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Microsoft Motion Controllers – Unboxing and first look

Hooray, I just got my Microsoft Motion Controllers, to pair with my Acer “MixedReality” headset (which can’t actually do MR in any way). See my review here and here.

So, Are they any good?

Short Answer

Tracking is superb. Build quality is horrible.

Long Answer

I received two controllers in a plain cardboard box devoid or any marking, text or symbols.

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The box contains two controllers and two pairs of AA batteries, and nothing else.
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Put in the batteries, hold the Windows button to turn on, and pesto. The first surprise. It uses white visible light LED. For some reason I thought these would be IR.

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Moving on to the software, running Mixed Reality Portal greeted me with this screen:

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After a bit of digging around I found that the battery compartment hides a secret button, holding it down for a few seconds puts in the controller into pairing mode. You’ll need a Bluetooth capable computer (dongle not included). What isn’t documented anywhere is that the pass code is 0000. Yeah, I guessed it. On my third attempt.

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The Good Part

The tracking is surprisingly good. It’s really spot-on, HTC vive quality, as long as the controller is within view of the headset cameras. The FOV is 180 degrees horizontal but only about 100 degrees vertical. In fact, when moving up, the controller will sometimes lose tracking while it’s still in the headset virtual view (because the cameras are tilted down).

When the controller is outside the camera view, it will freeze in position but will still track orientation.

There is a slight lag in this video, but that lag is only in the screen display. The headset view is lag-free.

 

The Bad Part

The build quality is.. how to put it gently.. cheap-plasticy-chinese-knockoff kind of quality. Here, watch this:

 

Trigger: It’s binary but offers no click, no resistance, no feedback when you press it. It feels like a $5 RC car controller

Touchpad: Up, down, left and right all have a different “clickiness” to them. Different sound, different feel, different pressure required to trigger. UP is very “clicky”, DOWN barely registers.

Thumb stick: Movement is OK, but also has a cheap feel to it. Clicking on it generates this nasty grinding sensation (clearly audible in the video). Both of my controllers exhibit this problem, but one is much more pronounced than the other. It really is horrible.

Buttons: The main “windows” button and the side button are both fine, but the smaller menu button doesn’t register any click sensation or noise. It also doesn’t do anything in the Mixed Reality Portal. I’m not sure if it’s just broken (on both controllers), or if it’s designed to be a “silent” button, or what. Actually, I don’t care. It’s terrible as well.

Conclusion

I was genuinely surprised how well the controllers track in space, and the headset tracking has also improved since I last tried it. It seems the latest Windows update has refined the tracking algorithms. When moving the controller sideways and down you can to reach pretty far before it loses tracking. Moving it up is problematic, as it goes out of camera view before it even leaves your virtual view.

The build quality is well below the standard I was expecting, and on par with cheap knockoff XBOX controllers.

About the author

Shachar “Vice” Weis is a software developer freelancer and the CTO / Founder of Packet39.com, a software house that builds custom VR applications for the manufacturing and power industry.

How to troll Google Maps on a national level

If you happen to look at Israel on Google maps, on Yom Kippur, you would notice something interesting. The entire country is red with traffic. These are no ordinary traffic jams.

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So what is going on? Something weird happens on Yum Kippur in Israel. For 24 hours, from dusk to dusk, nobody drives. The religious and atheists alike take a break from their cars. The roads and highways are empty and everyone takes to the streets. You’ll see kids biking on deserted highways, people just hanging out in the middle of an intersection. It feels post-apocalyptic and it’s amazing. The silence hits you like a wall.

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Of course many of these people have cellphones, and none of them are moving very fast, hence, Google thinks it’s a country-spanning traffic jam. And that’s how you troll Google maps in style. I wish every country would adopt this tradition.

Hell, I would make it a monthly event.

 

Scientifically (in)accurate crane simulator

My company (Packet39.com) is working a lot with the manufacturing and power industry. I wanted to see how I can take a physical controller and bring it into the VR environment. For simplicity, I went with a Throttle Qudrant joystick , often used for flight simulators. I modeled the joystick and mapped it 1:1 with the real device.

 

And then VR’ed the whole thing. It’s surprisingly fun. I’m going to demo this at Manufacturing Matters next month.

VR for Industry

Geiger Counter

Training and testing on the usage of a hand-held radiation detector.

This is a pilot project for the nuclear power plant in Pickering, Ontario. An operator places a virtual radiation source on the table and the trainee has to find it. Only the operator can see the source on screen. In VR, this test can be conducted in an office or even at home, without expensive equipment and without exposing trainees to a radiation source.

Crane Demo

This is a demo of combining a virtual device (the crane) with a real-life controller (the levers). The user can see the levers in VR and operate the controller with their hands. The virtual and physical controllers are mapped 1:1 (position and scale). It is also possible to show the user’s hands in VR, for easier orientation.

Audio Testing Room

This was is a test developed for the audiology department at the University of Western Ontario. A user is presented with a VR room that includes several audio sources. The sources can be moved in 3D space and their volume / reach adjusted. This VR setup could potentially replace audio testing rooms, which have dozens of custom speakers and cost upwards of $100k.

