Amazon Echo

Posted by on Jun 28, 2017 in Hardware, Other Geeks

Amazon Echo

Any nerd who’s seen Star Trek knows that no one bothers to use a keyboard (despite being all over the Enterprise anyway) when they want to send an email or correspond with sexy single Klingons in their area. As technology has moved forward into the 24th century, the preferred method of human-computer interface is shouting into thin air and totally expecting something to come of it.

Here in the backwaters of the 21st century, we’re still pecking out text messages on our tiny smartphones like cavepeople. We can’t even send dick pics without some manual intervention (allusion intentional). The use of voice commands isn’t quite there yet for controlling our devices, but things do seem to be trending in that direction. We can commune with Siri or settle in with OK Google or interact with Cortana, sadly without the sexy blue hologram. Our efforts sometimes pay off, but more often than not I expect that voice interaction with our tech is accidentally ordering 20 lobsters for shipment to Mozambique than it is setting a reminder to pick up a loaf of bread on the way home from work.

Amazon — all hail Amazon — continues to find ways to shoehorn itself into our lives with the Echo line of voice (and now video) enabled devices. Of course, Amazon — all hail Amazon — wants us to use their services for everything: to buy books, to buy clothing, toys, electronics, movies, music, and (in the three metro places where they offer it) groceries. It’s stupidly convenient to get a shipment from Amazon like it ain’t no thing: Prime shipping with One Click ordering means we might not even realize that we ordered something until it arrives on our doorstep. The Echo is Amazon’s — all hail Amazon — attempt to bring a little Star Trek into our lives.

The flagship Echo is a $180USD tower that comes with a built-in speaker, but for those on a budget there’s the Echo Dot, a smaller puck sized device sans speaker that can be had for as low as $35USD. These deco-enabled devices can sit on the sidelines until someone randomly says “Alexa” — one of the device’s activation words — too loudly, at which point the device springs to action in the way you wish your S.O. would: waiting patiently to listen to anything you want to tell it. You can tell the Echo to put a shopping item on a list, play songs from Pandora, Spotify, or (of course) Amazon Music, get a weather forecast, control your smart home, tell you a joke, or do something else enabled through one of the myriad of “skills” you can activate on your account like it was downloading from The Matrix.

Does that sound awesome to you? Possibly not. Unlike the 24th century where society has evolved to a point where voice interface is the prevalent and most convenient way to work with technology in their fast paced environment, we’re still not quite at the point where shouting at the aether is more efficient or more accurate than any other method we have at our disposal. I can OK Google a timer as quickly as I can get the Echo to start one. I can open an app on my phone and add an item to a shopping list as fast as I can by ordering the Echo to do the same. I can also play my songs from my tablet through my Bluetooth speakers just as easily as I could through the Echo, with the added bonus of being able to take the music with me as I move through the house or to plug in some earbuds if I want some privacy.

The Echo technology is getting there, though. This morning I found that the new “Drop In” functionality had been enabled on my devices (I have three Echo Dots, one on each floor of my house). This feature allows my family and me to use the Echo as an intercom system, a feature that was forehead-smackingly absent from the original product. At $35 each, it’s easy to buy multiple Dots for whenever and wherever you feel the need to talk to someone elsewhere in the house without shouting, and being able to talk to another Dot or Echo on your network seems like a feature worth the price of admission. I tried it out with my wife this morning, communicating from the kitchen to the bedroom, and aside from the acoustics reaching me through good old vibrating air a few seconds before the Dot transmitted the same, it worked flawlessly. Of course, this is only good for when you have multiple Echo devices throughout your home or want to use the smartphone app to remotely intercom with someone at home, or want to monitor what’s going on in your house or apartment through the new Echo Show, which is the realization of the dreams of many futurists from the 1990’s who wanted a viable video phone in their lifetime.

Like dick pics

The Echo is, at best, a magnetic notepad with tethered pen that you can stick to your fridge so you don’t have to root around in a junk drawer for the same when you need to make a list or leave a note, but at $35 it improves on that notepad in a technology-forward way for those who are into that. Considering we only have about a decade until Amazon — all hail Amazon — has at least five different vectors into each of our lives, I can only expect the technology to get better and possibly more useful. Right now, though, it’s a fun novelty that can be made to fit into a niche in our lives that gives us a “summer stock” vision of a Star Trek future.

