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Launch HN: Supermedium (YC W18) – A full VR browser for web-based VR content
114 points by dmarcos on Feb 6, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments
Supermedium is a full VR browser for web-based VR content. Download the browser at https://supermedium.com, put on a headset, and navigate dozens of full VR sites. Pages load quickly and are built with Web standards (WebGL, WebVR, JS). Anyone can publish and share VR content, regardless of whether that content is bite-sized, wacky, lower fidelity, a store’s homepage, an educational outing for a few students, a meme, or something taboo. Anything goes.

Back in 2012, I was researching for headsets that I could watch movies on. I thought it would be cool to have a giant TV anywhere at home or on the go. Soon I became a lurker in the MTBS3D.com forums. I followed the first conversations between Palmer Luckey and John Carmack experimenting with VR hardware [1]. I was one of the 50 members that sent money to Palmer Luckey’s personal PayPal account to get a DIY prototype kit of the early Oculus Rift [2]. I got to try an early version of the Rift and an early 3D-printed prototype of what would become the HTC Vive. It felt the future was approaching quickly and I did not want miss out on the next technological revolution. I was on a quest to find a way to combine my knowledge of the Web with my newly discovered passion in VR.

Kevin and I were teammates on the original Mozilla VR team that kicked off the WebVR initiative. Together we created and grew A-Frame, an open source framework to help Web developers build VR content in the browser. Two years later, we continue to volunteer our time to maintain A-Frame alongside its community.

We are kids from the Web; we formed as programmers using browsers as our playground. We loved learning from others using the built-in developer tools and sharing our experiments with just a link. But we witnessed first-hand how slowly the Web reacted to the rise of smartphones and app store ecosystems. The Web became an afterthought.

We know it is still the early days for VR. VR hardware is expensive, clunky, and software feels undercooked. But we believe that in the future, headsets (whether VR or AR) will replace traditional displays, transforming the way we interact with computers. We want the Web to be a first-class citizen on VR and on immersive platforms going forward. We founded Supermedium to try to help establish the Web as a valuable foundation for the next big shifts in personal computing. We want to bring the best ingredients of the Web to VR. And it starts with a browser.

Looking forward to hearing feedback!

Diego and Kevin


[1] https://www.mtbs3d.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?f=120&t=14777&sid...

[2] https://www.mtbs3d.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=140&t=14777&p=7...

So in looking forward to a time when people actually want a VR focused browsing experience and just for WebVR/WebGL there is this HUGE gap missing.

Where is the "HTMLTexture" support (the hacks for it are janky and not viable in my experience)?

I think WebVR will not take off if it doesn't have a clean way to experience the web's existing 2d elements, not to mention even VR needs a way to do 2d layout.

Any thoughts? I know Chrome guys were experimenting a few months back and there was some talk of it being in WebXR...

Yeah, HTML in VR has been a big ask from a lot of the Web community. There is plenty of action happening there across the vendors. They are doing lots of thinking around security and such.

At the moment, we're not focused on the 2D Web in VR. We want to bring the best of the Web to VR, providing more content to VR users and allowing VR developers to easily publish. Looking more towards visually appealing and fully interactive content.

Layout in VR is feasible or perhaps even better without HTML/CSS, as is done in many of today's real-time experiences. We'll probably need to tweak the thinking around and create more tools for layout specifically for VR.

Given the state of text tools do you think it would it be viable to pipe a Readability Redux scrape into Aframe?

It should be totally possible. You should be able to fetch the HTML, process it (as Reliability seems to do) and define your own render logic in an A-Frame component.

I couldn't find a reference for Reliability? Is there source?

-I don't know how the FF reader mode is coded-

Edit-- https://github.com/mozilla/readability

You answered your own question. I'm more excited about your approach of alternative ways to render existing Web content over a DOM to texture API. VR is an exciting space to experiment.

I understand that viewpoint but I think the WebVR will be isolating(the normal web doesn't work) and lack uptake until, for example, github.com can be used directly within VR.

I don't believe github themselves will make a native client any time soon, and we shouldn't expect any other websites either.

Thus HTMLTexture seems critical.

