Search Results for: direct manipulation

Where do we fit?

computer-dimensions

There are many ways by which to categorize work in Virtual Reality: by feature set, market, etc. Here are some of the dimensions by which I view the fun in VR, and where High Fidelity fits in.  To a first-order approximation, these axes are independent of each other. It gets more interesting to see how they are related, but, first the basics.

Scope of Worlds: How do you count VRs?

As I look at existing and developing products for virtual worlds, I see different kinds of cyberspaces. They can be designed around one conceptual place with consistent behavior, as exemplified by social environments like Second Life or large-scale MMORGs like World of Warcraft. Or they can replicate a single small identical meeting space or game environment, or some finite set of company-defined spaces. Like my previous work with Croquet, High Fidelity is a “metaverse” — a network in which anyone can put up a server and define their own space with their own behavior, much like a Web site. People can go from one space to another (like links on the Web), taking their identity with them. Each domain can handle miles of virtual territory and be servered from one or more computers depending on load. Domains could be “side by side” to form larger contiguous spaces, although no one has done so yet.

Scope of Market: How do you sell VRs?

Many see early consumer VR as a sustaining technology for games, with the usual game categories of FPS, platformers, builders, etc. The general idea is that gaming is a large market that companies know how to reach. Successfull games create a feeling of immersion for their devotees, and VR will deepen that experience.

An emerging area is in providing experiences, such as a concert, trip, or you-are-there story.

Others see immersion and direct-manipulation UI as providing unique opportunities for teaching, learning, and training, or for meetings and events. (The latter might for playing or for working.)

Some make tools and platforms with which developers can create such products.

High Fidelity makes an open source platform, and will host services for goods, discovery, and identity.

Scope of Technology: How do you make and populate VRs?

Software:

By now it looks like most development environments provide game-like 3D graphics, some form of scripting (writing behavior as programs), and built-in physics (objects fall and bounce and block other objects). Some (including High Fidelity and even some self-contained packaged games) let users add and edit objects and behaviors while within the world itself. Often these can then be saved and shared with other users.

A major technical differentiator is whether or not the environments are for one person or many, and how they can interact. For example, some allow small numbers of people on the Internet to see each other in the same “space” and talk by voice, but without physical interaction between their avatars. Others allow one user to, e.g., throw an object to a single other user, but only on a local network in the same physical building. High Fidelity already allows scores of users to interact over the Internet, with voice and physics.

Hardware:

Even Low-end Head Mounted Displays can tell which way your head is turned, and the apps rotate your point of view to match. Often these use your existing phone, and the incremental cost beyond that is below $100. However, they don’t update fast enough to keep the image aligned with your head as it moves, resulting in nausea for most folks. The screen is divided in two for separate viewpoints on each eye, giving a 3-dimensional result, but at only half the resolution of your phone. High-end HMDs have more resolution, a refresh rate of at least 75Hz, and optical tracking of your head position (in addition to rotation), as you move around a small physical space. Currently, high-end HMDs connect to a computer with clunky wires (because wireless isn’t fast enough), and are expected to cost several hundred dollars. High fidelity works with conventional 2D computer displays, 3D computer displays, and head-mounted displays, but we’re really focusing the experience on high end HMDs. We’re open source, and work with the major HMD protocols.

A mouse provides just 2 degrees of free motion: x and y, plus the buttons on the mouse and computer. Game controllers usually have two x-y controllers and several buttons. The state of the art for VR is high frequency sensors that track either hand controllers in 3-position + 3-rotation Degrees Of Freedom (for each hand), or each individual finger. Currently, the finger sensors are not very precise. High Fidelity works with all of these, but see the next section.

Capture:

One way to populate a VR scene is to construct 3D models and animated characters using the modeling tools that have been developed for Computer Aided Design and Computer Generated movies. This provides a lot of control, but requires specialized skills and talent.

There is now pretty good camera/software apps for capturing real scenes in 3D and bringing them into VR as set-dressing. Some use multiple cameras to capture all directions at once in a moving scene, to produce what is called “cinematic VR” experiences. Others sweep a single camera around a still scene and stitch together the result as a 3D model. There are related tools being developed for capturing people.