 

Footnote: I know a lot of people are going to scrunch up their faces and wonder why I didn’t address things like privacy concerns or the possibility of cyber attacks turning the devices against us. I am not an analyst, despite the fact that I have a blog and write a whole lot of words without saying a damn thing worth noting. There are people who are much better at talking about these things than I am — take Mr. Koster’s post above as an example.

The Echo — and the Internet, and the things on the Internet — will always only be as safe as the infrastructure that supports them, and as secure as the people and business that support that infrastructure are willing and able to make them. As a consumer, my job isn’t to harden my node against any and all attacks, because there’s only so much I can do at what they refer to as “the last mile”; instead, I need to decide where to place my trust, if I am placing any trust at all, among those who control the lion’s share of pathways and services that are available to me. This is not a question of tech, but a question we all have to face, every day, as a species. Who we trust and how much we trust them has always been a part of the human condition. We need to trust our banks, our employers and employees, our neighbors, our families, and even total strangers. We need to decide who to trust with our money and our health and our futures every single day, tech or no tech. Technology is neutral; the Echo itself isn’t maliciously haunting you out of the box.

So it’s really up to the individual how far each of us wants to allow tech into our lives. We can arm ourselves with truth — not speculation, or even panicked what-if’s — and then…we have to decide who among those upstream of us deserve our trust. Considering Amazon knows as much about me as any other service I use these days, and chances are they know just about as much about you, then I think the Echo is about as safe as the PCs, consoles, tablets, and smartphones that we have come to rely on.

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Stream Deck; GR Wildlands; Endless Space 2

Posted by on May 22, 2017 in Editorial, Endless Space 2, Featured, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Hardware

Now that our deck has been completed, we’re spending more time outside than in. For me, this is a blessing and a curse; I am not made for the out-of-doors, but I’ve also not really been “feelin’ it” when I sit down to play something. I need to get back to the PSVR games I have, and also the non-VR PS games I have (including the upcoming Marvel Heroes translation for the PlayStation).

Saturday was spent mostly doing yard work. I have to dismantle the old stairs leading up to the original deck, so I did a bit of that. We also carved out a small garden section at the foot of the new deck stairs, so we had to get plants and mulch for that. I’m never more reminded of my housebound status than when I try and do intense yard work, and this was one of those cases.

Sunday we spent at the in-laws, celebrating a belated Mother’s Day because scheduling conflicts prevented us from doing so on the actual day. There’s really not a lot more to say about that.

Stream Deck

Honestly, this is going to be the last dedicated post on the subject you’ll get from me. I am now officially defeated by the Elgato Stream Deck.

A lot of folks on /r/elgatogaming and elsewhere have said that they’ve been using the ‘Deck in conjunction with a utility called Auto Hotkey. This app is designed to allow users to write scripts that listen for special key combinations, which can then trigger actions such as adjusting your OS volume or taking screenshots and posting them to Dropbox. Because AHK works at a level which allows it to interact with a whole range of applications (when running as Admin), the plan is that Stream Deck can send these scripted hotkeys into the aether where they are picked up by AHK, which can then do what Stream Deck cannot: send keys to the focused apps.

As a developer by day, I’m open to the nuances of whatever scripting language you want to use, and AHK isn’t all that complex. I created a script which checks for Elite Dangerous and if it’s running, execute whatever key combo was sent. I managed to translate a chord into the game command to turn on my ship’s headlights, and that works…but nothing else does. The lights work 100% of the time, but everything else works anywhere between 0% and 2% of the time. That 2% is something that I’d seen people talking about: how the ‘Deck doesn’t always send commands on the first, second, or even 10th press of the button, but might consider doing so somewhere down the line. I had entertained the idea that my script was bad, but I’d tried several variations on the theme and recevied the same non-results every single time.

I made cool keys and everything! 🙁

Right now, I’ve given up on trying to make this thing do what I want it to do. Obviously, all of the OBS stuff works because that has a dedicated pipeline to speak through. I can launch apps like Elite Dangerous and its utilities, and I did manage to wire up the Windows Game Bar commands which is a good thing because it has a screenshot function that works on anything you tell it is “a game”. I also managed to get it to work with Discord so I can mute and deafen audio in the voice channels, although I’d love direct Discord integration so I could switch servers and even rooms using the ‘Deck. I also have buttons that control my OS volume, but that’s about all. Really, the screenshot, Discord, and OS volume buttons are the only regular commands this thing is going to send, making it a very expensive paperweight.

