go headset and plans to release the $399 Oculus Quest headset sometime next spring. A Facebook spokesperson tells TechCrunch that PC VR is part of the company’s future product roadmap and that much of what Iribe’s team has been working on will be manifested in future products.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and then-Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe at Oculus Connect 3 in late 2016

Iribe’s exit comes at a time when a number of the founders of Facebook’s high-profile startup acquisitions are leaving the company. Less than a month ago, Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger announced their plans to leave the company in a decision that TechCrunch was told was partially the result of mounting tensions. WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum left Facebook earlier this year. Iribe’s fellow co-founder Palmer Luckey left Facebook in early 2017, a decision he recently recounted was not a choice that he made.

Iribe came onto Facebook after the $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR in 2014 where he had been the company’s founding CEO. After a substantial company reorganization in late 2016, Iribe was moved from the CEO position to the head of the company’s PC VR division.

Before co-founding Oculus VR, Iribe was the chief product officer of Gaikai, a cloud-gaming startup that Sony bought in 2012 for $380 million, before that, he co-founded and led Scaleform, a gaming user interface tools startup that Autodesk bought in 2011 for $36 million.

We’ve reached out to Iribe for comment.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Gearing up to step into virtual reality

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Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch may earn affiliate commissions.

For the past two years, we’ve been closely following the advances of new VR experiences. Much of this gear is still in development, but if you’re eager to dive in and get a sense of what’s available right now, we’ve put together our current recommendations for mobile, PC, console and budget VR headsets.

The Oculus Go is light enough to wear comfortably, but it’s still a bit front-heavy. (Photo: Signe Brewster)                          

Standalone Headset: Oculus Go

The Oculus Go is a standalone headset  that doesn’t require a PC, game console or mobile phone to run. The Go comes with a sharp built-in screen and a comfortable controller that convincingly puts your hand in whatever virtual world you’re exploring. It’s compatible with Oculus games and shares the Stream VR app library with the Samsung Gear VR, so there are enough games to keep you busy for hours.

You can also watch movies and TV via streaming services. Its straps fit around the sides and over the top of your head and it’s light enough that you’ll forget you’re wearing it. Although its field of view is wider and its lenses are better than Gear VR’s, its screen resolution is lower. While you can move your head from left to right, up and down, and forward and backwards, your view won’t change when you tilt your head.

For what it currently offers, we think the Oculus Go is bit pricey, and some people might want to wait for the Oculus Quest next year. But the Go’s hardware is impressive and it’s the best overall standalone headset for most people right now.

Photo: Signe Brewster

VR Headset for PC: Oculus Rift + Touch

Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned gamer, the Oculus Rift + Touch VR headset for PC provides an enjoyable experience that’s easy to navigate and deeply immersive. The Rift + Touch has three cords, one that’s tethered to your PC — which gives the system more processing power — and two that are connected to its included sensors. It’s the most comfortable headset we tested, fitting to wear over long periods of time, and easy to set up. Playing games with it calls for a bit of space; Rift recommends at least a 5-by-5 box.

We found that gameplay in a larger area (a 5-by-11 space) is even better. You’ll be able to interact within and see different parts of virtual worlds through head movements and by stepping from side to side. We like that its controllers are balanced and that the system comes with its own set of headphones. Like the Oculus Go, the Rift + Touch can be used with Oculus and Stream VR games.

Photo: Signe Brewster                                                                                                                                                   

PS4 Headset: Sony PlayStation VR Bundle

If you already own a PlayStation 4 and want to give virtual reality a try, we recommend doing so with the Sony PlayStation VR. This system’s tracking isn’t as powerful as a high-end PC’s, but it still offers an incredibly immersive experience. Tracked by the PlayStation VR camera, the Move controllers are responsive and one of the system’s best features.

The bundle we recommend comes with two Move controllers, a camera, and the Skyrim VR game — it’s important to note that PlayStation VR bundles are frequently discontinued and the only difference in the newer versions have been the featured game. Unlike our VR headset for PC picks, PlayStation VR does not have separate screens for each eye and it has a higher refresh rate for a high-quality visual experience. The headset fits more like a hard hat as opposed to goggles, but it’s one of the most comfortable headsets we tested.

Photo: Signe Brewster

Mobile Headset: Samsung Gear VR

Samsung Gear VR is the best VR headset made for a phone — but it’s only compatible with Samsung Galaxy and Note smartphones. It can be used with a broad variety of apps and games, and overall offers the best mobile VR experience. We like its UI and that there’s more to explore within its app ecosystem than with than with our runner-up pick, the Google Daydream View.

