Pluto VR is a software product by a small Seattle-based company that has a distinctly different take on social VR: it’s a dashboard app that you load while you are running another SteamVR program. Last year they raised almost $14 million in funding. Here’s a picture from that report, showing three avatars from the perspective of one who is in Paris within the Google Earth VR software program.
Now, there are still some limitations. You can see other people and talk to them while you’re in a SteamVR program, but they can’t see what you’re seeing (in other words, the other two avatars can’t see Paris). You can only see the head and the hands of the other avatars, and you can talk to each other.
Here’s a few questions and answers from their FAQ:
How do I use Pluto once it’s running?
Pluto runs as a dashboard app, which means if you open the SteamVR dashboard you will see our icon along the bottom of the SteamVR dashboard. Select it and you can interact with Pluto to call your contacts. If you receive a call the dashboard will open automatically, and show you Pluto’s UI.
Can people I’m talking to see what I see?
Not yet. Several organizations including Pluto are actively developing technology to let people see more of what each other is doing. In the meantime, Pluto gives you the ability to see and hear each other no matter what app each of you are currently using.
What can we see about each other?
You are able to see the heads and hands of those you are talking to (if their motion controllers are on). We currently limit what we show based on the tracking information that most people have.
Here’s a YouTube video that probably describes Pluto VR better than I could. Notice that, at the beginning of the video, one avatar is in Google Earth and the other is in Tilt Brush, but each cannot see what the other sees. (One avatar did send the other one a screenshot of their Tilt Brush creation, though.) At the end of the video, there is a sort of weird mashup of Pluto VR and Rec Room, where it wasn’t clear to me whether or not each avatar could actually see what the others were doing. (And, if you’re all playing together in Rec Room, why would you use Pluto VR anyway?)
Question: What happens when you use Pluto VR as a social VR overlay in a social VR app on SteamVR, like VRChat? Would it be like when John Malkovich enters the portal into his own head in the movie Being John Malkovich? 😉
This first-of-its-kind collaboration goes above and beyond what traditional two-dimensional chat and streaming allow, and will give gamers a deeper way to connect and communicate – enabling fans to interact one-on-one with popular players and personalities, stream matches in virtual watchspaces created by their favorite teams, and show their support through exclusive branded merchandise.
Sansar’s latest offering arrives right as the global demand for esports reaches a new peak, and while teams everywhere face increased pressure to deliver memorable fan experiences, VR has remained noticeably absent from the broader conversation – until now.
Sansar offers esports fans an immersive, interactive viewing experience on par with a real-life event – complete with virtual photo opps, meet-and-greets, and exclusive giveaways. Fans can use Sansar on both PC and VR to connect in their team’s branded virtual watch space, tune into live stream matches, and buy custom skins and merch. Other features coming soon include real-time stats integration, in-match player audio sharing, and more.
“We’ve seen a real need in the esports market for a deeper, more engaging fan experience – something that can go beyond normal spectatorship to really draw people in,” said Ebbe Altberg, CEO at Linden Lab. “We feel social VR is perfectly poised to meet this need, and we’re thrilled to find forward-thinking esports partners that feel the same – trailblazing teams that recognize VR’s potential and are willing to evolve and innovate to deliver world-class experiences. Their investments in Sansar are investments in their communities.”
Now, I am not an esports expert, and frankly, I’ve never heard of the Overwatch League before today. (Why, yes, I do happen to live under a rock! Excuse me while I take a swig of Geritol and shake my cane at those darn kids on my lawn!) Here’s an introduction to Overwatch, which is apparently a very popular video game:
Linden Lab’s Sansar announces partnerships with multiple Overwatch League teams.
Houston Outlaws and San Francisco Shock will help to create virtual watch spaces where fans can interact with players and personalities.
Sansar’s future esports integration will include real-time match stats, and in-match player audio sharing.
Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life, has decided to deliver virtual reality experiences to esports fans. It will partner with multiple teams in the Overwatch League to build virtual watchspaces through their VR social media platform, Sansar.
In the announcement, it was stated that the Houston Outlaws will name its virtual clubhouse “The Hideout,” while the San Francisco Shock will have a VR arena called the “Epicenter.” With both spaces, fans will be able to buy custom team-themed skins and merch for their Sansar avatars. Both OWL teams will open their virtual hangouts with real-life launch parties in their home cities.
My ears did prick up at the mention of “skins”. We’ve been waiting for custom skins for Sansar avatars for a while now. Could that be coming soon?
Theanine gave me a heads up on Twitter about a new social VR space called Somnium Space, so I went over to their website to download the beta software and try it out. (I think “Somnium Space” is a very strange choice for the name of a virtual world; it sounds like a sleeping pill!)
In the email message I received once I signed up, it stated that Somnium Space was in open beta:
According to their website, they plan to offer support for all the major platforms: Android App, Daydream, GearVR, Desktop VR (Vive and Oculus), and a PC Client. Right now there’s just a VR client for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets.
Setting up your avatar is pretty straightforward. It’s basically the same as the Oculus Home avatar, just a head and shoulders, which you can tint any colour you want:
I did have a chance to wander around a bit in their first city, called Waypoint. There’s a cinema, a shopping mall (more of a mock-up than a true retail setting), and a working bowling alley. There were helpful signs posted at the spawn point, that explained how to use the Vive and Rift Controller buttons to move around and turn.
I had difficulty getting some good screen shots, because there didn’t seem to be a snapshot feature in the VR client software, and there didn’t seem to be any desktop mode yet. So I had to hold up my VR headset in one hand, and grab a screenshot with SnagIt with the other from what I could see in my VR headset reflected on my monitor! Here’s the Arcade Hall where the bowling alley is located.