I hope Elgato opts to make it more of a  universal app that does what Logitech and Razer, et al., can do, although given that their wheelhouse is dedicated to streaming, I don’t know if it’s in their interests to update it to do more than what little it’s meant to do: control your live stream.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands

As of right now (May 22, 2017), Humble Bundle has Ghost Recon: Wildlands on sale for 20% off. I saw this deal and sent it out to friends who have been happily subsisting on The Division Underground missions for the past several months.

I received GR:W for free with my video card, and aside from using it to put the card through its paces, I’ve not played it much. It’s not a soloist game, despite having a squad of NPC soldiers backing you up. GR differs from The Division in that GR games tend to be way less forgiving when you’re getting shot. When you finally make it to cover, then, the system is calling in wave after wave of reinforcements.

Teabagging Unidad corpses

I played it last night with my brother, and Mindstrike, and we learned a few things. First, you die quickly and often. Second, if you’re attacking a cartel-held property, kill everyone quickly or else you’ll be there forever and will probably find yourself back at point one. Third, there’s no coherent line-of-sight between where you start and where you need to go. We tried to figure out our next step in the narrative but ended up picking some of the worst random locations for new players to take on.

Still, it was fun. More fun with real people. I’m hoping more people snag the game before the sale ends, because I burnt out on The Division a long time ago, and would like to play something with people again.

This is my role in the team.

Endless Space 2

Endless Space is one of my favorite 4x games. Like all of them, however, I have never actually completed a scenario. Still, it served as inspiration for several features of my ill-fated “Project Universe” because I really like the way Amplitude approached the game.

Wandering through the stacks at Steam storefront, I literally stumbled across Endless Space 2. I think I knew this was A Thing, but like many things these days it fell off my radar.

I watched the videos on the store page and decided that ES2 was a solid follow up game. It seems that Amplitude has included a lot of cool new features, not the least of which are the addition of probes instead of scouts, a need to to research FTL technology to get beyond your meager local neighborhood, and a galactic “auction house” which allows you to buy and sell technology and ships for Dust, the game’s mysteriously magical currency.

4X NSFW

I haven’t yet fired it up, but I’m looking forward to it. Amplitude is really an under-the-radar strategy developer (Endless Space, Dungeon of the Endless, Endless Legend, and other Endless universe games) that does consistently good work that I enjoy.

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The Elgato Streamdeck

Posted by on May 19, 2017 in Editorial, Featured, Hardware, Other Geeks

Following on the heels of Wednesday’s post on the Elgato Streamdeck, I managed to get some time with it this Thursday and wanted to offer some initial impressions.

Nicely packaged: cradle, stand, and manual.

First, the device is solidly made. It’s basically a block with overly-glossy keys, none of which feels flimsy in the least. When not plugged in, it doesn’t look like much, but when it’s receiving power the keys are backlit with the Elgato logo spread out across the center buttons. The keys are nice and bright, but unfortunately not bright enough to overcome a harsh glare at certain angles, depending on where your local light sources are at. The deck itself can be removed from the desktop stand which may have some uses for enterprising modders out there. The stand itself, though, gets some props for innovation: it’s sporting a two-stage support system. The cradle portion lifts up on a front hinge, and you can extend either the back of the cradle to sit in the base for a more upright position or use two smaller side supports to raise the cradle up to a lesser angle, making it more keyboard-esque. However, the pins used to keep the supports in place are small and I can see them snapping off at some point in the future. I have found that in my setup, the more acute angle works best to avoid key glare, but also put the keys at an angle such that each key is slightly more difficult to see.

The removable deck and cradle

 

Setup was super easy: install the software (Windows 10 and Mac Whatever only) and plug in the device. Hopefully, you have a nearby USB port because the cable is shorter than what you’d expect from a lot of desktop peripherals and is non-detachable (i.e. can’t swap it with a longer cable).

I’m a software guy, and I love playing around with configuration software so the management utility for the Streamdeck might be one of the easiest I’ve used. The main window features 15 slots representing each of the buttons. On the right side, you have a series of commands that you can assign. Simply drag a command to a button, and you’re about 90% of the way done. Depending on the button, you’ll have some settings you can mess around with. For example, the OBS integration allows you to drag a “Scene” action. In the button properties, you select which Scene in your running copy of OBS you want that button to trigger. The updates are in real time, so as soon as you place the button in the software, it shows up on the physical device. You can also change the icon (some of which have lit and faded states to show which one is active among those it recognizes as being mutually exclusive, like OBS scenes) and layer mutli-line text on the button. I learned that Elgato has a quick key icon creator on their website if you have images but no Photoshop or graphics experience. Like the settings app, this is really easy to use and I had a lot of fun making icons that I needed.