I totally agree. We will be pursuing both approaches. HTMLTexture requires consensus and coordination with other browser vendors to come up with a sensible standard and it will take a bit of time. Alternative ways to render page information using WebGL can be explored today.

Yeah, I think so? Like parse the HTML and present it in a nice way in VR? That might be interesting for us to show VR content stand-in for non-VR sites (like Wikipedia) from our browser.

Hey all, I am a product manager of the LesnVR browser (https://lensreality.com/). We are thinking more in the direction you mention - enabling 2D content to be transformed into a VR content through CSS. We've done some experiments I posted about on my blog: https://productmanageronthego.wordpress.com/2017/11/16/vr-we...

Really important tip from your guidelines:


> Add any form of audio. ... anything is better than complete silence.

Early on a lot of the VR tech demos for the Oculus DK1 and DK2 had no sound and it was almost maddening. I can't remember the name, but one of my favorite things to show people new to VR is little more than a music video. Starts out dark, this weird blocky figure appears, a blocky sun rises, then huge giants appear, all set to this electronic, pulsating song. First came out with the DK1 or DK2 and now works on the Vive as well.

Edit: Found it. It's called Surge:


Anyways. It's a simple thing, but quite compelling because of the sound, so make sure to keep audio in mind when crafting VR experiences.

Yeah, audio & music play a big role in VR, they can make the difference. In Supermedium we have some fantastic examples like Obsidian, Dance Tonite (LCD Soundsystem) or Under Neon Lights (Chemical Brothers), among others.

Awesome. I'll hopefully have time to check them out tonight.

Any feedback is super appreciated. We would love to hear what you think. You can reach us out at team@supermedium.com or real time chat on supermedium itself (via intercom) with any questions, suggestions or criticism.

The first VR thing to really hit home for me was Björk's Stonemilker VR app thing. It really feels _intimate_ to me in a way nothing before ever had.

Cool! Audio visualizations and music videos were the first things I toyed with when getting into VR. My first WebVR app was a waveform visualization of Darude - Sandstorm.

I like it because it's ambitious, futuristic, and the passion is clearly genuine. Good luck!

My current interest in VR is trying to collaborate with remote teammates. But in order to justify buying VR HMDs for everyone, I need something that I know we will use.


VR, despite the hype and push, is still very early stages. The headsets that can provide quality experience are difficult to set up and clunky. We haven't replaced Skype with meeting up in VR...yet. But we'll see prices drop and ergonomics improve quickly to make it viable.

Thanks! Social features are definitively in our radar.

Any plans on supporting Linux or Mac?

Also - what about support for custom/homebrew HMDs (or legacy systems - like, what if I wanted to break out my Forte VFX-1 with my Polhemus tracker and VPL Dataglove and use them)?

To add to what Kevin said. We depend on hardware support from the different vendors. On the high end Oculus is Windows only and SteamVR is still experimental on Linux and Mac. OpenXR (https://www.khronos.org/openxr), the upcoming standard to interface with VR/AR hardware will make it easier for browsers to integrate new devices.

Good question, I'll add it to our FAQ later.

Down the line, yeah. We just launched so we're still iterating and linking to more WebVR content to improve the experience on Windows where most of the users are today. Then hopefully, towards the other OSes.

I think if those can somehow support OpenVR, maybe :) At the moment, focused on Vive/Rift/Windows MR. Perhaps we nail that and then we can time travel back to 1995.

This project looks awesome. Do you know if you have any plans to push some wild/experimental webVR features into this? I am desperately looking for a browser that will support:

- webVR multitasking (>1 tab rendering to display a time)

- tab content sharing

- obtaining textures from html elements to project into VR

so I can watch twitch in WebVR while browsing Reddit in VR. So far I have a sketchy fork of Firefox that somewhat works but I'd love for something more stable to recommend to people. What I want is described in more detail here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JzxKqir57c4RnpHhpH8nED8C...

Let me know if you have any thoughts. Thanks.

I looked into your ideas and they are something, my team (LensVR browser UX team) has been researching. We are looking to find what would be the best browsing experience for VR. For now, we have done a few prototypes on a "customizable" website, multitasking and VR bookmarks but I am looking for more ideas on what to try next. Get back to me if you want to chat more about your ideas.

