UPDATED! Tech Tock with Jesse Damiani: A New Weekly Talk Show in AltspaceVR

This week saw the launch of a new weekly talk show, set on the social VR platform of AltspaceVR, which I must confess I haven’t written much about lately on this blog.

Jesse Damiani is an emerging technology journalist for such publications as Forbes, and an editor-at-large for the VRScout website. Last Monday was the first episode of his brand new talk show, called Tech Tock. Jesse describes the show thusly:

Tech Tock is a weekly talk show about the future. Through intimate conversations with entrepreneurs, developers, and artists, we’ll peer into the world technology is creating—and have some fun with the people creating it.

As his first guest, Jesse invited the author Blake J. Harris to discuss his latest book, titled The History of The Future: Oculus, Facebook, and the Revolution That Swept Virtual Reality (which I am currently reading, and I can recommend highly).

I arrived in AltspaceVR with about half an hour to kill before the show, so I attended an AltspaceVR 101 session hosted by the company to orient newcomers. At the end of the training session, the hosts opened up the floor to questions, and I asked my one burning question: was AltspaceVR ever planning to upgrade their extremely low-poly, cartoon-like avatars?

Unfortunately, the answer was “no”, but the person who answered the question old me that AltspaceVR was looking at the possibility of allowing custom-made avatars sometime in the future, as many other platforms have done (VRChat, High Fidelity, and Sansar).

Although I am not a fan of their cartoony avatars, one area where AltspaceVR really shines is in their event programming. AltspaceVR is probably the social VR platform with the most events scheduled every week, as even a brief glance at their upcoming events listings can attest:

There’s something for everyone in their events listing, which of course is one of the reasons for their success as a platform. Another strong point is the fact that they pretty much support any VR hardware you have, from cellphone-based VR to high-end systems like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive—even the Leap Motion headset!

Next Monday, Jesse will have as a guest Nancy Baker Cahill, a multi-disciplinary artist and founder of 4th Wall, a free Augmented Reality (AR) app which invites viewers to place art in 360 degrees anywhere in the world. Her recent work in Desert X has been profiled in the LA Times and The Wall Street Journal.

UPDATE March 9th: Lorelle says in a comment to this post:

The AltspaceVR 101 is not produced by staff but by volunteers, as should have been explained during the event. So it is likely the person answering your question didn’t know the answer. The answer is complex. AltspaceVR works hard to stay an agnostic platform, enabling both mobile and tethered access, which few social VR platforms offer, thus less cartoony avatars are coming as devices improve. As are improvements in world building and environments. Stay tuned, and consider volunteering yourself to help with the 101 events.

I stand corrected; thank you, Lorelle!

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UPDATED: Which Social VR Platforms and Virtual Worlds Will Benefit from the Upcoming Standalone VR Headset Oculus Quest?

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Oculus Quest.jpeg

As many of you already know, Oculus is releasing a new, standalone VR headset, the Oculus Quest, sometime this coming spring, 2019. Priced at just US$399, it is sure to be a popular option for people who are interested in VR, but who don’t want to purchase a more expensive VR headset solution like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

The Oculus Rift is meant to fill the space in the Oculus product line-up between their entry-level, lower-powered standalone VR headset, the Oculus Go, and the Oculus Rift, a VR headset with Touch controllers which requires a high-end Windows gaming-level PC with a good graphics card to run. (Unfortunately, there is, as yet, no satisfactory native virtual reality hardware solution for Apple Mac users, although there are native Mac desktop clients for virtual worlds such as High Fidelity and Sinespace.)

Oculus Line.jpg

If the Oculus Quest becomes very popular, those social VR platforms which can run on the Quest hardware may gain an advantage over those which require a full-blown VR headset and a higher-end computer.

I think it’s safe to assume that Facebook/Oculus properties such as Facebook Spaces and Oculus Rooms (or at least some version of them) will be available for the Oculus Quest on its launch date. Social VR platforms with simpler avatars and spaces, which already run on the Oculus Go (like AltspaceVR, Bigscreen, and vTime) will probably also be available for the Quest.