Live updating with default config

Unfortunately, this is where my enthusiasm starts to wind down, but I need to remind you that I didn’t buy this device for its intended purpose of augmenting my live stream control. I bought it to send commands to my games — something that I couldn’t get to work anywhere often enough.

It seems that Elgato has designed the software to be extremely specific in what it does and how it operates. Since the company focuses on streaming technology, their software heavily favors streaming tasks. It has support for Elgato’s own streaming software, OBS, Twitch, and only a few other services like Twitter. For local hooks, there are media control commands, app and website launchers, and hot key broadcasters. Even then, OBS requires a plugin so that the Elgato command software can communicate with it when another app has focus.

For use with OBS

I was mainly focused on using the hotkeys. I tried Elite Dangerous because that’s a game where having access to a lot of keys is something that will enhance the experience. For testing, though, I only created a new button and assigned it the Hotkey “1”. In Elite, this opens the left-side control panel for mapping, local targets, etc. It works when docked so I knew it would be something that I could do without having to leave my current station. Unfortunately, the game refused to acknowledge the key press. I know that the key was working, however, because I could open the chat entry box and see a string of “1”s whenever I tapped the button on the Streamdeck. I tried full-screen window mode, and full-screen mode (since some games are picky about that kind of thing) but nothing changed. I even tried the 32bit non-Horizons enabled version to no avail.

Ideally, for use with Elite Dangerous, but with fewer assignments.

Figuring I’d try something else, I booted up Guild Wars 2 and rebound my “1” key to the “B” key which would open the RvRvR standings window. Again, no luck. Again, I tried adjusting the window mode and verified that the key was working by activating the chat box and hitting the button.

Since the Streamdeck is brand-spankin’ new at this point, and since Elgato doesn’t maintain a community forum, I had to descend into the depths of *shudder* Reddit to find the /r/elgatogaming subreddit. Thankfully there was a Streamdeck “megathread” where people were talking about it, and I saw at least two people claiming that they had done exactly what I was trying to do. I asked one poster if he/she did anything specific to get it to work, but haven’t seen any replies.

On a whim, I loaded up The Elder Scrolls Online to test with the original GW2 “B” key button, and amazingly, it worked. At this point, I don’t think I’d done anything differently between the GW2 test and the ESO test. At an earlier point, I suspected that there might be something running on my system that was hijacking the input from the Streamdeck software since I’d experienced something like this in the past with audio. I shut down anything that I thought might handle key input like Plays.tv, my Logitech keyboard and mouse software, and even Steam and it’s overlay, but the results had been the same. I read that the Streamdeck software should be run as Administrator in order to be able to send keys to another app, but that didn’t seem to help either.

As it stands, the Elgato Streamdeck is at the “confounding” level on the “love it or leave it” scale. I’m not going to say “disappointing” because I suspect that there’s something standing in the way of what I am doing and what I want it to do that may or may not have anything to do with the Streamdeck or software themselves. I can tell you, though, if I can get it to work then I’ll quickly upgrade my assessment to “spectacular” because it’s an excellent piece of hardware. If they release an SDK or expand their software beyond the narrow focus on streaming (which may never happen due to Elgato’s market segment), or if more apps adopted the input hooks for it (Hey, Discord!), then its value would skyrocket. I don’t know that I’d suggest that everyone go out and buy one and experience an input Nirvana because unless you’re a moderate to hardcore streamer or use apps like Photoshop that have a lot of keyboard shortcuts, it seems that the Streamdeck’s operations are limited and pretty “fragile” in that they’re easy to interrupt.

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Multiple Audio Stream Recording

Posted by on May 18, 2017 in Hardware, Other Geeks

Don’t let the title fool you: this is a topic I’ve been chasing for some time because it’s not as simple as it sounds. In fact, what I’m talking about here was only discovered by me due to random happenstance.

My goal has been to find a way to get myself and at least one other person to converse, to record that conversation, and then to split each person into their own audio track. You might recognize this as something relevant to podcasting, and you’d be right: that is the ultimate goal.

The problem, then, is that when talking about audio on a Windows PC, there’s the local user — the person on the mic who is controlling the recording software — and there is literally everyone else. Whether it’s using Skype or Discord or Teamspeak, Mumble, Ventrillo, or whatever, all of the rest of the participants are jumbled together into a single audio stream received by the person doing the recording.