Scope of Object Scale: What do you do in VRs?

The controllers used by most games work best for coarse motion control of an avatar — you can move through a building, between platforms, or guide a vehicle. It is very difficult to manipulate small objects. Outside of games, this building-scale scope is well-suited to see-but-don’t-touch virtual museums.

In the early virtual world Second Life, users can and do construct elaborate buildings, vehicles, furniture, tools, and other artifacts, but it is very difficult to do so with a mouse and keyboard. At High Fidelity, we find that by using two 6-DoF high-resolution/high-frequency hand controllers, manipulating more human-scaled objects becomes a delight. Oculus‘ “toy box” demonstration and HTC’s upcoming Modbox show the kinds of things that can be done.

Interdimensional conflicts:

These different axes play against each other in some subtle ways. For example:

  • Low-end HMD would seem to be an obvious extension of the game market, but the resolution and stereo make some game graphics techniques worse in VR than on desktop or consoles. The typical game emphasis on avatar movement may accentuate nausea.
  • High-end hand controllers make the physics of small objects a delightful first-person experience, but it’s profoundly better still when you can play Jenga with someone else on the Internet, which depends on software design limitations. (See October ’15 video at 47 seconds.)
  • Game controllers provide only enough input to show avatar motion using artist-produced animations. But 18-DoF (in two-hand-controllers plus high-end HMD) provide enough info to compute realistic skeletal motions of the whole body, even producing enough info to infer the motion of the hips and knees that do not have sensors on them. (See October ’15 video at 35 seconds.) This is called whole-body-Inverse-Kinematics. High Fidelity can smoothly combine artist-animation (for walking with a hand-controller joystick), with whole-body-IK (for waving with your hand controller while you are walking).
  • These new capabilities allow for things that people just couldn’t do at all before, as well as simplifying things that they could not do easily. This opens up unchartered territory and untested markets.

Notice that all the mentioned interactions depend on The Scope of Object Scale (above), which isn’t often discussed in the media. It will be interesting to see how the different dimensions of VR play against each other to produce a consistent experience that really works for people.


 

A word about Augmented Reality: I think augmented reality — in which some form of VR is layered over our real physical experience — will be much bigger than VR itself. However, I feel that there’s so much still to be worked out for VR along the above dimensions and more, that it becomes difficult to make testable statements about AR. Stay tuned…

Of CDNs, Netflix, Net Neutrality, and Cable Fu#$@!ery.

I keep seeing a steady stream of articles that basically go through the following analysis:
1. ‘Net Neutrality is about treating all bits equally.’
2. ‘The Internet has never done this. Particularly we have this thing called ‘content delivery networks’ or ‘CDNs,’ that have been a vital part of moving content around the Internet for over 15 years. CDNs are awesome and wonderful and the Internet couldn’t work without them or other means of moving content around and stuff.
3. All that fuss about Netflix and Comcast (and Verizon and other carriers) is just about CDN stuff and Netflix not wanting to pay money it really ought to pay Comcast because, well, CDNs.
4. Don’t you feel silly now about that whole silly Net Neutrality thing, silly ignorant person?
This piece from Wired by Robert McMillan called “What Everyone Gets Wrong About Network Neutrality” that a bunch of folks seem to have gone all swoony over is rather typical of the genre, but you can find other examples readily enough like this piece from Geoff Manne or this one from Brendan Sasso.
There are a bunch of problems with this analysis. Notably:
1. As demonstrated by this op ed raising similar arguments in 2010, content delivery networks (CDNs) and other ways in which the Internet does not “treat all bits equally” are not some fantastic new discovery that no one in the network neutrality movement has figured out. We all know about CDNs and other forms of prioritization imbedded in the network.
2. This does not violate network neutrality because network neutrality is not about “treating all bits the same” or other dumb ass strawman type arguments the anti-network neutrality folks would like this to be about. This takes a basic high-level description that people use to illustrate the basic concept of network neutrality, and confuses it for the more sophisticated application of the principle. It’s like claiming that we can’t possibly have laws against race or sex discrimination in the workplace because “equal pay for equal work” means “pay everyone exactly the same wage all the time for every single job everywhere” and then arguing how rigid application of “equal pay for equal work” ignores things like cost of living in your local area and would prevent merit pay raises.
3. The actual idea behind network neutrality is that last-mile ISPs, like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T or even scrappy little uncarriers like T-Mobile who are trying to give you something free rather than leverage market power should not pick winners and losers by using their unique position as the access provider to the Internet to favor one application or service over another.
Or, stated more simply, John Oliver is right. What we mean by “Network Neutrality” is “stop cable f#@!ery.” How things like the Comcast/Netflix fight and CDNs fit into this broader concept of “stop cable f#@!ery” or — for polite company — “network neutrality” has been covered fairly effectively by Tim Lee over at Vox, and Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOm. As to whether the Netflix/Comcast business fits into the existing network neutrality rules or needs to be handled as a potentially different sort of “cable f#@!ery” called “interconnection f#@!ery” (assuming we decide Comcast was wrong in the first place, a public policy question that remains unresolved at the moment pending more information), you can see conflicting views on that between myself and my friend Marvin Ammori.
Below, I demonstrate the fallacy of this “if you all just understood about CDNs and stuff you wouldn’t want this silly network neutrality’ thing” by comparing it with the two cases we’ve actually used the FCC to enforce network neutrality, Comcast/BitTorrent and AT&T/Facetime. I will then briefly touch on the ‘where does Comcast/Netflix’ fit in all this.