Its headset has adjustable straps, comfortable padding and a lens adjustment dial. The Gear VR’s controller is intuitive, easy to hold and connects to your phone over Bluetooth. Instead of tracking every hand movement, the remote is primarily limited to pointing and clicking, but its trigger button and trackpad feel natural and still give you a sense of immersion. It’s a bit heavier to wear than other mobile VR headsets we tested, but it fits better to the face for some and is more secure.

Aside from puzzle, shooting and adventure titles, you can download any Oculus games you already own and play them with the Gear VR for free. If you don’t own one of Samsung’s flagship phones, we recommend the Google Daydream View, or the standalone Oculus Go.

Photo: Signe Brewster

Budget VR & AR Headset: Merge VR/AR Goggles

If you don’t need the absolute best experience and want an inexpensive way to try VR for the first time, Merge VR/AR Goggles for Google Cardboard is the best offering. Compared to the other six budget headsets we tested, we preferred its combination of adjustability, price and comfort. It’s an upgrade from Cardboard and is still compatible with Google’s ecosystem of apps.

We like that it doubles as an augmented reality headset that can be paired with the Merge Cube and Merge’s curated VR library. You can play games, go on virtual expeditions, and watch films with the Merge VR/AR Goggles. It works with more phones (including iPhones). But that makes the quality feel a bit lower than experiences tailored for specific mobile systems. So long as you have a smartphone with a large screen and high resolution you’ll get a decent introductory VR experience.

These picks may have been updated by WirecutterWhen readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch may earn affiliate commissions.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Facebook rolls out 3D photos that use AI to simulate depth

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What if you could peek behind what’s in your photos, like you’re moving your head to see what’s inside a window? That’s the futuristic promise of Facebook 3D photos. After announcing the feature at F8 in May, Facebook is now rolling out 3D photos to add make-believe depth to your iPhone portrait mode shots. Shoot one, tap the new 3D photos option in the status update composer, select a portrait mode photo, and users on the desktop or mobile News Feed as well as in VR through Oculus Go’s browser or Firefox on Oculus Rift. Everyone can now view 3D photos and the ability to create them will open to everyone in the coming weeks.

Facebook is constantly in search of ways to keep the News Feed interesting. What started with text and photos eventually expanded into videos and live broadcasts, and now to 360 photos and 3D photos. Facebook hopes if it’s the exclusive social media home for these new kinds of content, you’ll come back to explore and rack up some ad views in the mean time.

So how exactly do 3D photos work? Our writer Devin Coldeway did a deep-dive earlier this year into how Facebook uses AI to stitch together real layers of the photo with what it infers should be there if you tilted your perspective. Since portrait mode fires off both of a phone’s cameras simultaneously, parralax differences can be used to recreate what’s behind the subject.

To create the best 3D photos, Facebook recommends you keep your subject three to four feet away, and have things in the foreground and background. Distinct colors will make the layers separate better, and transparent or shiny objects like glass or plastic can throw off the AI.

Originally, the idea was to democrative the creation of VR content. But with headset penetration still relatively low, it’s the ability to display depth in the News Feed that will have the greatest impact for Facebook. In an era where Facebook’s cool is waning, hosting next-generation art forms could make it a must-visit property even as more of our socializing moves to Instagram.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The Internet Bill of Rights is just one piece of our moral obligations

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Congressman Ro Khanna’s proposed Internet Bill of Rights pushes individual rights on the Internet forward in a positive manner. It provides guidelines for critical elements where the United States’ and the world’s current legislation is lacking, and it packages it in a way that speaks to all parties. The devil, as always, is in the details—and Congressman Khanna’s Internet Bill of Rights still leaves quite a bit to subjective interpretation.

But what should not be neglected is that we as individuals have not just rights but also moral obligations to this public good—the Internet. The web positively impacts our lives in a meaningful fashion, and we have a collective responsibility to nurture and keep it that way.

Speaking to the specific rights listed in the Bill, we can likely all agree that citizens should have control over information collected about them, and that we should not be discriminated against based on that personal data. We probably all concur that Internet Service Providers should not be permitted to block, throttle, or engage in paid prioritization that would negatively impact our ability to access the world’s information. And I’m sure we all want access to numerous affordable internet providers with clear and transparent pricing.

These are all elements included in Congressman Khanna’s proposal; all things that I wholeheartedly support.

As we’ve seen of late with Facebook, Google, and other large corporations, there is an absolute need to bring proper legislation into the digital age. Technological advancements have progressed far faster than regulatory changes, and drastic improvements are needed to protect users.

What we must understand, however, is that corporations, governments, and individuals all rely on the same Internet to prosper. Each group should have its own set of rights as well as responsibilities. And it’s those responsibilities that need more focus.