In the worst case scenario, the remote participant(s) audio is merged with the local audio into a single track, meaning that when it comes time to edit, any cuts or filters are applied to everyone, no exceptions. That’s certainly passable, but really not optimal because having each person on his or her own track would allow for discreet person-by-person editing for volume, noise reduction, and dead-space filtering (et al).

So the other day I was trawling YouTube for videos on the Elgato Streamdeck setup when I came across a series by the silken-voiced EposVox who not only spoke about the Streamdeck, but also about OBS setup. In one video, he mentioned multiple audio sources which, if you’ve used OBS, is not something exciting. OBS allows for (at minimum) mic audio and desktop audio to be recorded alongside the video. While OBS is primarily used for streaming to Twitch/Beam/YouTube/etc., it can also be used to record local video and audio.

Now, I don’t know how some people do it. I suspect that a lof of folks might record video using OBS or something, muting the mic so that they can record their voice over using another app, like Audacity. That works to separate the video from the voice over but then requires the user to sync the voice with the video which can be unnerving if it’s even slightly out of sync. But thanks to EposVox, I know now that there’s a better way using OBS, an alternative audio output, a mic, and Audacity.

I’ll refer you to this video.

In a nutshell (if you skipped the video), OBS allows you to add additional audio inputs. You can then send each input to a different track, assuming you’re recording in anything other than FLV (so MOV, MKV, MP4, etc). What you get in the end is a file with multiple audio tracks, and depending on how you set it up, you might have a track with all audio, and then each input on a different track, or just each audio source on a different track. What you’re seeing is the same tech that allows DVDs to have different language tracks.

Of course, as you know, you can’t watch a DVD with several audio tracks playing at once, so it is with trying to get a hold of these multiple audio tracks. This threw me for a while because my video editing app doesn’t display all audio tracks, only the first one it encounters. Since I only want the audio anyway I learned that Audacity with the FFMPG codec can import the audio from a video file using the IMPORT > AUDIO option which allows me to then select the audio tracks from the file that I want to edit.

I ran some tests with the Esteemed Mindstrike as my guinea pig on the other side of Discord. For my set-up, I had OBS recording my Yeti mic for my voice, but I had to set Discord to output to the Yeti Headphone output. That my mic has it’s own audio output is the aforementioned happenstance, because otherwise, I’d need to go down the dark road of virtual audio cables to create a fake output and send Discord output to that. In OBS, I set up an audio source for the mic (which was already there), and an additional audio source for the Yei Headphone output. The benefit of this was that I could hook up the headset to the Yeti mic (duh) and listen and converse with Mindstrike like there was nothing weird going on. When OBS recorded, my mic audio recorded on one track, the Discord output on another, and had there been any desktop audio at the time, it would have recorded that on a third track (I turned off the multi-source channels for this test, just to be sure).

When I managed to get FFMPG installed with Audacity, I imported my test file audio and got this:

The top two waveforms are my mic, and the bottom two sourced from Discord. Magical! For an actual production run, I’d probably want to have OBS “downmix to mono” because there wouldn’t need to be a left and right channel for single-position voice; both the left and right output would simply source from the mono channel, leaving me with one waveform per track in Audacity, to keep things clean.

Now, the obvious problem is that in a multi-multi user situation — me at the desk, a bunch of people in a channel in Discord — I’m still only going to get two tracks: me, and everyone else. For my “intended purpose” though, this is exactly what I needed. I don’t know if it’s possible for apps like Discord to pick up, send, and deliver individual voices on individual tracks; I suspect that would be horribly bandwidth and CPU intensive, so, for now, I’m glad I stumbled across this, and that I have the hardware that just happens to support the exact situation that I wanted to enable.

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Ghosts of Peripherals Past

Posted by on May 9, 2017 in Featured, Hardware, Virtual Reality

Ghosts of Peripherals Past

Now that I’ve committed to the PSVR, it’s time to justify the purchase.

I picked up Job Simulator earlier this week. It’s one of the highest rated commercial VR titles mainly because it showcases the “best case scenario” for presence and input. As a technology it’s great; as a game, it sucks because there are only a few scenarios, and then practically no replay value outside of having something on hand to watch your friends mime their way through when they experience VR for the first time. I’ve been vacillating on EVE Valkyrie because while the demo was pretty amazing, the full game is apparently a short tutorial followed by endless arena multiplayer battles — not something I’m known to gravitate to.