Surprisingly, Rec Room, TheWaveVR, and VRChat are not among the social VR programs that are currently available for the Oculus Go ( I searched for them on the Oculus Go apps store and could not find any mention of them.) It remains to be seen if the companies behind those three products will release versions which will run on the more powerful Oculus Quest.

In a discussion thread over on the official High Fidelity user forums, HiFi CEO Philip Rosedale stated back in October:

We are definitely going to get High Fidelity running on as many standalone devices as we can, and we love the Quest. VR will not find a large audience until the Quest and other devices (like the Mirage and Vive Focus) become widely available.

Talking to Oculus about the process now… stay tuned.

When asked for to provide a more recent update, Philip added:

Yes, we are working on the Quest, and hope to have High Fidelity ready to run on it for launch! Very high quality device.

I also don’t know what Sinespace’s exact plans are for the Oculus Quest, but Adan Frisby, their lead developer, said on a Facebook comment when I cross-posted this blogpost over there:

We’ll be fine with it too – anyone doing Android support will have an easier time of it.

So it looks like High Fidelity and Sinespace will indeed both be working with the Oculus Quest, if not right at launch date, then shortly thereafter. This gives them both an advantage over Linden Lab’s Sansar, which very likely will not be able to work with the Quest. There’s still a lot of data that has to get sent to and from a VR headset to properly render Sansar experiences (especially for any experience which has global illumination enabled), which would probably completely overload any standalone headset.

As I often say: interesting times ahead! Let’s hope that the Oculus Quest makes a big splash and brings even more people into VR. A rising tide lifts all boats, and many social VR platforms would benefit from greater consumer awareness and uptake of virtual reality in general. And I promise to cover all of it as it happens on this blog!

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

UPDATE Dec. 14th: Adeon Writer posted the following to the VirtualVerse Discord server (VirtualVerse is the successor to the long-running SLUniverse forums):

VRChat was just announced for the Oculus Store. While it already worked with Oculus on Steam, [the] OculusSDK version of VRChat means it will almost certainly be ported to Oculus Quest when it comes out, making it the first metaverse-style game available for wireless/unteathered/portable VR.

Thanks, Adeon!

UPDATE Feb. 11th: Since this blogpost was written, I have had someone tell me the following about VRChat:

Sadly, I don’t think VRChat’s gonna support Quest. It’s just not compatible with mobile CPUs. Hell, it brings modern up-to-date PC’s to a standstill with too many people. I very much doubt the Snapdragon 835 can handle all the custom shaders, avatars, IK, etc. The team would basically need to do a full rewrite. And that’s unlikely unless the team was way bigger.

It does sound as though VRChat would have to be pared down significantly in order to run on the Oculus Quest, if at all.

I also noticed that I have received a lot of traffic to this blogpost due to this post on the OculusQuest subReddit (which I had never heard of before today). If anybody over there has any inside information on social VR/virtual worlds that will launch with the Quest, I’d certainly love to hear about it! Thanks.

An Updated Comparison Chart of the Twelve Most Popular Social VR Platforms

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I decided to update my original comparison chart of the 12 most popular social VR platforms, according to my reader survey. Note that in this chart, I excluded platforms that did not have VR support (e.g. Second Life, OpenSim-based virtual worlds, etc.).

I also did not dwell on technical details, such as the underlying game engine, user creation tools, etc. Instead, I focused on the three things of most interest to consumers:

  • How you can access the platform;
  • What options do you have for your avatar;
  • And whether you can go shopping!

This print on this chart is a little small to show up on the constrained width of this blogpost, so I saved it as a picture to FlickrJust click on the chart below (or the link above) to see it in Flickr in a larger size.

Comparison Chart of 12 Social VR Platforms 25 Nov 2018

You can also download this chart from Flickr in any size up to its original size (1488 x 920 pixels).