Why Did The White House Support Reallocating D Block? It’s Smart Politics.

The announcement that the White House that it would support reallocating the D Block – the 10 MHz of spectrum left over from big broadcast band auction of 2008 (the 700 MHz Auction) – to public safety use rather than auction it for commercial use defies conventional wisdom on two fronts. First, the National Broadband Plan called for an auction of D block to commercial providers as a means of providing critical spectrum for broadband, using the revenue to fund the construction of the public safety network, and giving public safety access to the rest of the 700 MHz band. Given that the Administration generally supported the FCC’s assessment that we have a looming “spectrum crisis” (although they took no position, until now, on D Block), why pull 10 MHz of prime spectrum ready for auction out of contention? Second, conventional wisdom holds that because of deficit concerns, lust for auction revenue will drive spectrum policy. But the White House not only endorses taking prime spectrum off the market, it wants to spend additionally billions on public safety infrastructure (under the FCC’s original plan, the auction of D Block would fund the build out of an interoperable national public safety network). So what happened?

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Leased Access Reform Hits A Major Speed Bump.

I had hoped to be able to tell all my friends at the National Conference on Media Reform in the beginning of June about the fantastic opportunity to put independent progressive programming, minority-oriented programming, and local programming on cable when the new rates and improved rules for cable leased access became effective June 1. Unfortunately, due to a decision by the Federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit granting the cable request for a stay pending resolution of the challenges to the rules, that won’t happen. While not a total loss (the Sixth Circuit rejected the NCTA’s motion to transfer the case to the D.C. Circuit) and not preventing programmers from trying to take advantage of leased access now, this is a serious bummer for a lot of reasons — not the least of which is the anticipated crowing by the cable guys (ah well, we all endure our share of professional hazards).

But mostly, I am disappointed that the cable operators will continue to withold the real rates under the new formula. As part of the stay request to the FCC (and subsequently to the 6th Cir.), the cable operators had submitted affidavits claiming that under the leased access rate formula adopted by the Commission, the new rate would be FREE!!! and they would have to drop C-Span and any other programming you like as a result. Since the cable operators always claim that the impact of any regulation is that they will need to charge higher rates, drop C-Span, stop deploying broadband, etc., etc., I am not terribly inclined to believe them this time and had looked forward to either their releasing real rates or putting programmers on for free. But since cable operators uniformly refuse to make the new rates available before the new rules go into effect (another reason I disbelieve the “the rate will be zero” claim), and because they control all the information relevant to the rate calculation, I can’t actually prove they are blowing smoke. Now it looks like we will have to win the court case (which will likely take a year or more) before we find out the real leased access rates.

