SteamVR Performance Tool knows if your PC can Vive

SteamVR Performance Tool knows if your PC can Vive

We recently learned the price of the HTC Vive and all that your money will get you, but there was still one major detail that had yet to be confirmed by HTC or Valve; what PC specs will it take to run Vive. The new SteamVR Performance Test is the tool that will give you all the details you need even though you haven’t bought the Vive yet. And we know you want to!

Valve’s new tool will evaluate your PC, or rig as those who custom built their own call them and it will give you a metered chart based on the hardware inside your box. The results of the test will let you know if you any of your equipment fails to meet the recommended specs to run a smooth VR experience with the HTC Vive or other VR Ready hardware on the SteamVR platform.

The handy little tool can be downloaded from the Steam store or the SteamDB site and will only take up approximately before extraction. After you run the app on your computer you’ll find out if you need to get a new graphics processor or CPU or possibly both due to the details the Vive will need sent to those little displays in the Head Mounted Display.

Update: After a comment below from Andre and actually having the time to download the test it appears the download is much larger than I stated earlier. Steam reported the app to be 4700+ MB’s, but my download says the file ended up taking 1.9 GB of disk space. So depending on your network speed it could take a little while to download.

HTC adds new feature and throws in two games with the Vive

HTC adds new feature and throws in two games with the Vive for $799

HTC has kept the price of the Vive from us long enough! While at Mobile World Congress the team let the cat out of the bag and officially announced the Vive’s price and all the features those dollars will get you. The price of HTC and Valve’s state-of-the-art virtual reality system is going to be $799 US dollars with the price possibly varying per country and with tax/shipping costs.

We anticipated the cost to be a bit above the cost of the Oculus Rift, but less than $1000 and the confirmed price is right in the middle. The included hardware will be the HMD, two wireless controllers, two lighthouses for tracking.

HTC has outdone themselves by adding so much technology into a beautiful package. Speaking of the package, for a limited time HTC is going to include two fully-fledged VR experiences to get you started. Those titles are:

  • Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives,by Owlchemy Labs: In a firmly tongue-in-cheek world where robots have replaced all human jobs, step into the ‘Job Simulator’ to learn what it was like ‘to job’.
  • Fantastic Contraption, by Northway Games in collaboration with Radial Games: Imagine walking around a grassy island floating in the sky, building a machine the size of a horse with your own hands, and then watching it roll out into the world.

Here’s a teaser video of Fantastic Contraption using early Vive tech:

Along with the Vive’s polished Head Mounted Display (HMD) with a front facing camera that blends reality with the virtual, brighter displays for deeper immersion, and wireless haptic feedback controllers HTC has added Vive Phone Services.

HTC bridges another gap by extending your phone into the virtual environment. The Vive allows you to receive and respond to both incoming and missed calls, get text messages and send quick replies and check upcoming calendar invites directly through the headset, it creates a hybrid reality opening up a whole new world of possibilities for both consumers and businesses.

The Vive we saw at CES will be the same design shipping at launch. The only changes until then, if any, will be software tweaks and all future updates will be passed along through the SteamVR platform which is HTC’s main method for delivering content to Vive with.

HTC specifically says pre-orders for the Vive will go live at 10AM ET on February 29th and will begin to ship on the 1st of April.

Now that you know the price of the Vive we want to know if you will be first in line to buy the Vive online.

3D printer creates braille maps for visually impaired

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Using a high-tech 3D printer, a Rutgers University undergraduate and his professor have created sophisticated braille maps to help blind and visually impaired people navigate their surroundings. The three plastic tactile maps are for each floor at the Joseph Kohn Training Centre, a state-funded facility for the blind and visually impaired in New Brunswick. The goal now is to print maps for all of the center’s students.

“It was a very fulfilling experience,” said Jason Kim, senior mechanical engineering student in Rutgers’ school of engineering.  “The most difficult part was trying to imagine what it would be like to be blind myself so I could better tackle the problem, and it opened my eyes to the whole visually impaired and blind community,” he added in a university statement.

Howon Lee, assistant professor in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, said the maps are a form of GPS for the blind and visually impaired. Professor Lee got the idea of making 3D maps after visiting the Korea Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea. The institute created educational materials for small children with a 3D printer.

A 3D printer — very similar to an inkjet printer — uses computer-aided design software.  The technology was developed in the 1980s, but advancements have accelerated in the last five years. The team visited the centre several times to get feedback from faculty and students. They finished designing the map near the end of last summer.

The new maps — made with state-of-the-art 3D printers at Rutgers — are a little larger than a small computer tablet.  The idea is to “give freedom, extended freedom, to navigate and go from one place to another without worrying too much,” the authors noted.