Hey Billy, I think I chatted with you over Skype a little while ago :). From what I've seen your team's teams effort seem the most inline with what I'm wanting but there are a couple things I haven't yet seen from lensVR:

- Desktop support (I have a Vive and I think you mentioned its only available for gearVR right now)

- Multitasking, all the images on your twitter seem to only have one site at once

- Fallback to 2D site (If Im in a webVR version of reddit and I click an unknown url I need to be able to multitask on that site even if it doesn't have 3D support)

Since I have yet to find a vendor heading towards support for these things, currently Im using a fork of firefox where I just hacked out a bunch of security settings. Right now it lets me load iframes and pull content from them into webVR but it was just a quick way to get it working as I'd prefer if each separate tab could draw to its own layer and then be composed with other tabs (Im hoping this is part of WebXR standard but it sounds like it wont be there for a long time).

If you have anything else to share with me or if you have any additional questions for me, Id be happy to answer. I would LOVE to get a browser I could target so I can stop worrying about building my own browser and focus on my web apps.


I get you :) I have the feeling that the industry is going ahead with baby steps while developers like you need stable multiplatform technology to implement their groundbreaking ideas. I will push ahead the multitasking ideas we have. One idea we played around with is being able to extract specific parts of a webpage and compile a new tab containing all the information you need - while all the extracted elements stay dynamic. This video tries to illustrate the concept for 2D but it would be basically the same in VR if the websites are flat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppDguFFws9U

Yep, its seems like theres a lot of directions the web can go in and I like the more experimental concepts shown in your videos. Looking forward to see how lensVR will turn out.


I don't think in the short term we will work on virtual desktop / browser like features, but some people have played with them in WebVR (https://jonathanzwhite.github.io/screenvr/). Focusing on true immersive content at the moment.

Maybe something like Oculus Dash would fulfill those needs?

Dang, sorry to hear that. I've seen those projects in the past but the problem I have with those is that they seem to only support web 2D multitasking using browser APIs. Here's hoping you reconsider in the future. Thanks

Cool project. It might be interesting, to the HN crowd at least, to see blog post or other writeup on the specific mods you made to Gecko and other standard browser components to create this.

Thanks, we are trying to write more blog posts since we're cutting into new territory. "Customizing Gecko" would be a fun one. I definitely stared at the Waterfox repo at few times (https://github.com/mralex94/waterfox).

Does that mean its time to bring back VRML?


AFrame is really pretty similar in spirit to VRML


I love VRML. It was my first exposure to 3D graphics and an influence for aframe.io

This was my first question. From their FAQ:

> Can I view normal 2D webpages in Supermedium?

> Currently not, we are focusing on providing a fully immersive and interactive VR experience.

Taking hints from a 2D page and presenting as an interactive 3D structure doesn't sound far-fetched.

It sounds like a fun idea. We'll experiment.

You will be remembered as pioneers. Amazing work, keep pushing the limits!

The Web is its community. We just want to help starting the fire.

Aframe.io is awesome!

I find it very useable and easy to get good results quickly. Thanks for all the great work and polish.

One of the things WebVR needs the most is an easy launch from SteamVR Home... is that on your roadmap?

I'd like to second this, I instantly recognised ngokevin from the Github repo and a couple of StackOverflow issues I've been involved in. Thank you for your work on Aframe!

It's people like you who bring the future forwards - you're bringing VR to where a massive amount of developers and users already are, and that's amazing.

Thanks! Yeah, we're currently working on it.

Neat that this is a shoot off of aframe.

It seems like the Dev community is focused on using unity and unreal engine for their be experiences. How do you plan on addressing that ?

Thanks! I don't see the dev community as monolithic. People coming from native will lean toward Unreal / Unity that are fantastic and Web people like us prefer the Web workflow. The feedback loop of edit / reload / share with a link is hard to give up. I don't think most Web developers face the decision: Should I use Unity or A-Frame? What we've seen is more like Web Developers finding about A-Frame and saying: Cool I can now do VR as well. With A-Frame we wanted to onboard the Web community into VR. Over time as the platform improves we would also love to see newcomers choosing the Web based on its own merits.