Mind you, leased access had already hit a few roadblocks, owing to the inexplicable delay in sending the rules to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Although the rules were approved in November ’07, released on February 1, 2008, and published in Fed Reg on February 28, the order was not sent to OMB for the mandatory review under the Paperwork Reduction Act until April 28. I might almost think the cable folks in the Bureau were less than enthusiastic about supporting leased access reform. OTOH, since it also took the broadcast enhanced disclosure rules a a few months to get to OMB, it may just be the natural slowness of the process. After all, by federal law, the carrier pigeons used to take the text in little scraps from FCC across town to OMB can fly no more than two flights a day.

But to return to the critical point, what does the court ruling mean for leased access reform and the hope that local programmers, progressive programmers, minority programmers and others could have an effective means of routing around the cable stranglehold on programming?

See below . . . .

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Did Morgan OBrien and Cyren Call Kill Frontline?

I’m getting a number of folks from different walks of life coming forward with the same story: Morgan O’Brien was the direct cause of Frontline’s investors pulling out.

Of course, there is no way I can actually confirm this on the record because the people in the room either can’t talk about it (due to the anticollusion rules) or won’t. Nevertheless, having confirmed this with sources I find reliable and who could not have coordinated with each other, I feel I need to come forward here and put this on the table. D Block and the public safety partnership are far too important to end up falling victim to the combination of insider baseball, manipulation and greed that appears at play here.

I have absolutely not talked to anyone at the FCC about this. No one at the FCC can legally respond to any of this, and I would not ask them to do so. Similarly, in my discussions, I have been at pains to avoid any conflict with the anticollusion rules. Nevertheless, the sources I have are, I believe, reliable, and I have therefore made a decision to go forward with this story. I must also add that because I am on sabbatical, I have not had any discussions about this with my employer, Media Access Project, or with anyone at Media Access Project while developing this story.

Details below . . . .

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i finger gadgets

Damn, I thought I had found a Christmas gift for my wife that was not a gadget. You may love a gadget. You may tell your friends. You may keep using it for a year. Or not. But to me, a gadget is defined as something you don’t immediately replace when it’s lost. Gadgets aren’t game-changers that permanently alter how you live.

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My Impossibly Long Field Guide for the 700 MHz Auction (It's Really Important, Even If You Haven't Heard About It Much In The Main Stream Media)

Few events in the wireless world matter so much, yet get so little coverage, as the upcomming 700 MHz wireless auction. Why? Because they’re hard, and the mainstream media (MSM to us “bloggers”) are afraid you will get all confuzzled and bored. Besides, isn’t non-stop coverage of Anna Nichole Smith more satisfying? (Hint: She’s still dead.)

Small wonder that even if you are in the minority of folks who have heard about the “digital television transition” and the “return of the analog spectrum,” you have not heard about the huge policy fights over how to auction off the single most important block of spectrum for the foreseeable future. Which is, of course, how the big carriers like it.

You can find a pretty good 12-page summary prepared by some investment analysts over here. But, being the highly-opinionated public advocate and believer in democracy that I am, I also provide a hopefully helpful guide for de-mystifying the swirl of players and activity attracted to the distribution of this multi-billion dollar block of spectrum licenses. Issues include network neutrality, open access, wireless competition, the future of broadband competition, and a whole lot of public safety stuff. It includes a cast of thousands from Frontline to Cyren Call to the Ad Hoc Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (I thought up the name myself! O.K., I was in a rush . . . .) and an army of incumbents that like the universe just the way it is, thank you and do not look kindly on those of us trying to shake things up.

I warn you, this is extremely long (13 pages, I probably should have broken it up into more than one post), and complicated, and all that stuff that mainstream media figures your pretty lil’ heads can’t handle without getting all confuzzled. So, if ye be readers of courage, willing to risk getting all confuzzled and thinking about how our wireless and broadband future will unflold for the next 10-15 years, read on! Or you can go back to Google News and plug in “Anna Nichole Smith” (yup, still dead).

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