New HoloLens details revealed: 5.5-hour battery life, totally wireless, and more

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While a lot of recent news has focused on virtual reality products such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, it’s easy to forget about Microsoft’s augmented reality device – theHoloLens. We still don’t know a great deal about the headset, but some details have emerged regarding its connectivity, how it will work with apps and, importantly, what we can expect from the battery life.

Petri reports that Microsoft Technical Evangelist Bruce Harris revealed the HoloLens information at an event in Tel Aviv. Speaking about the device’s battery life, Harris said it is “very much like a laptop,” and is expected to last around 5.5 hours, dropping to about 2.5 hours when used for heavy tasks such as 3D rendering.

The HoloLens will be able to connect to pretty much any device that supports either WiFi or Bluetooth. “There is no option for a wired connection on the device. We have no intention of building a wired device for anybody,” Harris said.

It was also revealed that the HoloLens has a field of view that will be similar to a 15-inch monitor viewed 2 feet away from your face. Microsoft had previously claimed this was to keep users’ peripheral vision clear but, according to the report, the FOV is limited “because of cost and battery life.”

Harris did add, however, that Microsoft hopes to widen the field of view as manufacturing capabilities improve and costs come down. He also said that any Windows 10 app will run natively on the device and that two or more HoloLens kits can be linked together – allowing several users to examine the same object in real time.

The exact consumer release date for the HoloLens is still unknown, although Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella did say last year that the device was a “five-year journey,” and that the company was prioritizing delivery to developers and enterprise customers before releasing it to the public.

HoloLens development kits will be available in the first quarter of this year for $3000.

Epic build with its Unreal Editor in virtual reality

As we teeter on the brink of modern virtual reality, developers are hard at work coding the imaginary worlds we’ll one day step foot in. Ironically enough, they’ve largely been building virtual experiences using traditional tools – you know, a mouse and keyboard.

For the past year, Epic Games has been working on bring its Unreal Editor inside the virtual world. Instead of developers building games the traditional way, Epic’s new approach allows them to strap on an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive and build the game fromwithin the game.

Epic founder Tim Sweeney told The Verge that things like a sense of scale don’t translate well between flat screens and VR. Props, for example, may feel normal in a traditional PC game but may look overly large or small in an immersive environment.

The VR Unreal Editor looks and acts much like its flatscreen counterpart but with the ability to roam free and edit on-the-fly using hand motions and gestures. For example, one can physically “grab” an object and move it around or use a two-handed pinch-and-zoom technique like on a mobile device to adjust its size. For more complicated tasks, developers can bring up a handheld version of the flatscreen interface which is kind of like having a tablet with you at all times.

Epic says it’ll showcase its VR Unreal Editor in greater detail at the Game Developers Conference on March 16. We’ll also learn more about Unreal’s release plans at that time.

New gestures and voice commands, plus speaker support coming soon to Android Wear

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Android Wear users should be on the lookout for new ways to use Google’s wearable device platform. According to the Android Blog, there’s a firmware upgrade happening soon (“in the next few weeks”) that includes some new input and output features. Once the upgrade rolls out, Android Wear watches will take advantage of the functionality of their built-in speakers, as well as support new gestures and voice commands.

As far as gesture controls go, the big news is that gestures are expanding from the simple wrist flick. With the upgrade, after flicking to scroll through different cards, users can take action on them through pivoting their arm downward in a motion called a “push.” Reverse the motion to trigger a back command. And to get back to the home screen, just shake your wrist back-and-forth.

Use your voice to dictate messages to some of the apps on your smartwatch, including Hangouts, WhatsApp, and Telegram. And since speaker support is enabled in the upgrade, your Android Wear watch can be used as a Bluetooth speakerphone for tethered handsets. Watches with speakers compatible with this function include the Huawei Watch and 49mm Asus ZenWatch 2.

Excited? Look for the OS version 1.4.0. Don’t have a smartwatch? Just carry on with your day (I don’t have one either.)

Canon’s new EOS 80D DSLR takes aim at semi-professional crowd

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Digital cameras may have taken a back seat to the sheer convenience afforded bysmartphone cameras but make no mistake; there’s still a market for interchangeable lens cameras, even at the non-professional level.

Case in point is Canon’s new EOS 80D, a follow-up to 2013’s EOS 70D. This semi-professional DSLR features a 24.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, a DIGIC 6 image processor and a 45-point autofocus system. The camera can shoot at up to seven frames per second and includes creature comforts such as Anti-Flicker shooting and built-in Wi-Fi and NFC capabilities that make transferring images and videos much more convenient.

Those interested in shooting video on the EOS 80D will no doubt appreciate the headphone jack for audio monitoring as well as the ISO range of 100 to 12800 (expandable to 25600). It’ll capture video in 1080p Full HD MP4 format at up to 60 frames per second, up from the 30 fps limit of the 70D, and offers several creative filters like old movie, fantasy, memory, miniature and dramatic monochrome. There’s even a Movie Servo AF option that lets shooters adjust the autofocus speed.