The “big news” (as in “what Sony is pushing at the moment”) is Farpoint. Sony apparently hopes that this is the tipping point for VR, getting it beyond the gimmicky hand-waving of Job Simulator and on the mantle alongside more popular AAA titles that the platform is known for. Overview-wise, Farpoint is standard fare: two scientists crash on a planet, and have to find a way home. Echoing Half-Life, these eggheads find themselves battling multi-legged creatures on their journey, something you, the player, accomplish with the help of a specially designed gun-like peripheral that comes with the deluxe version of the game, or which can be purchased seperately.

Yay! Giant alien spiders…in VR…my favorite…

When I’d first learned about Farpoint, I thought that this might be the foot in the door that VR needs to show people that it can do more than just handle endless demos showcasing elements of what the tech is capable of. The graphics look solid, and as a shooter, there’s no ambiguity here: point, shoot, progress. What made me scratch my chin in the universally accepted signal of “I dunno…” was the long and sad history of console peripherals.

Nintendo is probably the most eggregeous offender of creating dead-weight plastic, going all the way back to R.O.B., the Power Glove, and the VitualBoy (natch). Microsoft has Kinect, and until Sony wisely opted to repurpose it, they had the Move. Following closely behind is all of the third party junk that all consoles attract: charging stations, console enclosures, stands, and controller add-ons that will supposedly let you “dominate the competition”.

This history was why I had been hesitant to jump on the PSVR in the first place, although I’m the kind of person that once the idea has been planted and the means secured, no amount of convincing to the contrary is going to stop me from forging head. Farpoint was kind of different, though. I could buy the game digitally, as I am wont to do in my old age, but how necessary to the immersion was this gun peripheral? Th product itself looks like someone glued a bunch of PVC pipes together and then stuck a Move controller in the barrel (something which I’m sure we’ll see happen on YouTube once Farpoint launches, if it hasn’t happened already). Couldn’t I just use the Move controllers I have? Supposedly we can use the gamepad, but where’s the fun in that?

See? Once I convince myself…

It’s difficult to look like a badass when wielding something you made from one trip to Home Depot.

Inevitably I did pre-order the deluxe bundle, even with the specter of starting a new peripheral graveyard hovering just outside my vision. Heck, yesterday I bought a combo PSVR display stand-slash-charging station because the idea of just letting the headset sit on the entertainment center was anathema to me. Of course, Sony has gone on record about wanting/hoping/praying to some dark god that other developers will support the specialized controller, which means if it comes to pass means we’ll be getting a lot more shooters in VR on the PlayStation, I guess. You’re not going to see anyone using this for a fishing simulator, that’s for sure. I’d be OK with having a Battlefield in VR, or maybe another Killzone (though I’d rather have more HZD, as I’m sure most folks reading this would agree).

What might end up being the big question mark though would be this: if Farpoint and this peripheral sell well enough, what other specialized controllers should we expect to see? Ideally, the answer to that would be “none”, because I think there’s a tipping point; maybe this general purpose “gun” controller is a natural fit for a hobby where virtual shooting rampages are prevalent and acceptable, but once we start down a path of Power Glove 2.0 we’ll just be re-treading the paths that lead to dead ends in the past.

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PSVR on the PC

Posted by on May 8, 2017 in Hardware, Virtual Reality

PSVR on the PC

One of the reasons I chose the PSVR was because I’d heard of an effort to “hack” the PSVR into the PC ecosystem, which instantly increased the value of the lower-cost headset by orders of magnitude. It stands to reason that since the connections that the PSVR require are non-proprietary — HDMI, USB, and power — then the only gap between the PS4 and the PC is software, specifically the drivers that allow the PC to recognize the headset as an actual VR headset.

I was familiar with Trinus from my limited time with the “low-rent” VR Samsung Galaxy smartphone. Like PSVR, the smartphone VR could be connected to a PC via the Trinus app, which recognizes the otherwise unrecognized VR headset as a legitimate display while also handling positional data from the device’s gyroscope. Since that time the Trinus developer has been busy creating a version specifically designed to bridge that gap between the PSVR and the PC.

What you’ll need

  1. A PlayStation VR headset. These had been out of stock in a lot of places until somewhat recently and can be had new for $399. A word of warning: I wouldn’t rush out and buy one specifically for this. Trinus is still in beta, so the support for this kind of thing is tenuous at best. If you have a PS4, however, I highly recommend the PSVR.
  2. Trinus PSVR. You can download the Trinus PSVR app for free. It will run in “demo mode” for something like 5 – 10 minutes before disconnecting the headset. A license is only about $11 USD ($8.99 EUR)
  3. SteamVR. SteamVR is a free app available through Steam that lets you run standard games and apps in stereoscopic mode.
  4. Patience.
  5. A VR ready game. Although I’ve only tried this with a VR-enabled game, I believe that this should work with any game or app combined with SteamVR. However, to get the biggest bang for the buck, find a 2D game which has a VR mode. Examples from my library include Elite Dangerous, Serious Sam (some variety), Subnautica, and Tabletop Simulator. I’d caution you against spending money on a VR-only title from the Steam store, however, as Trinus is in beta, and might not play well with games that are expecting the full breadth of Vive or Oculus input.