As I have said before, the social VR space is getting very, very crowded! Here’s another product to keep an eye on.
Oculus Go is the VR headset we’ve all been waiting for: fully self-contained. It’s super clichéd to say a product is the “iPhone of [product category],” but the Oculus Go really is.
It’s the only VR headset that provides a good VR experience without the complexities of configuring a smartphone or PC. It’s not the most cutting-edge VR headset— that’ll always be reserved for PC VR headsets — but it’s the most frictionless way to dive into the virtual world. Oculus Go is the first VR headset you can casually pick up and use without needing to set time aside for setup.
Standalone VR headsets are the future. They’re the “sweet spot” as Zuckerberg also said at Oculus Connect. Oculus Go is an important stepping stone towards more powerful standalone VR headsets, like Facebook’s own Santa Cruz VR headset, that’ll inch us closer towards a Holodeck.
The Oculus Go is the VR headset that’ll help mainstream VR. It may still be another few more years, but this is the one that changes everything.
The Oculus Go features over 1,000 VR games, social apps, and 360° experiences at launch, including the social VR spaces vTime and AltspaceVR. (Surprisingly, Facebook Spaces is not among them.) It makes sense that social VR apps that lock you into one place (like vTime) or which have very basic avatars (like AltspaceVR) would be usable in Oculus Go. If Oculus Go becomes very popular, as it might, these social VR platforms may indeed have an advantage over those which require a full-blown VR headset and a higher-end computer, such as Sansar or High Fidelity.
One social VR platform on the Oculus Go that most impressed Raymond was Oculus Rooms:
My favorite VR experience for the Go is Oculus Rooms 2.0. First launched on Rift and Gear VR, the updated Rooms is like virtual hangout for you and your friends to chill in.
There are three main sections of Rooms: A “Media Area” with a giant screen where you can watch videos and view media content, a “Games Table” where you can play various games like matching cards and Reversi (more games like Boggle, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit are coming from Hasbro later), and “Your Room” where you can decorate your space by customizing things like your furniture textures, the photos on your walls, and the scene out the virtual window.
The Rooms experience isn’t photo-realistic by any means, but it’s the best showcase of social VR. Here, inside of this virtual room, you can invite your friends from anywhere in the world to come and watch a video with you. Or watch a video, while playing mini games. Or just hang out and have a conversation.
I thought it would be stupid at first, but it’s one of the most natural things I’ve ever done in VR. And even though it’s nowhere near as full-featured as Facebook Spaces for the Oculus Rift, it’s still pretty damn fun to chill in even if you’re not doing anything but kicking back and watching a video.
Rooms is the first thing I showed people when I handed them Oculus Go, and it never failed to blow them away. Even friends who were extremely skeptical of VR or had written it off as a fad were impressed. Rooms is to Oculus Go the way Wii Sports was to the Wii — it’ll hook you instantly.
The headset’s Oculus Rooms feature allows me to create my own social space for my family and friends in virtual reality. I can sit and chat with them, via pretty little avatars. We can share home movies and photos by linking our phones to the headset. We can watch movies together. We can play basic parlor games. It feels like a natural and useful implementation of virtual reality, and it’s powered by a $200 stand-alone headset. This is an actual place where I want to spend time.
And the Polygon writer, Colin Campbell, adds this interesting note about why Oculus Rooms is not available for the Oculus Rift headset:
One irritating aspect of Oculus Go’s launch is that core social function Oculus Rooms won’t be available for Rift. We asked a spokesperson why Rift owners are being left out, and received the following statement.
“Rift users can use Facebook Spaces to make their VR experience a more social one. Facebook Spaces is designed to take full advantage of PC VR platforms to power social experiences, while Oculus Rooms is designed to help people connect with friends and family on lower-compute mobile VR devices. It’s great to have different kinds of social experiences on different platforms because it’s still early days for VR, and it helps us learn while giving people a variety of ways to interact.”
As a Rift owner who doesn’t use Facebook, I find this disappointing. But if Go is a commercial success, maybe the company will find a way to allow Rooms and Facebook Spaces to live together across its portfolio of devices.
One of the problems in getting many existing social VR software clients to run on the Oculus Go is that their programs need to be made to run in as little storage as possible. (For example, the Sansar client uses tens of gigabytes of memory storage for caching experiences you visit, so they will load more quickly the next time you come back.) There’s only 32GB (or 64GB if you buy the upgraded version) of total program storage on the Oculus Go:
Oculus was generous enough to give me pre-release access to the Oculus Store, so I went kind of crazy downloading and installing as many different apps as my 32GB headset could hold.
Most VR apps are around 500-700MB, and 3D games usually clocked in at no more than 5GB. Just something to keep in mind if you’re deciding between the 32GB and 64GB Oculus Go. If you’re planning on playing a lot of 3D games, I recommend going with the higher storage model because there’s no adding more later.
The bigger problem is that high-quality social VR requires a very high rate of data transfer (that cord tethering your Oculus Rift to your PC is there for a reason!). It’s highly doubtful that you would be able to achieve that same high data transfer rate on the Oculus Go. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive rely on higher-end gaming machines with powerful integrated graphics cards to be able to deliver the necessary 90 frames per second performance so you don’t get sick in VR.
That being said, and ignorant as I am of the other technical challenges that face those who want to port existing social VR platforms to the Oculus Go, I’d love to hear what others have to say. What do you think are the major obstacles in bringing programs like Sansar, High Fidelity, Sinespace or VRChat to the Oculus Go and similar all-in-one VR headsets?