If you feel I’ve made any mistakes, or left anything important out, please leave me a comment below, thanks! I do hope that people who are trying to figure out which social VR spaces to explore will find this comparison chart to be a useful and handy tool.

UPDATE 2:03 p.m.: I’ve just been informed that there is an Android app for vTime. Thanks for the tip, Stephanie Woessner!

UPDATED: A Comparison Chart of Twelve Popular Social VR Platforms

UPDATE Nov. 25th: I have updated the comparison chart! You can see it here.

bigfive

From my recent blog reader poll results, I got the following results on who has created user accounts on which social VR spaces:

The “Big Five” social VR platforms

After Second Life and OpenSim, the next biggest section of the reader responses were these five newer social VR platforms:

  • Sansar (149 readers, 8.87%)
  • High Fidelity (145 readers, 8.63%)
  • VRChat (101 readers, 6.01%)
  • Sinespace (83 readers, 4.94%)
  • AltspaceVR (68 readers, 4.05%)

Not far behind were a few more newer competitors

  • Rec Room (54 readers, 3.22%)
  • Somnium Space (53 readers, 3.16%)
  • Bigscreen (35 readers, 2.09%)
  • Facebook Spaces (29 readers, 1.73%)
  • Oculus Rooms (26 readers, 1.55%)
  • vTime (20 readers, 1.19%)
  • TheWaveVR (16 readers, 0.95%)

So, I decided to draw up a detailed comparison chart of just these 12 social VR platforms. Note that in this chart, I excluded platforms that did not have VR support (e.g. Second Life, OpenSim-based virtual worlds).

I also did not dwell on technical details, such as the underlying game engine, user creation tools, etc. Instead, I focused on the three things of most interest to consumers:

  • How you can access the platform;
  • What options do you have for your avatar;
  • And whether you can go shopping!

This print on this chart is a little small to show up on the constrained width of this blogpost, so I saved it as a picture to Flickr. Just click on the chart below (or the link above) to see it in Flickr in full size. You can also use the Flickr magnifying glass to get an even closer look!

Social VR Platform Comparison Chart 22 Oct 2018

You can also download this chart from Flickr in any size up to its original size (1656 x 914 pixels).

If you feel I’ve made any mistakes, or left anything out, please leave me a comment below, thanks! I do hope that people who are trying to figure out which social VR spaces to explore will find this comparison chart useful.

UPDATE Oct. 23rd: Someone on the Virtual Reality subReddit has helpfully pointed out this thread on the official Sansar website’s Feature Requests section, where it would appear that Sansar does now work with Windows Mixed Reality headsets. Sansar user Vassay wrote in July 2018:

After Windows 10 April update, WMR headsets work with Sansar in full scale – meaning all the benefits, including moving your avatar. Tested and confirmed on several systems already.

One thing to be weary is that Sansar works with WMR headsets through SteamVR libraries, so some updates to SteamVR can sometimes break things. But from what I’ve seen, things are mostly stable and work correctly.

Happy VR to all 😉

Also, there is an interesting comment on the discussion thread about this chart over on the High Fidelity user forums:

Clothing in High Fidelity is doable, but is limited at this time to whichever avatar is was made for, since global clothing options isn’t really a thing.

So can you have clothing in High Fidelity? Yes, and not just attachments either. Apparently Ryan forgot that Menithal’s robes are completely separate, that items made in Marvelous [Designer] do work here, or that I had a greeter uniform before all greeters got one…

Menithal in Clothing.jpeg

To which I would reply: Yes, technically you can make clothing for your custom avatar in HiFi (if you have the skills), but there is still no default, dressable avatar for which you can buy clothing from the marketplace, like you already can in both Sinespace and Sansar. Note that I am making a specific distinction between actual avatar clothing that conforms to your body and the simpler avatar attachments (such as hats and wings) currently offered at the in-world stores in High Fidelity.

Second Update: It turns out that Windows Mixed Reality headsets will work with any SteamVR-compatible virtual world. High Fidelity users report they can use their Windows MR headsets to navigate very well in HiFi.