I think the Web has many merits that make more sense for developers over using native game engines. People will reach for the Web when they want more distribution, when their app doesn't make sense on the game stores, need to publish instantly, update live, etc. And lot of content works better as a webpage that loads quickly versus a 1GB install (imagine an online VR store for Nike, or a teacher's quick VR render of an MRI).

For instance, we know people that have had their game rejected from the stores and are now looking at the Web. So the Web will always have its place.

I don't mean being in a store at all. When I went to the VR meetup near me no one was using the web to have any experience in VR at all. Not even game stores but advertisements that they setup themselves. The issue is the community is obsessed with performance and the only way they can do that is with native code. Also, no one will really be able to help you with your VR javascript app.

Yeah, WebVR is still very early, and VR has been all native so far. It would take a bit of time to catch into VR meetups. The 2D Web has lots of baggage from the 2D Web's performance related to the 2D layout engine.

Performance, while there are a few fixable issues with latency on the browser side, can be great on WebVR. WebGL has shown it can do quality 3D experiences as it's a wrapper on OpenGL.

The WebVR community itself though is pretty large. We maintain https://aframe.io (a WebVR framework) which has thousands of people in the Slack channels, and plenty of help on Stack Overflow. I also think the Web is a more accessible route to get into VR since it's just HTML/JS in a file.

Yea I have been involved in the community a bit. I had an open ticket about having multiple aframe windows on one website and it was closed.

I think I should have just had an aframe that was in the background that was not shown to the user instead .

The idea was to show search results for objects that could be 3D printed.

Yeah, I remember!

I think using I-Frames would have been best, or something like https://threejs.org/examples/#webgl_multiple_elements which uses one renderer but masks to make it seem like multiple scenes.

It says in your FAQ that you're focusing on headsets that have positional tracking and controllers. Any plans for a Playstation VR port?

We'd love to, PSVR has been a very accessible way for people to have VR. But there are lots of technical challenges for us. We will continue to research. We hope one day though we can be on all the headsets. Just as the Web is on all phones today :)

Would a DK1 be supported?

And on a related note, is there any use for a DK1? Mine's just sat there since the first week it arrived. Do people buy them second hand? Do any interesting games/apps support them?

No, the DK1 support has been discontinued by the Oculus runtime.

This is cool. Get it ready before AR goes mainstream. Even Chrome right now in vr mode is pretty cool despite being completely beta and not having really any vr specific features.

How is a VR browser different than social VR like JanusVR that also let users build and share custom content with others inside some centralized virtual hub?

Speaking to the Web side of Janus, they have a good platform of thousands of VR sites. The difference is that Janus is a content platform and tool on the Web, and Supermedium is a VR browser for that Web. They would fit together. You could browse Janus sites in Supermedium.

We love what JanusVR is doing. The main difference is what you said. Supermedium is not a centralized platform but just a standard compliant Web Browser. Anything you create for Supermedium will run in any other browser that implements the current WebVR or future WebXR specs (https://immersive-web.github.io/webvr/)

What are your favorite/recommended VR headsets? Do your cofounders have nicknames so as to avoid confusion with responding to "Diego"?

While more expensive, we love headsets that have positional tracking and controllers (6DoF). It doesn't feel like true VR without them. Those include HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Windows MR. We are eagerly awaiting Oculus's "Santa Cruz".

Sure! I'm just Kevin. Diego Marcos is just Diego. Diego Goberna goes by "feiss".

But they call me Diego at home.

I had an idea for a VR/AR-based app/site that involves map-based data. Are google maps (or other map-based sites) supported?

Sounds neat. Whatever you are able to pull off the Web. I'm sure someone has tried to scrape Google Maps, or OSM has an API.

Is this based on Servo at all?

It's currently based on Gecko. Thanks to Kearwood Gilbert and Daosheng Mu for pushing hard for years on a great implementation of WebVR!

Anyone remember VRML?

We get that question often. VRML had lots of good ideas but it was ahead of its time. There were cell phones in the 80s and touch screens before the iPhone but there were missing conditions that prevented those technologies to be a mass market success. It can be price, quality of implementation, availability, convenience... When VRML was released it was still early days for real time 3D graphics. Only the pointy end of computers had 3D hardware acceleration.

Edited to fix typos.

Clickable link: https://www.supermedium.com

Thanks, working on getting that edited.

Up there now.

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