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Supermedium v2

v2 update and a roundup of the last two weeks

We've shipped a v2 update to Supermedium! We've been hard at work the last two weeks, ushering and fixing existing WebVR content as well as improving the browser itself. Here's a roundup what's entailed in the update and what's happened in the last two weeks.

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Download Supermedium V2

Upgrading to v2

The most reliable way is to download the new installer and run it to upgrade.

There are automatic updates set up, but we found some machines had trouble unless we Run as Adminstrator for Supermedium. In this case, start Supermedium as adminstrator, wait 20 seconds or so, close it, re-run it as adminstrator, and Supermedium should update itself. We've shipped an update in v2 to improve the update process to not need administrator privileges for some machines.

Release Notes

Here's what's included in the browser update, not counting changes to the Supermedium home space:

  • Improved loading times for VR sites (1.5x to 2.0x faster!).
  • Less time spent in the SteamVR and Oculus loading screens. We now remain in the home space until the VR site is truly done loading and is ready.
  • Less error messages about sites taking a long time to load for long-loading VR sites as a result of the two above improvements.
  • Hands now start tracking immediately upon launch versus requiring button press.
  • Changes to better accommodate large (and future) VR content portals.
  • Users no longer need to configure High-Performance Settings for NVIDIA Optimus cards.
  • Workarounds to accommodate existing VR sites that have quirks (i.e., sites that sniff user agents, reload themselves).
  • Added some support for Windows Mixed Reality to go back to the home space by holding the menu button. Not calling it official support yet as many VR sites don't support the controllers (we may polyfill it for them), and people need to go through SteamVR for them to work.

Home Space Improvements

We don't really have a name for the home screen with all the links to the sites yet. We just call it "the lobby" within the team, but let's just call it "home space" for now! The home space is a VR site in itself and is built with A-Frame, and we update it continually without the need to update the browser. Here are some changes we've made over the last couple weeks, taking into account feedback from users and from giving live demos at Y Combinator dinners:

  • Added newest and featured sections. We link to new featured content as we find them so this provides an easy way to see what's new.
  • Highlight non-visited VR sites. Sort of like the old purple color for visited links of Web's past. This makes it easier to see what you've already visited versus what's new.
  • Added cursor toggling to only have one cursor at a time based on which controller last pressed any button. Before we had two cursors at all times, then we had logic to toggle off based on last intersected which was clunky. Before, new users would often try to interact with the all of links by pointing with both hands at once.
  • Improved pose reset. The v2 of the WebVR API removed the .resetPose() API such that applications need to handle that themselves. Whenever you we return from a VR site back to the home space, we try to re-orient the wall of links to face us. But there is some underlying bug with OpenVR returning inconsistent values for the yaw, making this a nightmare. We've worked around this for now, and will release an A-Frame component for this recenter logic soon.
  • Added Intercom directly into the browser for people to ask us questions and provide feedback. It's a little chatbox that notifies us, and we try to respond immediately.
  • Added a notification to plug in a VR headset if not connected. Many people would install the VR browser and ask us if they need a VR headset so we try to be more upfront about that,
  • Made the pagination arrows more opaque and visible. Sometimes, they would be missed. Also fixed pagination for Vive using thumbpad.
  • Cache-bust the JavaScript file to fix issues where new HTML was getting served old JS from the CDN.

New Featured VR Sites

We add new links to featured VR sites as we find them, often involving reaching out to the original developers to volunteer our efforts to fix or improve them. Even then, many VR sites still need some workarounds from our browser in order to work well. Check out our WebVR Guidelines to understand what many VR sites need to function in a pure VR context. But below are the sites we've added since then!