Canon says the new EOS 80D will be available sometime next month priced at $1,199 for the body only. It’ll also be sold with a new EF-S18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens for $1,799. Optionally, the lens can be had for $599.99 by itself.

Smartwatch shipments soared 316 percent in Q4 2015, outpaced Swiss watches for the first time

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I’ve taken multiple jabs at the usefulness of smartwatches over the past couple of years. To many (myself included), they simply don’t serve a purpose or fill a need – they’re a solution waiting for a problem to happen.

Nevertheless, major technology brands have continued to pump out the high-tech wearables and slowly but surely, consumers have started to come around. In fact, smartwatch shipments during the fourth quarter of 2015 actually surpassed those of traditional Swiss watches for the first time ever according to market research firm Strategy Analytics.

Global shipments of smartwatches hit 8.1 million in Q4 2015, up from just 1.9 million in the year-ago quarter. Swiss watch shipments, meanwhile, slid to 7.9 million during the same period, down from 8.3 million in Q4 2014. Or in other words, smartwatch shipments grew by 315.6 percent while Swiss watch shipments fell by 4.8 percent.

Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics, said the Swiss watch industry has been very slow to react to the development of smartwatches. In fact, Mawston likened the Swiss watch industry to the (incorrect) myth about ostriches sticking their heads in the sand and hoping smartwatches will go away.

That’s not to say that every Swiss watchmaker has been ignoring the smartwatch trend. Tag Heuer, for example, launched an Android Wear smartwatch of its own late last year. Priced at $1,500, the Tag Heuer Connected Watch was a hot seller during the holidays and forced the company to ramp up production to meet demand.

AT&T and Intel are testing the viability of using existing LTE networks to control aerial drones

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AT&T’s Internet of Things team and the AT&T Foundry innovation center are partneringwith Intel to explore alternative methods to handle increased drone traffic. Specifically, they aim to determine if AT&T’s existing LTE network is up to the task of handling data transmission between aerial drones and their operators on the ground.

Today’s consumer drones are hamstrung by short-range signals (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and radio waves) as well as various government regulations. Once things are sorted out as far as legal guidelines go, drones used for commercial purposes likely (hopefully) won’t be limited to line-of-sight operation which is where AT&T comes in.

The nation’s second largest wireless carrier is working with Intel to evaluate the performance of the LTE network as it pertains to handling drone communications. How the network copes with data transmission at high altitudes, for example, will certainly be telling. The telecom said connecting drones over its network may also address safety and security concerns as well as limit potential interference with manned aircraft.

Chris Penrose, senior vice president, IoT Solutions at AT&T, said their LTE network is uniquely positioned to connect industries like delivery, agriculture, construction and insurance. Anil Nanduri, vice president of the New Technology Group and general manager of New Markets within the Perceptual Computing Group at Intel, echoed those sentiments, saying his company believes UAVs have great potential, from inspections and precision agriculture to deliveries of consumer goods and providing emergency disaster relief.

Intel will be showing off its Yuneec Typhoon H drone (which uses its RealSense Technology) at Mobile World Congress this week.

Valve’s latest utility determines your PC’s VR readiness, pinpoints bottlenecks

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You’ve made the decision to invest between $600 and $800 on a premium virtual reality platform but do you know if your computer is up to the task? It’s a concern that at least a few will fail to address and wonder why their new toy is riddled with lag.

Fittingly, Valve has released a new utility that takes the guesswork out of the equation and determines if your PC is capable of powering a premium VR setup like the HTC Vive. It’s called the SteamVR Performance Test and you can give it a try right now although you’ll need the Steam client to do so.

The description says the utility measures your system’s rendering power using a two-minute sequence from Valve’s Aperture Robot Repair VR demo. After collecting the necessary data, the utility will indicate if your machine is capable of powering virtual reality content at the target 90fps and how much “eye candy” you’ll be able to get away with.

Should your system fall short of the recommended threshold, the utility will let you know if it’s the CPU, GPU or a combination of both that’s the bottleneck.

If you’d rather not fool with the utility, note that HTC recommends an Intel Core i5-4590 / AMD FX 8350 equivalent processor or better, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 / AMD Radeon R9 290 or greater, at least 4GB of RAM, an HDMI 1.4 / DisplayPort 1.2 video output or newer, at least one USB 2.0 port and Windows SP1 or newer to get the best experience out of the Vive VR.

Oculus calls for nearly the exact same setup for its Rift with the exception of at least 8GB of RAM and two USB 3.0 ports.

Those in the market for a new computer to handle VR duties can save a few bucks by purchasing an Oculus Rift PC bundle (assuming of course that the Rift is your VR platform of choice). You may be able to save even more money by upgrading your existing system or building one from scratch but understandably, that’s not an option for everyone.