Oculus Rift (on a budget …)

Anyone who knows me knows of my interest in all things 3d (stereoscopy) and won’t be at all surprised by my interest in the Oculus Rift. (DK2).

However, as most of my stereoscopic viewing equipment looks like this, and not having a particular interest in ‘gaming’ I found that I was lacking in the hardware required to do the Rift justice!

I also wanted to look at development opportunities for the Rift so decided to dip a toe into the water and build an entry-level gaming PC to utilise with it:

 

Using this page I set about picking out what I hoped would be good value kit with which to build my machine.

 

My first ‘compromise’ was a new Lenovo desktop machine that came up ‘cheap’ at just under £250 delivered:

 

  • Processor: 3rd Generation Intel Core i5-3470S Processor (6MB Cache, up to 3.60GHz)
  • Operating system: Windows 8.1 Professional 64 English (via included discs)
  • System Graphics: Intel Integrated HD Graphics
  • Total memory: 4GB PC3-12800 1600MHz UDIMM DDR3
  • Pointing device: Lenovo Edge Enhanced Optical USB Mouse
  • Hard drive device: 3.5″ – 500GB 7200rpm SATA
  • Optical device: HH Rambo 8 16x/48x SATA DVD-R/CD-RW
  • Network card: Integrated Intel 82579 Gigabit Network Adapter

 

I spotted a sell-off of some ‘custom RAM’, not the fastest, but good value at this price (£69.37)

  • Crucial Ballistix BLT2CP8G3D1608DT2TXOBCEU Tracer 16GB kit (8GB x 2) 240-pin DIMM (with LEDs) DDR3 PC3-12800 Memory Module – Orange/Blue

 

Next up someone posted a good deal (£149) on a mid-range graphics card (GPU).

 I liked this option as if it proved to be lacking I could always get another card and link them together to boost performance using ‘crossfire’:

  • VTX3D AMD Radeon R9 280 X-Edition Graphics Card (3GB, GDDR5, PCI Express 3.0)

 

Finally I opted to upgrade the PSU as the ‘business oriented’ PSU that came with the shell (180w) would struggle to power the GPU (I wanted 750w or ideally 1000w to give me the crossfire option).  If there is room in the case I will keep both PSU’s otherwise I will ditch the 180w.

  • Coolermaster GM-Series 750W Semi Modular 80+ Bronze Power Supply (£57.90)

 

 

So along with the monitor and keyboard (which I already have ‘knocking around’) this would be my starting point (with an SSD and second graphics card being logical upgrades should I need or particularly desire them).

My initial total spend was a little over £500 and looks like this:

  • Processor: 3rd Generation Intel Core i5-3470S Processor
  • Operating system: Windows 8.1 Professional 64 English
  • Graphics: VTX3D AMD Radeon R9 280
  • Memory: 16GB  (8GB x 2) 240-pin DIMM DDR3 PC3-12800
  • Pointing device: Lenovo Edge Enhanced Optical USB Mouse
  • Hard drive : 3.5″ – 500GB 7200rpm SATA
  • Optical device: HH Rambo 8 16x/48x SATA DVD-R/CD-RW
  • Network card: Integrated Intel 82579 Gigabit Network Adapter
  • PSU:Coolermaster GM-Series 750W Semi Modular 80+ Bronze

 

UPDATE 26/08/2014

Kit arrived after a shipping delay – bonus as it also included keyboard, mouse and 3 Windows 8 related discs (I have got used to Windows 8 so am installing that instead of Win 7).

imageI found a 4GB stick in my toolbox so have installed that while waiting for the 2x8GB sticks.  The recovery session is underway as I type this …. my plan is to get Win8 up and running then substitute the PSU, check functionality, then substitute the GPU …

… Fitted new PSU and Left overnight running the update from Win8 to 8.1 so was ready for fitting GPU this morning.  All went smoothly and internals now look like the image here..

 

Now onto the process of installing Visual Studio and the Rift itself ….

 

 

… Oculus Rift up and running.  (wow)

and I cannot say that loud enough … The system coped well with what was thrown at it – if you get a chance sit down in ‘the chair’.  It coped well with all the animations only faltering with some head movement at the point at which I suspect the on screen animations and graphic density was maxed out.  Words do not do it justice :and I am looking forward to seeing what I can bring to the table with my own dev chops!

GPU Over clocking

 

image

 

NB There appear to be some notes on over clocking this GPU here

I ended up using the utility mentioned and the settings shown.

(I elected not to set these at startup as unless I am running a GPU intensive task I prefer to leave the card at the manufacturers settings, consequently running a little cooler).