Final Thoughts about the MS/Acer VR headset (I refuse to call it Mixed Reality)

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About a week ago I got an Microsoft / Acer VR headset, which MS insists on called “Mixed Reality”. I reviewed it, I took it apart. I made some tests in Unity3D. I emailed MS support. Here are my final thoughts:

Price

It’s cheap. Currently priced at $300. While a few weeks ago I would have considered this incredibly cheap, in light of the Rift’s recent price cut, the cheapness factor has diminished somewhat.

Comfort

The unit is light (which is good) but feels really cheaply constructed. The strap is minimalistic and not very comfortable, consisting almost entirely of hard injection molded plastic. The forehead rest has some cushioning, thank goodness.

Display

The resolution is great, sharp image with lots of detail that just pops right at you. Screen door effect is still there though. It’s hard to compare it to the Rift or Vive. I feel that it’s less pronounced, but that’s entirely subjective. The optics and field-of-view are noticeably inferior to Vive/Rift, with the Acer having a smaller “sweet spot”, lots of blurriness in the borders and a distinct “tunnel vision” effect.

Setup

There is almost none, which is fantastic. The headset plugs into the computer and that’s it. There are no cameras or lighthouses to install. It doesn’t even require external power. The minimal spec is very low, but I haven’t tested how well it functions on a low-end system. I suspect the experience will be greatly diminished.

Tracking

Tracking is good, not as good as the Vive (it’s a bit jittery), but better than any mobile VR headset. Positional tracking is solid. Interestingly, the headset doesn’t function in the dark. Turn off the lights and it will lose tracking.

Content 

There is none. I found a demo for the Hololens, and that’s about it. You can “inject” regular 2D UWP apps into your 3D virtual space, as floating screens. While this is really cool to have on a Hololens, I don’t see the point of doing it in VR. Some people might find a use for this feature, to me it’s not very alluring. The display resolution is good, but not good enough to read small text and certainly not as good as my 4K monitor. Also, normal “desktop” software can’t be injected, which rules out 99% of the apps I normally use.

Mixed Reality

Unlike the Hololens, these new “MR” headsets do not have 3D cameras and do not map the environment around them. Furthermore, the two cameras on the front are used for tracking and nothing else. They are not currently accessible via the SDK, and there is no way to get a video feed from them. This is confirmed by a MS rep over email.
Microsoft is pushing new terminology of a “mixed reality spectrum”, it’s just that these headsets are waaaay over on the VR side of things. They “mix” 0% real and 100% virtual. Honestly, I’m disappointed. I was hoping for some kind of poor-man’s Hololens, but it’s really not. If the Acer is a MR headset, then by the same logic so is this:

Development

The Acer headsets requires Unity 2017.2 Beta to build and run custom apps. No other version will work. Being a beta, 2017.2 is very unstable and can be frustrating to work with. I spent a few hours making a simple “hello world” app, consisting of a few floating textured cubes, and I had to restart my system twice. The headset stopped responding completely after the first build attempt. The second time I got a very weird “double vision” effect, where my app was visible twice inside the VR world, one in front and another in the back. I can’t explain that one, because it didn’t happen again after a restart.
Overall it works, but it’s finicky and unstable at the moment.

UWP

Being Microsoft, the headset will only run UWP apps. For anyone hoping for an OpenVR bridge or driver, this is a problem. UWP is all about layering, security and sandboxing. It might be very tricky to convince this headset to run OpenVR or SteamVR applications.
EDIT:
MS announced that these new headsets will support SteamVR, however, this will not happen at launch (Fall 2017). Work on this has just begun, and there is no release date yet.

Conclusion

I love the simplicity of this device, the ease of setup and the display resolution. I don’t like the optics and being stuck with UWP (for now?). I intend on using mine as a mobile demo tool, at least for the time being.
Is it worth buying? I don’t think so. Not yet anyway. For an extra $100 you could get an Oculus Rift, with two controllers and a lot of supported content, apps and games.

 

 

 

Teardown of the Acer / Microsoft “Mixed Reality” VR headset

I wanted to see whats inside the new Acer VR headset that my company (Packet39) received a few days ago. So I took it apart and documented the process.

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Velcro comes off, then 6 small screws. Then the plastic “face cover” detaches, and the headband with it.

 

 

 

The two lens holders (or maybe protectors, as they don’t actually hold anything) pop off. Four more screws and then another plastic cover comes off (not easily though).

 

 

 

Now the IR proximity sensor and audio jack are exposed.

 

 

 

One more screw and the audio jack comes out.

 

 

 

Four additional screws and the LCD+lenses module comes off. I didn’t open that one, because they are usually hermetically sealed and I don’t have a clean room to put it back together. The LCD module is connected to the main board by two ribbon cables, and the IR sensor is the third.

 

 

 

Back side of the main board, and the QR code / serial number.

 

 

 

 

The two cameras, each have their own ribbon cable and a fancy cable protector. I peel off the shielding but there is no label on the camera itself. Sadly, I still have no idea what kind of cameras these are. Each camera has a flat and flexible heatsink glued to the back, that extends to the sides of the headset.

 

 

 

There is nothing else in the headset, no additional sensors or emitters.

 

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Here is the front side of the main board, with some closeups on the chip numbers. I haven’t looked these up yet, if you know what they do please comment on this blog post.

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Everything was put back together in reverse order without much difficulty. Headset still works, so great success. I hope you find this useful.