Everything Oculus announced today: $99 Gear VR, Touch release date, Minecraft, and more

It's coming soon.

It’s Oculus Connect keynote day, and the company had a lot of stuff to announce despite a claim that consumers shouldn’t get too excited about the event in Los Angeles.

Here are all the big announcements:

Samsung’s $ 99 Gear VR

While Oculus is planning to release the amazing new Rift headset in Q1 2016, one of its biggest partners, Samsung, revealed it will release the consumer version of Gear VR in November for just $ 99. This will work with Samsung’s Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, and Note 5.

From VentureBeat

Gaming is in its golden age, and big and small players alike are maneuvering like kings and queens in A Game of Thrones. Register now for our GamesBeat 2015 event, Oct. 12-Oct.13, where we’ll explore strategies in the new world of gaming.

Oculus SDK 1.0 is coming in November

Both Rift and Gear VR will need a lot of VR content, and Oculus is planning to update its software-development kit to help studios do exactly that. One of the big things this SDK will come with is direct drivers — this will enable the headset to work without having to fiddle with setting up the Rift as an external monitor.

Oculus Arcade

This is a 1980s-style arcade simulator that enables you to feel like you’re playing Pac-Man at a stand-up machine.

Trailer for Rift games

 

Twitch, Hulu, Netflix, and more to support Oculus Video

netflix-virtual-reality-app

Developers are working on plenty of games for virtual reality, but Oculus is expecting all kinds of content to make the leap to its Rift and Gear VR systems. That includes video services like Netflix and Hulu — the latter of which revealed it is planning to build VR-native videos.

“Oculus Ready” PCs

You’re gonna need a beefy PC to use an Oculus Rift, but you won’t need to guess if certain systems will work. Oculus announced it will work with hardware manufacturers like Dell, Alienware, and Asus on a line of “Oculus Ready” rigs that cost less than $ 1,000.

Minecraft comes to Rift

Microsoft is planning to make the Windows 10 Edition of its block-building game Minecraft compatible with Xbox One.

Oculus is working on its equivalent of Xbox Live and the App Store

Facebook, the owner of Oculus VR, has said that it won’t try to make a lot of money on the Rift hardware. That means it’s going to make the real cash on the app and software side. And we saw a little bit of that today when the company revealed how its platform will handle social features, analytics, and distribution.

Oculus Touch trailer and release date

The incredible Oculus Touch controllers, which brings your hands into VR, aren’t coming out until Q2 of 2016. But here’s a trailer to show what they can do.

Oculus Medium

Oculus chief executive officer Brendan Iribe said that every new platform needs a paint app, and Medium is what his company is calling its take on 3D drawing.

Epic reveals new Oculus Touch demo Bullet Train

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Google says its voice search system is now more accurate, especially in noisy places

Google voice search on the web.

If you’ve noticed Google doing a better job of understanding what you say using speech recognition on your smartphone lately, you’re not crazy. Google’s voice search has indeed become more accurate, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, the tech company announced today.

“Today, we’re happy to announce we built even better neural network acoustic models using Connectionist Temporal Classification (CTC) and sequence discriminative training techniques,” Google Speech Team members Haşim Sak, Andrew Senior, Kanishka Rao, Françoise Beaufays and Johan Schalkwyk wrote in a blog post today. “These models are a special extension of recurrent neural networks (RNNs) that are more accurate, especially in noisy environments, and they are blazingly fast!”

The new models are working in the Google app for iOS and Android, as well as dictation on Android, which works inside of some third-party apps, the team members wrote.

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Google has reported improvements in voice search not once but twice this year. Clearly the company has been investing in the underlying technology. RNNs are one increasingly popular approach to doing deep learning, a type of artificial intelligence, and Google is widely thought to have a deep bench in deep learning.

But Apple and Microsoft, among others, have also been working to improve their voice recognition capabilities. Meanwhile, Facebook is also doing more in the area, having acquired a speech recognition company, Wit.ai, some months ago.

Speech could become more important as an input to searching the Web in the years to come. Baidu’s Andrew Ng, who is known for his work on the so-called Google Brain, last year predicted that within five years “50 percent of queries will be on speech or images.”

“In addition to requiring much lower computational resources, the new models are more accurate, robust to noise, and faster to respond to voice search queries — so give it a try, and happy (voice) searching!” wrote Sak, Senior, Rao, Beaufays, and Schalkwyk.

Read the full blog post for more detail on how the team managed to get the new performance gains.

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China passed 250M 4G users in July, more than double the subscribers in the U.S.

Apple's CEO Tim Cook on a visit to China in 2014. Reuters / China Stringer Network

China’s 4G mobile users surpassed 250 million for the first time at the end of July, according to newly released data (link in Chinese) from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (hat tip to TechNode). If you throw 3G users into the mix, that number shoots up to a whopping 695 million users, with China’s total mobile user base now at 1.29 billion.

250 million is a milestone to be celebrated — it represents 4G penetration of nearly 20 percent, versus 40 percent (over 100 million) in the US at the end of 2014. Still, the figure belies a slightly shadier forecast: The report made clear that China’s mobile user growth rate so far this year has slowed to just a quarter of what it was over the same period in 2014.

Meanwhile, a separate report by the country’s state-run English-language newspaper China Daily over the weekend notes that the country has achieved this explosive growth in a mere 20 months since regulators first issued telcos 4G licenses. Though, somewhat confusingly, the article pegs the country’s 4G user base at 225 million, possibly in reference to June’s numbers rather than July’s.

Xinhua, the Chinese government’s official press agency, on Monday also had the 250 million number. The same report pointed out that the country’s three telecom giants — China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile (currently the world’s largest telco) — “raked in a total of 75.3 billion yuan (about $ 11.8 billion) in the first half of 2015.” This was largely off the back of continued 4G growth.

Combined, 3G and 4G in the country now have a penetration of close to 54 percent among mobile users, according to the ministry’s report, and while the addition of new subscribers may be slowing, data consumption is through the roof. An average user in China now consumes around 330MB of data per month, almost twice as much (up 85 percent) as 12 months ago.

China’s International Telecommunication Union confirmed that it is actively developing 5G technology and industry, keeping up the blistering pace of development. But there has also been major reshuffling announced Monday at the very top levels of the country’s three telcos as Beijing aims to revamp state-owned firms.

4G growth aside, the broader challenges being faced by China’s volatile economy of late have rocked markets and tech stocks worldwide, leading Apple’s CEO Tim Cook to take the unusual step of issuing a statement to CNBC on Monday in an attempt to soothe investors. Apple, like an increasing number of smartphone makers, is heavily reliant (read: overexposed) on Chinese consumer demand to hit Wall Street’s targets.

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