Take, for example, littering. There may be regulations in place that prevent people from discarding their trash by the side of the road. But regardless of these laws, there’s also a moral obligation we have to protect our environment and the world in which we live. For the most part, people abide by these obligations because it’s the right thing to do and because of social pressure to keep the place they live beautiful—not because they have a fear of being fined for littering.

We should approach the protection of the Internet in the same way.

We should hold individuals, corporations, and governments to a higher standard and delineate their responsibilities to the Internet. All three groups should accept and fulfill those responsibilities, not because we create laws and fines, but because it is in their best interests.

For individuals, the Internet has given them powers beyond their wildest dreams and it continues to connect us in amazing ways. For corporations, it has granted access to massively lucrative markets far and wide that would never have been accessible before. For governments, it has allowed them to provide better services to their citizens and has created never before seen levels of tax revenue from the creation of businesses both between and outside their physical borders.

Everyone — and I mean everyone — has gained (and will continue to gain) from protecting an open Internet, and we as a society need to recognize that and start imposing strong pressure against those who do not live up to their responsibilities.

We as people of the world should feel tremendously grateful to all the parties that contributed to the Internet we have today. If a short-sighted government decides it wants to restrict the Internet within its physical borders, this should not be permitted. It will not only hurt us, but it will hurt that very government by decreasing international trade and thus tax revenue, as well as decreasing the trust that the citizens of that country place in their government. Governments often act against their long-term interests in pursuit of short-term thinking, thus we have 2 billion people living in places with heavy restrictions on access to online information.

When an Internet Service Provider seeks full control over what content it provides over its part of the Internet, this, again, should not be allowed. It will, in the end, hurt that very Internet Service Provider’s revenue; a weaker, less diverse Internet will inevitably create less demand for the very service they are providing along with a loss of trust and loyalty from their customers.

Without the Internet, our world would come grinding to a halt. Any limitations on the open Internet will simply slow our progress and prosperity as a human race. And, poignantly, the perpetrators of those limitations stand to lose just as much as any of us.

We have a moral responsibility, then, to ensure the Internet remains aligned with its original purpose. Sure, none of us could have predicted the vast impact the World Wide Web would have back in 1989—probably not even Sir Tim Berners-Lee himself—but in a nutshell, it exists to connect people, WHEREVER they may be, to a wealth of online information, to other people, and to empower individuals to make their lives better.

This is only possible with an open and free Internet.

Over the next five years, billions of devices—such as our garage door openers, refrigerators, thermostats, and mattresses—will be connected to the web via the Internet of Things. Further, five billion users living in developing markets will join the Internet for the first time, moving from feature phones to smartphones. These two major shifts will create incredible opportunities for good, but also for exploiting our data—making us increasingly vulnerable as Internet users.

Now is the time to adequately provide Americans and people around the world with basic online protections, and it is encouraging to see people like Congressman Khanna advancing the conversation. We can only hope this Internet Bill of Rights remains bipartisan and real change occurs.

Regardless of the outcome, we must not neglect our moral obligations—whether individual Internet users, large corporations, or governments. We all shoulder a responsibility to maintain an open Internet. After all, it is perhaps the most significant and impactful creation in modern society.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Chinese investment into computer vision technology and AR surges as U.S. funding dries up

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Last year 30 leading venture investors told us about a fundamental shift from early stage North American VR investment to later stage Chinese computer vision/AR investment — but they didn’t anticipate its ferocity.

Digi-Capital’s AR/VR/XR Analytics Platform showed Chinese investments into computer vision and augmented reality technologies surging to $3.9 billion in the last 12 months, while North American augmented and virtual reality investment fell from nearly $1.5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2017 to less than $120 million in the third quarter of 2018. At the same time, VC sentiment on virtual reality softened significantly.

What a difference a year makes.

Dealflow (dollars)

What VCs said a year ago

When we spoke to venture capitalists least year, they had some pretty strong opinions.

Mobile augmented reality and Computer Vision/Machine Learning (“CV/ML”) are at opposite ends of the spectrum — one delivering new user experiences and user interfaces and the other powering a broad range of new applications (not just mobile augmented reality).

The market for mobile AR is very early stage, and could see $50 to $100 million exits in 2018/2019. Dominant companies will take time to emerge, and it will also take time for developers to learn what works and for consumers and businesses to adopt mobile AR at scale (note: Digi-Capital’s base case is mobile AR revenue won’t really take off until 2019, despite 900 million installed base by Q4 2018). Tech investors are most interested in native mobile AR with critical use cases, not ports from other platforms.