  • A Way to Go by AATOAA and National Film Board of Canada - One of my favorite WebVR experiences that I could legitimately spend 15 minutes in and replay now and then. The image projection is currently off on the Rift, but AATOAA is currently taking a look at it.
  • Polygon Shredder by @thespite - We spent some time fixing the VR version of this one, added some controllers and some music. Experience a whirlwind of colors.
  • Cross the Street by @sromline - Use a running motion with your arms to try to cross back and forth across traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge. Built with A-Frame.
  • Shooting Stars by @philipbell - An explosion of colors built with A-Frame and the animation component. We added a fitting song, perhaps best experienced in the right state of mind.
  • Paint by @mrdoob - Paint in VR. We love the shadows and shading of the paint strokes in this three.js demo. We've pushed an update to A-Painter to change the default brush to also shaded.
  • Forest Wave by @alfredofrlp - A trippy demo using geometry instancing. Hope there's more coming from Alfredo!
  • Go Back by @googlevr - Okay, it's a Pepsi ad and a 360-video, but it's kinda cool. Reminds me of a B-level ride from a theme park. Unfortunately, we're not getting paid by Pepsi to feature this one.
  • Mansion by @babylonjs - Bringing some tooling diversity into the WebVR ecosystem! It's a spooky mansion, perhaps not the right season. Hope to see more WebVR content come out of Babylon. I saw a Fruit Ninja one that would be cool to bring in.
  • Spider by @marpi_ - Come visit your pet spider in VR. Probably not best if you don't like spiders.
  • Tabel by @artcopycode - One of those film and storytelling experiences. A 360-video, but you choose which conversation to listen to. Has a bit of hidden message about climate change. 
  • Space Disaster by @blend4web - Pilot a space shit and shoot asteroids! Doesn't keep track of score or anything, but cool nonetheless.
  • Float by EleVR - An atmospheric puzzle game using platforms that I never figured out how to beat. I spent some time restoring this WebVR piece, upgrading it to the latest three.js and WebVR libraries. Shiny now!
  • Inside Music by Song Exploder - Break apart music into their individual channels and listen to their ingredients. We had fun having Supermedium inject Oculus Touch support into this one.
  • City Builder by @kfarr - One of my friends told me this was his favorite WebVR experience. It's one of the best A-Frame sites to boot. It needs some fixes on the Oculus Rift side so we'll be taking a look at that.
  • Aurora by @gnometech - Watch a live feed (or yesterday's feed) of the aurora borealis (Northern Lights). The Northern Lights is a rare treat that many people in the world will never get to experience. I've watched it once in Alaska, and it was magical. This one takes place in Canada. While it's a 360-video, it offers a taste of the future to come, transporting people to otherwise unreachable experiences.
  • Inside Music by @songexploder and @googlevr - Break apart songs into their individual channels. Bass, vocals, drums, guitars. Go inside the music.

Upcoming

We'll be quickly releasing a developer mode to let developers test out their WebVR sites and later suggest for us to add a link to the home space. While we could add a straight up URL bar, the reality is that the majority of sites have no VR content, VR users wouldn't have any URLs in mind to go to, and most WebVR sites don't really work in a full VR context out of the box yet (see WebVR Guidelines). So we'll save that for the future when the ecosystem is ready, but for now, we want to provide a great look for WebVR.

On top of that, we've been in touch with many WebVR developers in the community helping to improve and usher in more VR sites. More awesome WebVR incoming!

For the A-Frame community, we need to usher and release v0.8.0. We'll need to look at some breakages in three.js, but that's a priority for us!

Tidbits

A highlight so far has been Andreas Aronsson (BOLL) reaching out to us on Intercom and sending us a 40-minute video of them using Supermedium with commentary, feedback, and overlayed performance stats! We've had a large chunk of users in Supermedium for over 30 minutes, experiencing the WebVR goodness that would have been buried on the Web otherwise!

We launched on Hacker News! The response was warmer than we expected. Lots of fellow Web lovers on HN.

We got a surplus of ideas, and the WebVR community has been lively. We're looking forward to the next couple weeks. If you like what we're doing either with Supermedium or maintaining A-Frame, we'd appreciate if you could tell people you know with VR headsets (Vive, Rift) to give Supermedium a spin!

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