 

 

Rift Code / Visual Studio

I fired up VS with one of the demo projects and had a ‘play’.  Not being a native C coder means that I wasn’t very comfortable – I look forward to the time when the current managed code native compiler helps to unlock the door to c# development for the Rift!

image

Target your own “target market”

There are some great Ad controls around (AdDuplex springs to mind) that can maximise your coverage across all App types across the store.  But what if you have targeted a specific target market with a whole suite of your own Apps?  How can you maximise Ad coverage of these Apps to your target market?  One way is to create a simple Ad control like the one shown here.  NB I place mine immediately below the standard Ad Control so that it only appears when a Microsoft – sourced Ad is unavailable (note that there are more sophisticated ways of doing this but I have found that this simple method serves my purpose)

I created a simple user control with the following XAML layout:

image

Then I created some 600×300 images that represent the Ads I want to serve and added them to the images folder of my project:

 

 

(expect the above designs to change as I play!)

 

The Code Behind of the UserControl uses the Random function to select a different image every time it is loaded:

image

My thinking here was to create a quick (and some would say dirty) user control in order to test out the basic concept. 

(Should it prove to show promise I may well spend more time on the control, – perhaps making it cloud based and ad admin configurable.)

 

NB You can see the above control in action in “Vantage Point” downloadable here:

http://apps.microsoft.com/windows/app/vantage-point/ac78eddb-c8ba-41b2-a7e8-843147ccc0b1

IMAX 3D “Edge of Tomorrow”

One of the benefits of not working (or“resting” as I like to call it),  is the opportunity to spend some time with the kids while they are on their half term holidays.  Of course they are both working hard at the moment, Emily for her GCSE’s  and Daisy for her end of year exams… but ….

So we were very excited to have been invited by Stuff magazine to attend the premiere of ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ at the BFI IMAX  (For my part, anyone who knows me will appreciate that I am excited by all things stereoscopic/ 3d and this will be the first opportunity I have had to see a film at “the largest 3D IMAX in Europe”!)

I am doubly excited to be going with my eldest daughter, Emily, who is a massive fan of Emily Blunt who is planning to attend  the premiere. with her co-star.

So Is there a down side to this trip? Well, we are getting the 1:30am coach from Gloucester to get in to London at 5am …  (Red Carpet at 7am, Premiere at 9am – all over in time for brunch!)

As the opening scenes of the film take place in Trafalgar Square and Waterloo Bridge I thought we should walk from Victoria, past Buckingham palace, down the Mall, across Trafalgar Square and over the Hungerford bridge – offering us a great view of Waterloo bridge, before heading over to the BFI a short walk past the site of my first ever workplace (in Chicheley Street – ironically now a bar!).  Of course I have pointed out this particular site many times before so have an idea what I can expect – but I guess that is all part of the fun!

The Film

I might as well start by telling you to go and see this film on the largest 3D screen you can find.  It’s just simply an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours!  Better than Godzilla (which I enjoyed) and probably my favourite film of the year so far (and I wouldn’t be surprised if it stayed that way).  Don’t expect surprises (there are some), don’t expect romance (there is some), don’t expect a comedy (but expect to laugh a bit). Do expect action (lots of it), do expect suspense (buckets) and perhaps most of all, expect to be thrilled!

The Experience

I have never attended a film premiere but when I mentioned to the girls that I had tickets to the new Emily Blunt film they nearly wet themselves, and so the date was on!.    We arrived early and were escorted to our spots on the red carpet and shortly after a limousine pulled up in front of us and out stepped Tom Cruise.  I have to say I came away loving Tom (not in the biblical sense you understand).  He spent hours outside with the crowd and while all other stars were gracious with the fans, signing autographs and smiling for the cameras, they couldn’t match his commitment.  A quick breakfast inside and we took our seats, a quick introduction from Tom and the crew and the film kicked off!

What a great experience!  Thank you Stuff magazine and Warner for looking after us!

Little Things / Detail / Design / Musings

So as well as some cool new features I tool a little time to think about smaller details that, ordinarily as a developer rather than designer, I routinely let by.

Default Search Box Styling

I guess I was kind of aware that the colours that manifested themselves in various states of the SearchBox were out of kilter with the general ‘sepia’ theme of the overall App.

A couple of overrides in the Application file and sorted:

image

Should I have those colours defined as constants somewhere? You betcha! Have I? (no).  Are there some other overrides that should be in there? (probably)

image

That’’s Better, but do I need that black border? Hmmm ….

Buttons on Top Level Page

A quick edit to make the text background stack panel height 30px instead of 60px:

Before:

image

After:

image

Now should that text background be a transparent dark brown rather than black?

