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VR headset sales are slowly rising out of the doldrums

How long until one of these Lawnmower Man setups is in every home in America? (credit: New Line / Time Warner)

For all the hubbub and sometimes lofty predictions surrounding virtual reality's wide consumer launch last year, the immediate sales figures and impact of the technology have been decidedly muted. As hardware prices come down and software offerings begin to catch up, though, the market for high-end VR headsets is slowly creeping out of the doldrums.

Worldwide shipments for high-end, tethered VR headsets (excluding cheaper "phone holsters" like Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream) exceeded 1 million shipments for the first time in the third quarter of 2017, according to market analysis firm Canalys. Sony's PlayStation VR took a near-majority of the market with an estimated 490,000 shipments, followed by 210,000 for the Oculus Rift and 160,000 for the HTC Vive (140,000 more units went to various other headsets, such as China's DPVR).

The absolute numbers for VR headset sales still aren't all that exciting compared to other successful consumer electronics—both the PS4 and the Xbox One sold a million units in their first day of availability, for instance, and Apple shipped 3.3 million iPhones in its first six months back in 2007.

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Windows Mixed Reality headsets get SteamVR games and apps November 15

Enlarge / An array of Windows MIxed Reality headsets. (credit: Microsoft)

As promised back in August, all owners of Windows Mixed Reality headsets who are running Windows 10 will be able to run much of SteamVR's library of VR software.

This is an expansion of the SteamVR preview program for Windows Mixed Reality headsets, which was previously open to developers but will open up to all users on November 15. Interested users will be able to navigate from Microsoft's VR hub to Valve's and select from SteamVR software there.

SteamVR is best known for games like EVE Valkyrie and Project Cars, but several apps are available too. For example, Virtual Desktop allows you to use your computer's desktop in a VR space, and Google's Tilt Brush is a VR painting experience. This preview program is a beta test, so not every app or game is expected to work perfectly right now.

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Valve announces the first big SteamVR 2.0 feature: waaay more space

Enlarge / Only two base stations? P'shaw. Next year, SteamVR will let developers do way more with four. (credit: Valve)

Every major virtual reality platform has its pros and cons at this point, but one of SteamVR's clear leads is space. Right now, owners of the HTC Vive can set up two of its infrared-powered "base stations" and move, dance, shoot, sculpt, and adventure around a maximum of 132 square feet—assuming you have that much to spare in your den or basement, anyway.

But as more commercial groups (from arcades to industrial design firms) bite on VR's most extreme use possibilities, Steam's VR design side has clearly been working to give them more extreme floor space to work with. On Tuesday, the company hinted at an eventual SteamVR 2.0 product by announcing quite a leap in scope: nearly 10 times the square footage.

The catch is that the entire SteamVR pipeline must be upgraded to take advantage of this jump, including new "SteamVR Tracking 2.0" base stations that will begin rolling out to developers at the start of 2018. Developers will need to test these tracking boxes with head-mounted displays (HMDs) that are compatible with the new trackers' standard, dubbed TS4321—meaning, not the HTC Vive currently on store shelves. These tracking boxes work the same as the original infrared-crazy base stations, and they add support for "modulated light carrier input."

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Report: Valve’s former augmented reality system is no more

CastAR's first prototype. Subsequent revisions brought the glasses' size down and fidelity up, so that its mounted projectors would better convey the feeling that virtual objects appeared on a mat (also known as "augmented reality" or "mixed reality"). However, the project's future is now in doubt. (credit: CastAR)

The future of CastAR, an ambitious augmented reality system that began life in Valve's hardware labs five years ago, is now in serious doubt. A bleak Monday Tweet from a former CastAR staffer was followed by Polygon's Brian Crecente reporting a full company shutdown.

Citing unnamed "former employees," Polygon reported that the hardware maker's primary finance group pulled all funding last week. This was allegedly followed by a full staff layoff and an announcement that the company's remaining assets would be liquidated.

As of press time, neither CastAR nor its affiliated developer, Eat Sleep Play, have posted any confirmation of shut downs or liquidation. Ars Technica has reached out to CastAR co-founders Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson. We will update this report with any response.

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Valve tries to one-up Oculus Touch with five-finger “Knuckles” VR controller

Valve / SteamVR

We first heard about Valve's plans for a new SteamVR controller back in October when a few pictures and basic impressions started leaking out of the press-free Steam Dev Days conference. Now we're getting more details about the upcoming VR hardware—code-named Knuckles—thanks to documents posted on SteamVR's Knuckles Dev Kit group page.

The most important confirmation in the new documents is that the Knuckles controllers allow for full, independent tracking of all five fingers. Embedded, capacitive sensors in the handle of the unit track the position of the middle, ring, and pinky fingers, while similar sensors in the trigger and face buttons track the index finger and thumb. A ring of sensors around the thumbpad and the back of the hand helps track the unit in space through the standard Lighthouse system.

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