Installing SteamVR

SteamVR is intended for use with the HTC Vive, and possibly to a lesser extent, the Oculus. To that end, a lot of what you’re going to see when dealing with SteamVR (specifically, controller support and “room scale” terms and settings) isn’t going to work with the PSVR, but that’s ok: we’re not using it for the bells and whistles, only to take advantage of the display and gyroscope support.

SteamVR is something that everyone has in their library.

When viewing your normal library, click on the GAMES header next to the search box that sits beneath the SEARCH box. Then select TOOLS

TOOLS is the dumping ground for a lot of apps you might not have known you owned. It’s mostly multiplayer server stand-alone installers, but it has a few goodies provided by Valve just for using Steam — like SteamVR

Right-click and choose INSTALL. It should place an icon on your desktop.

Installing Trinus PSVR

You can get the Trinus PSVR demo from the normal Trinus website. Installation should be self-explanatory. It will ask to install a driver, which you should accept since it’s Trinus’ job to drive the data from the PSVR headset to SteamVR and associated applications.

Install a VR-enabled game or app

You’re on your own for this one.

Install the PSVR

Hooking up the PSVR to your PC is not that different from hooking it up to your PlayStation 4. You plug the breakout box’s HDMI input into your PC video card, the box’s HDMI output to your desktop monitor (you will want to have a monitor hooked up as a failsafe), the PSVR USB to a free USB port (not sure if it has to be 3.x, or if it can be 2.x), and the power supply to an outlet.

Running Trinus

Fire up Trinus. Although you might end up on the MAIN tab, you’re going to want the HOW TO tab first

The CONNECT sub-tab shows you the hookup diagram so there’s no ambiguity when plugging everything in.

At this point, you might be tempted to turn on the headset to see what’s what. If you do so you’ll probably just see an “xUSB” icon in the viewport. Don’t worry: if you’ve plugged the USB cable into the PC you’re all set; this is a generic warning that lets you know that Trinus hasn’t officially introduced your headset to your PC.

Next, you’ll want the INSTALL subtab:

There’s only one option: SteamVR Driver. “But wait!” you might think. “I already installed SteamVR!” What you’re installing here is the bridge between Trinus and SteamVR: this is the actual part that is missing from native PSVR support on the PC, so the driver combined with the settings you can fiddle with in Trinus, and the display handling of SteamVR, provide us with this wonderful hack. You won’t get immediate feedback when you click INSTALL, but know that Trinus has got your back.

One last thing

This system works best when you have more than one monitor because once you activate Trinus, your main monitor will reflect what’s displayed in the headset, which is non-native for a 2D display. It helps to drag app icons to an unaffected 2D monitor because you might have a hard time finding and accessing them if they’re on your main screen once Trinus starts.

Fire it up

The next few steps are straightforward but expect some trial and error. When I first got to this point my main monitor fish eyed so bad that I couldn’t access the Trinus control panel to see what I needed to do. This is why a second monitor is highly recommended.

Here’s a rough guide to what I did that eventually got things working for me, but know that it’s less a science, and more like voodoo (remember: we’re hacking hardware using beta software, so please be kind).

Switch over to the MAIN tab of Trinus. There are a few things to notice here, the most important one being the footer output section. This is where you’re going to get information on what Trinus wants you to know. Notice the line referring to SteamVR — make sure your message is pleasing like the one in the image.

Next, in PC MODE, select SteamVR (which is the default, I believe). For PSVR Display, select a display. This box will populate with all of the display outputs that your system has registered…except the PSVR itself, so don’t go looking for it or another display beyond what you have sitting on your desk. What you’re telling Trinus is which display output you want to show through the headset. My main display where I run my games is DISPLAY1, and that’s where I expected SteamVR to display. Finally, for PSVR MODE, select VR.

Before you do anything else at this point, place your VR Headset on the desk in front of you, facing the direction you want to face when using it. Trinus will calibrate your headset, and it needs to be ABSOLUTELY STILL for this to work. Even keeping it on your head could introduce subtle drift which will drive you bonkers (trust me on this).