Showing someone the App on their Lenovo tablet and I spotted an issue with my home page layout and the search box:

image

That’s’ Better:

image

Truth is I don’t quite have the eye or the design chops…. but ….. I am getting better (and more diligent) and, in any event, am hopeful of a design makeover for this App from someone who does have the eye …. so watch this space!!

Vantage Point Apps

Just a quick post to clarify the various Vantage Point Apps that are available or currently under development:

1. Vantage Point for Windows 8.1 (available here)
2. Vantage Point for Windows Phone (release planned in March 2013
)
3. Vantage Point (Capture) for Windows Phone* (
under development)
4. History Explorer for Windows Phone (
uses some images from the Vantage Point database)

* In general I have found the Windows Phone form factor (such as my own  Lumia 920) is too small to make this app really useful  though I hope to be able to revisit this project at some point in the future.

Vantage Point (London) for Windows Phone

ss1

The initial version of Vantage Point covers the London area.  The ‘phone form factor’ lends itself to a different default interface which automatically fades between the two images (this is also one of the options available in the main Vantage Point App once a location has been purchased).

ss2

Tower Bridge (shown mid fade between the construction and present day images)

NB This app will be available in March 2013 and should it prove popular will be expanded to include all the Vantage Point images that are available in the full Windows 8 version)

Vantage Point (Windows 8) Download Link

History Explorer for Windows Phone

History Explorer  shows the location of a collection of historical images of Gloucester and Cheltenham, many dating back over 100 years.

ss1

It takes it’s images from the same data pool as it’s popular bigger brother ‘Vantage Point’ for Windows 8 (and may well morph into something akin to it for Windows Phone if given enough time!)

Essentially the app was built as an exercise in using the new Microsoft/Nokia mapping technology that is in the latest platform update.  It also seemed appropriate given that most of the  older photographs date back around 100 years or so to commemorate the anniversary of the start of the Great War.

The App is free and can be downloaded here

Please post a favourable review if you enjoy it!

Live Tile Sport – Editors Choice Award

Very please to find that one of my apps achieved an editors choice award this month:

http://apps.microsoft.com/webpdp/app/live-tile-sport/c0fa3321-5ab4-417f-887d-8a59700487bb

Thank you!

 


Best Windows 8 Apps


Live Tile Sport

Get live news from your chosen sport in your Windows 8 UI!

Note this App covers a selection of popular British sports (so no Hockey, Baseball or American Football!) Features:

  • Multiple Sports Categories with associated Live Tiles
  • Choice of Live tile Layout and Content
  • Ability to remove Advertising / Purchase a full licence.
  • Control over text ayout and font sizes

Download

Live Tile Sport

Live Tile Sport

Details:

Category: Sports

Size: 0.3 MB

Age rating: 12+

Publisher: Web Surfaces

Supported processors: x86, x64, ARM

Website: Live Tile Sport website

Editor rating: 9.5 Stars (9.5 / 10)

Award:

 

ref: http://bestwindows8apps.net/live-tile-sport/

Fast App turnaround for Windows Store App!

Yesterday morning I submitted version 4 of ‘Vantage Point’ to Microsoft, last night it was in the store!!

Here are the milestones:

 

  1. Fri, 31 Jan 2014 08:00:45 – Submitted to store
  2. Fri, 31 Jan 2014 17:48:06  – App passes certification
  3. Fri, 31 Jan 2014 19:04:40 – App is in the store!

 

Congratulations to all concerned at Microsoft!

 

And yes, Vantage Point is a unique and interesting App available for free download here.

About the development of Vantage Point

As I write this I am poised to upload the fourth version of Vantage Point to the store.  This will be the first version that has started to include the feedback from the Microsoft design Lab and Intel Software Summit feedback from November 2013.  I though it might be interesting to talk about some of the reasons why the App came in to being, what has changed within the App so far, as well as plans for the future.

Changes to the UI

There have been a number of changes to vantage Point in its short lifetime.  Perhaps the most striking is the change in the top most page which came about after talking to some of Microsoft’s own designers last November.

The original top page was a simple grid of the highest level categories of images (Counties in the UK, States in the USA etc)

image

Note also the (default) black background (that is me being lazy)

The main feedback I got from this related to the second Page:

It was pointed out that it wasn’t immediately obvious that there were potentially multiple ‘Towns’ per County and that a more ‘hub like’ approach that illustrated this might be a better solution.  This has resulted in the following new top level page for version 4:

image

I have incorporated a ‘featured’ image that will change each time the page is visited (the Vantage Point image shown can be viewed by tapping the smaller of the two images).

Scrolling right on this page reveals the replacement layout for the original image:

image

I have taken the opportunity to use different hub layouts depending on the number of ‘towns’ available within the County.

The hub layout provides a lot of opportunity for customisation and I can see it being refined as the number of areas covered grows.