May 12, 2022
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Thursday, we’ve got the scoop on some of the advanced mixed-reality features of Meta’s next VR headset, code-named Cambria. Also: Sonos launches a voice assistant, and Napster is back!
Meta is getting ready to make VR feel a lot more real: The company is announcing the general availability of its Presence Platform today, which allows developers to incorporate better hand-tracking, voice interaction and video passthrough into their apps.
Passthrough essentially turns a VR headset into a mixed-reality device by incorporating both VR and live video images of the real world. For now, these efforts are very much focused on the Quest 2, whose inside-out tracking cameras only offer a washed-out, grayscale view of the world. But Meta’s push into mixed reality is clearly also part of its future device road map, which includes a high-end VR headset code-named Project Cambria that the company will release later this year.
I got to briefly try a pre-release version of Cambria this week after getting a more extensive demo of mixed reality on a current-generation Quest 2. I didn’t get a chance to check out Cambria in depth, and was only able to try one mixed-reality demo (The World Beyond, which is being released for Quest 2 next week), but even those few minutes were enough to convince me that mixed reality on Cambria is a kind of secret superpower.
Cambria will be all about work use cases at launch, and adding a better passthrough experience is a big part of making work in VR feel more natural, Zuckerberg told me.
Meta wants to make VR feel more natural, and color passthrough is part of a broader strategy that also includes incorporating your hands and voice. All of this hinges on hardware improvements for Cambria and future headsets.
— Janko Roettgers
Sonos is getting ready to take on Alexa and Google Assistant: The company announced its very own voice assistant Wednesday. Sonos Voice Control will be available on the company’s speakers in the U.S. at the beginning of next month, with plans to launch in France later this year.
Sonos Voice Control will be primarily focused on music search and playback, as well as control of Sonos speaker systems. The assistant also differs from Alexa and Google Assistant in that it never uploads any audio to the cloud, but instead processes everything on the device.
Sonos is also putting a new spotlight on interoperability issues that have long plagued the industry. At launch, consumers will be able to run Alexa and the Sonos assistant on the same device and invoke them with a specific wake word.
“We are working towards having them part of Sonos Voice Control,” promised Sonos voice experience director David Leroy, without providing additional details.
— Janko Roettgers
A version of this story first appeared on Protocol.com. Read it here.
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The console industry’s chip shortage woes. Console makers bemoaned the ongoing semiconductor supply crunch, attributing lower-than-expected hardware sales in earnings this week to the ongoing component issues. “No end in sight,” were the words of Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa.
EA and FIFA break up. Electronic Arts and FIFA aren’t renewing their licensing contract after an extension expires next year, bringing an end to their three-decade gaming partnership. EA will rename the series EA Sports FC.
Ubisoft CEO tries to dispel buyout rumors. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot told investors on Wednesday his company “has everything it needs to remain independent,” regarding recent rumors the company was attracting takeover bids from private equity firms.
Nintendo’s plans for a Switch successor. Nintendo thinks it has at least a couple more years of life in the Switch handheld, but the company said transitioning to a new generation of hardware is a “major concern,” given past mistakes surrounding the Wii and Nintendo DS.
TelevisaUnivision acquires Spanish-language streaming service. The U.S.-based streaming service Pantaya will help Univision build out its own ViX+ service, which is supposed to launch later this year.
Apple may restructure its services business. The company is considering reorganizing the business with a bigger focus on streaming, according to Business Insider.
Another game studio union, in Croatia. Croatian developer Gamechuck is the latest studio to have its own union after employees signed an agreement late last month, Game Developer reported. Similar efforts to unionize QA testers in the U.S. at Activision Blizzard and EA’s BioWare have been met with resistance.
Google is making a tablet again. The company teased a new Pixel tablet at its I/O developer conference, but people won’t be able to buy it until 2023.
You know what they say about cats: No, not that they’re smarter than dogs, but the whole multiple lives thing. That apparently also seems to extend to cat-themed startups, as Napster is proving this week. The former file-sharing network is slated to reemerge as a Web3-focused music service in the coming months.
Prior Napster iterations include everyone’s favorite source of MP3s; a never-launched legal music service owned by Bertelsmann; a streaming service owned by CD software maker Roxio; the same service, but owned by Best Buy; a European offshoot of the U.S. music service Rhapsody; a rebranded version of Rhapsody that was available to U.S. consumers as well; and most recently, a part of a U.K. startup looking to build immersive live music experiences.
If you do the math, this means that the Web3 Napster will actually be the seventh and perhaps final iteration before the brand finally fades into oblivion. Watch out before crossing the road, little cat!
— Janko Roettgers
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An earlier version of this story said cats have seven lives. In some cultures, that's the number! However, it varies globally, so we updated accordingly on May 12, 2022.