In order for Trinus to recognize your PSVR headset, you need to click the broad START button. This will turn on the headset (if you haven’t), calibrate it, and will show the contents of whichever display you selected for PSVR DISPLAY inside the headset. At this point, you can put the headset on to verify that you’re seeing the desktop. It may screw up your actual desktop monitor display in the process. When you don the headset, you will probably get a really disorienting view of the same desktop, with each eye registering different parts of the screen instead of the overlap that we’d expect. This is because we don’t yet have the stereoscopic display that SteamVR provides.

If you can find it on a desktop, fire up SteamVR.

SteamVR has two components: the main visual output which, on a 2D monitor will display side-by-side fisheyes and a view of a gridded dome on a white background, and a small control panel which tells you the state of your hardware if you were using the Vive or Oculus. Assuming all you see are green status values, you’re on the right track. Greyed out icons are OK. If you see red, something is wrong. Sadly, troubleshooting SteamVR is outside the scope of this guide.

You will probably be greeted with a calibration wizard the first time you start SteamVR. For my setup, I chose the STANDING option, and then faced forward for the first step, and then put the PSVR headset on the floor at my feet for the second. Because the PSVR doesn’t use room-scale, nor does it use positioning outside of the built-in gyroscope, this is mainly to “calibrate” the position because SteamVR demands it.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a complete 3D view inside your headset. You can move your head to move the view around the SteamVR dome and confirm that you have gyro support.

Starting your app

For Elite Dangerous, I had to open my Steam Library, find Elite Dangerous in the list of installed games, right click on the name in the list, and select the RUN VR MODE option because normal Elite Dangerous will tell you that you’re trying to run a normal game in VR mode, which won’t accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish.

I was unable to enact any input at this point. Upon removing the headset, I noticed that I had two game windows: One within the SteamVR view, and a smaller window on the secondary monitor. I had to click within the second, smaller Elite window to give the app focus. What this is doing, then, is running the app on the second monitor, but is — for lack of a more accurate technical term — projecting that app into the SteamVR space. I had tried running Elite normally using its 3D mode from the game’s OPTIONS, but that ran afoul of the weird resolutions required for the side-by-side stereoscopic view; running the game in VR mode from the start takes advantage of SteamVR’s resolution auto-scaling, and helped display a properly sized game despite the actual window resolution being much smaller than 1920×1080.

At this point, I was ready to rock! Input worked fine (HOTAS, mainly), and I was blown away by the sensation of scale when my cargo ship surfaced into the cavernous station where I had parked. While you can use the PSVR for a movie-screen-sized 2D experience (“cinematic mode” is what they call it), having a game which supports 3D VR is really going to knock your socks off.

Tweaking and troubleshooting

If you got this far with a serviceable experience, then the rest is gravy. Here’s a few things that you might want to set up or try within Trinus.

  1. IPD. On the MAIN tab of the Trinus app, there’s a slider labeled IPD. This stands for “interpupillary distance” and is a value which represents the distance between the pupils of your eyes, which is what grants us the power of binocular vision. Ideally, you should use this after getting SteamVR calibrated and before you start your game. If it looks like you’re experiencing double vision when viewing the SteamVR dome, use the IPD slider to adjust; you should see results instantly, allowing you to work visually rather than by some vague numeric value.
  2. Height. Beneath the IPD slider on the MAIN tab is another slider labeled HEIGHT. This may not matter in-game, but if you start SteamVR and find yourself “embedded” in the floor of the dome-grid, you can increase this slider to move the camera above ground to a comfortable height.
  3. Foggy visuals. The PSVR isn’t as resolution-intense as the Vive or Oculus, which is something we’re going to have to accept; the text in Elite Dangerous was rather hazy, for example, and therefore difficult to read. There’s a checkbox on the NON-VR tab of Trinus that may help improve visuals, although I haven’t tried it so I can say what it does or if it works. Alternatively, the game’s native video resolution might be able to help, although this could also knock your headset display out of whack.
  4. Set a RESET VIEW key: On the MAIN tab of Trinus, there’s a RESET VIEW section. I highly recommend setting a key. This will re-center your view to the direction you are facing at the time you hit the key, so make sure you’re facing a comfortable position before doing this (caveat: My experience was that Trinus reset my position to 90 degrees to my right rather than 0 degrees straight ahead. I had to turn my head to the right and then hit the reset button in order to center my forward-facing view to what I’d expected. I have no idea if I screwed this up or if this is standard).
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