Computer vision and visual machine learning is more advanced than mobile AR, and could see dominant companies in the near-term. Here, investors love  startups with real-world solutions that are challenging established industries and business practices, not research projects. Firms are investing in more than 20 different mobile augmented reality and computer vision and visual machine learning sectors, but there is the potential for overfunding during the earliest stages of the market.

What VCs did in the last 12 months

Perhaps the most crucial observation is the declining deal volumes over the last year.

Deal Volume (number of deals by category)

(Source: Digi-Capital AR/VR/XR Analytics Platform)

Deal volume (the number of deals) declined steadily by 10% per quarter over the last 12 months, and was around two-thirds the level in Q3 2018 that it was in Q4 2017. Most of the decline happened in the US and Europe, where VCs increasingly stayed on the sidelines by looking for short-term traction as a sign of long-term growth. (Note: data normalized excluding HTC ViveX accelerator Q4 2017, which skews the data)

Deal Volume (number of deals by stage)

The biggest casualties of this short-termist approach have been early stage startups raising seed (deal volume down by more than half) and some series A (deal volume down by a quarter) rounds. This trend has been strongest in North America and Europe, but even Asia has not been entirely immune from some early stage deal volume decline.

Deal Value (dollars)

(Source: Digi-Capital AR/VR/XR Analytics Platform)

While deal volume is a great indicator of early-stage investment market trends, deal value (dollars invested) gives a clearer picture of where the big money has been going over the last 12 months. (Note: investment means new VC money into startups, not internal corporate investment – which is a cost). Global investment hit its previous quarterly record over $2 billion in Q4 2017, driven by a few very large deals. It then dropped back to around $1 billion in the first quarter of this year. Since then deal value has steadily climbed quarter-on-quarter, to reach a new record high well over $2 billion in Q3 2018.

Over $4 billion of the total $7.2 billion in the last 12 months was invested in computer vision/AR tech, with well over $1 billion going into smartglasses (the bulk of that into Magic Leap) . The next largest sectors were games around $400 million and advertising/marketing at a quarter of a billion dollars. The remaining 22 industry sectors raised in the low hundreds of millions of dollars down to single digit millions in the last 12 months.

A tale of two markets

Deals by Country and Category (dollars)

American and Chinese investment had an inverse relationship in the last 12 months. American investors increasingly chose to stay on the sidelines, while Chinese investor confidence grew to back up clear vision with long-term investments. The differences in the data couldn’t be more stark.

North American Deals (dollars)

North American investment was almost triple Asian investment in Q4 2017, with a record high of nearly $1.5 billion dollars for the quarter. Despite 2018 being a transitional year for the market (Digi-Capital forecast that market revenue was unlikely to accelerate until 2019), North American quarterly investment fell over 90% to less than $120 million in Q3 2018. American VCs appear to have taken a long-term solution to a short-term problem.

China Deals (dollars)

Meanwhile, Chinese VCs have been focused on the long-term potential of the intersection between computer vision and augmented reality, with later-stage Series C and Series D rounds raising hundreds of millions of dollars a time. This trend increased dramatically in the last 12 months, with SenseTime Group raising over $2 billion in multiple rounds and Megvii close behind at over $1 billion (also multiple rounds).

Smaller investments (by Chinese standards) in the hundreds of millions have gone into companies Westerners might not know, including Beijing Moviebook Technology, Kujiale and more. All this saw Chinese quarterly investment grow 3x in the last 12 months. (Note: some recent Western opinions about market investment trends were based on incomplete data)

Where to from here?

With our team’s investment banking background, experience shows that forecasting venture capital investment is a fool’s errand. Yet it is equally foolish to ignore hard data, and ongoing discussions with leading investors along Sand Hill Road and China indicate some trends to watch.

American tech investors might continue to wait for market traction before providing the fuel needed for that traction (even if that seems counterintuitive). While this could pose an existential threat to some early stage startups in North America, it’s also an opportunity for smart money with longer time horizons.

Conversely, Chinese VCs continue to back domestic companies which could dominate the future of computer vision/augmented reality. The next 6 months will determine if this is a long-term trend, but it is the current mental model.

If mobile AR revenue accelerates in 2019 as critical use cases and apps emerge (as in Digi-Capital’s base case), this could become a catalyst for renewed investment by American VCs. The big unknown is whether Apple enters the smartphone tethered smartglasses market in late 2020 (as Digi-Capital has forecast for the last few years). This could be the tipping point for the market as a whole (not just investment). However, Apple timing is hard to predict (because Apple), with any potential launch date known only to Tim Cook and his immediate circle.

Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Chinese investors embraced a Jobsian approach over the last 12 months, with Western VCs increasingly dot-connecting (or not). It will be interesting to see how this plays out for computer vision/AR investment over the next 12 months, so watch this space.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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