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Nex starts selling $179 Nex Playground motion gaming console

Time to move

Welcome to Lowpass, a newsletter about the future of entertainment and the next big hardware platforms, including smart TVs, ambient computing and AR / VR. This week: Nex launches its own hardware for motion games, and Apple’s Vision Pro announcement has had limited impact on the job market.

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TV motion game company Nex starts selling its own hardware

Bay Area-based motion gaming startup Nex is getting ready to sell its own hardware: The company opened up pre-orders for its Nex Playground device, which includes a motion-tracking camera and sells for $179, Thursday.

I first wrote about Nex last year, when the company was just getting ready to take the jump from mobile-based motion tracking to the TV screen. Ten months later, the company isn’t just taking that step with its own device, but also with hardware partners like Sky and Sony, as well as third-party developers making use of Nex’s platform to build their own games and experiences. I recently caught up with Nex co-founder and CEO David Lee to learn more about all of this.

The skinny on Nex Playground. Lee told me that Nex developed its own hardware as a flagship device that’s both meant to make it easier for consumers to get started with motion gaming and show the industry where things are going.

  • The Nex Playground looks a bit like a Rubik’s Cube, and connects to your TV via HDMI, similar to any other streaming device. It ships with a unique wand-like remote control with integrated haptics.

  • Nex Playground runs Android, and is powered by a Arm Cortex A-Series SoC.

  • It features a wide-angle camera capable of tracking up to four players at the same time. We designed the camera, the lens,” Lee told me.

  • The device is being made by Skyworth Digital, a leading set-top-box manufacturer; pre-orders are expected to ship in time for the holidays.

What’s running on Nex Playground. Nex’s device will ship with three games preloaded. The company plans to make an additional 20 games available via a subscription plan, which will cost $49 per quarter, or $89 per year.

  • Nex launched some of its devices on mobile games before, including Starri (which is a bit like Beat Saber), Party Fowl and Active Arcade.

  • Lee showed me a few more games during our call. Among them: A “Peppa Pig” title adapted to the motion gaming platform in partnership with Hasbro, and a game built by a third-party developer that lets you cast spells with your hands.

  • Nex is primarily betting on motion games for its own hardware, but Lee told me that third-party developers could also use the company’s Motion Developer Kit to build anything from educational experiences to interactive TV shows and ads to fitness apps that track a viewer's body.

This is just one box of many. In addition to building its own hardware, Nex has also been busy striking deals with partners to bring its games to additional hardware.

  • Last month, Comcast’s British subsidiary Sky announced that it had partnered with Nex for its new Sky Live camera.

  • Nex is also working with Sony to bring motion games to the company’s smart TVs, making use of Sony’s Bravia Cam.

  • This hasn’t been announced yet, but Nex is also powering motion games on Telly’s free, ad-supported TVs, as I was first to report in May. (Lee declined to comment on this one.)

  • The last one is not a business partnership per se, but Nex has also been using Apple’s newly-announced Continuity Camera framework to bring motion games to the Apple TV.

It’s easy to discount TV motion games. After all, Microsoft failed to take Kinect motion games mainstream a decade ago. However, there’s something interesting in the combination of smart TVs and computer vision, especially as TVs and set-top boxes are getting more powerful.

Lee told me that the company has already been experimenting with hand tracking and gesture recognition, but that most of the current-generation hardware wouldn’t support such compute-intensive applications. At the same time, he expressed optimism that the next generation of chipsets would unlock new potential for motion apps in the living room, and that hardware manufacturers will be eager to adopt them as they look for TV’s next killer app.

“The next piece of major hardware to be added to the smart TV to enable new kinds of interactions (will be a) camera,” he predicted.

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There’s no Vision Pro jobs bump yet

When Apple unveiled its Vision Pro mixed reality headset last month, it generated a lot of renewed interest in augmented and virtual reality. Which made me wonder: How much of that has translated into companies looking to actually reenter the space, or perhaps even giving it a try for the very first time?

We won’t know for some time how many companies are going to build apps for the Vision Pro, but job listings can be a good proxy for corporate interest in new technologies. When Facebook announced its rebranding to Meta in October of 2021, the number of VR and metaverse job listings went through the roof. The emergence of Web3/NFTs and ChatGPT led to similar hiring trends.

The same doesn’t seem to be true for the Vision Pro — yet. The number of listings for AR, VR and XR jobs as well as job listings mentioning spatial computing has been more or less plateauing for the past year, and there’s been no obvious spike ahead or following the much-anticipated announcement of Apple’s headset, according to data shared with me by Ziprecruiter.

“VR/AR/XR/spatial computing job postings peaked in 2022 at about .5% of all job postings, but that share has since declined,” I was told by Ziprecruiter Chief Economist Julia Pollak. “Whereas the release of ChatGPT unleashed a flurry of job postings related to Generative AI and large language models, the Vision Pro headset announcement has not (yet) led to a similar investment in AR/VR roles and functions.”

The obvious caveat: It’s still very early to judge the true impact of the Vision Pro announcement on the job market, especially considering that the device won’t be available to the general public until next year. However, Apple has already made the VisionOS SDK available to developers, and plans to make developer kits available as early as this month.

It’s also possible that a lot of the initial development for Vision Pro will be conducted by people who already work in AR/VR, leading to a less pronounced job listings bump. It will be interesting to see how the availability of the actual device, and Meta’s Quest 3 release this fall, are going to change things.

Are you looking to develop / hire developers for Apple’s Vision Pro? Or are you waiting for the device to hit the market first? Let me know by responding to this email!

What else

YouTube Content ID claims break new record. Copyright holders reported over 826 million videos via YouTube’s Content ID system in the second half of 2022. Most of those claims did not lead to take-downs.

The FTC is appealing this week’s Activision Blizzard ruling. Earlier this week, a court ruled that Microsoft can go ahead with its $68.7 billion Activision Blizzard acquisition. Regulators are now appealing that ruling.

Podcasting tuned 20 this week. The first podcast was created in 2003 by Dave Winer and Christopher Lydon … and surprisingly didn’t include an Athletic Greens ad.

Roblox is coming to the Meta Quest. An open beta launch is planned for the next few weeks.

Netflix now lets users transfer profiles to existing users. Formerly single people everywhere rejoice: You can now attach your viewing profile to someone else’s account. 

You may need an appointment to buy the Apple Vision Pro. The company will reportedly limit sales to stores in a few major cities.

Roku launches Roku Channels app on Google TV. Makes sense for Roku, which previously launched its app on Samsung TVs. Just expect some consumers to be really confused by this

That’s it

I jut finished watching “The Bear” on Hulu, and loved every minute of what. What should I try next? And, just as importantly: What did Chef Sydney put into that omelette? Let me know in the comments, or by responding to this email.

Thanks for reading, have a great weekend!

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