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Show HN: Stand-Up/Meetings in VR for Remote Teams (portalspaces.com)
95 points by kdzapp 28 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 75 comments



Your demo video completely undersells the potential here.

The hook for this product is an emotional one, a way to understand and better connect with remote colleagues, and removing miscommunication anxiety -- so where are they in the demo?

Apart from a brief glimpse of a meeting space, 80% of the time is spent messing around with an awkward whiteboard implementation. The video needs to show open collaboration with other humans in VR. I catch a quick glimpse of another disembodied head in the demo but that's all.


This. I want to see a meeting in progress. How would a stand-up be run using this? Show people :)


Yes!!! Will do.


Just as a note to the original poster:

I looked at the page and thought to myself, "Show me what it does. How does it compare to, say, Sococo? Is there any way I could use it without VR gear?"

I didn't see any screenshots or videos or links that looked like they'd provide more info. Only in seeing this comment did I take a closer look and see that there was, in fact, a video. The play button really blends in to the background picture and just looks like some sort of logo.


Thanks for the feedback, this is great. I completely agree - we are in the midst of composing a more 'emotional' video. That has people interacting with each other from different locations. This reaffirmation is very much appreciated.


I was thinking the same thing, I turned it off after 10 seconds. It really needs a voice over and a much better video production quality.


Gotchya! Will do.


Hello Everyone! Just to give you some background I started Portal Spaces because one of the worst parts of WFH for me was always collaborating. No matter how good of an internet connection I had, Skype (that’s what we used at MS ofc) would always lag. I also couldn’t present and see people at the same time. I think the tech for this is really early but we want to focus on making it accessible, that’s why we built for the Oculus Go. Thus, even including the hardware, we are able to price it similar to other video conferencing software. We strongly believe that once you can feel like you’re in a room with someone else in VR, there will be nothing stopping you from becoming a remote worker. That’ll allow for everyone to have a more flexible, enjoyable lifestyle.

Let us know what you think! We are really excited to be released, though we are in alpha, so we have lots of room for development and improvement!


If you can make this a tolerable experience on the Oculus Go, it should only get better from there. After using several VR setups (including the Go), I think it might just hit the baseline sweet spot of affordability, ease of use and performance-- with the latter obviously being the biggest concern.

You might want to consider throwing in a quick check on internet speed & latency at the user's location, and simply not allow them to connect if it's not up to a certain level (or gracefully degrade the experience to a lower-bandwidth, more latency-tolerant secondary UI).


Will definitely consider this - and I totally agree. The Go isn't going to offer the "BEST" end-all be-all solution, but as time progresses we will get the experience of a Rift in a Go for the same price as a Go (the quest in 1-2 years). If we can get an acceptable experience on the Go, the sky is the limit as the tech progresses!


Determine the best stuff to compress without losing engagement and you've got it.

As others have said, faces probably matter a lot. It would be nice to have face tracking through a bluetooth device or something, but direction of gaze with the right manual options (say, 5 gradients from smiling to frowning and a few other emotes) might be enough to start.


Anecdotally one big reason why video calls are disliked is because of the clunkiness caused by connectivity and hardware related issues.

* Someone suddenly is not audible

* Someone doesn't realize they are audible, and starts speaking to someone else in person

* Glitches and breaks in the conversation due to words or parts of words becoming cut off

I imagine the VR equivalents may be comical or frightening.

The other "big" issue (anecdotally) is lack of visual cues to know when it's likely to be OK to start and stop talking

I'd bet big on anything that somehow managed to solve these problems.


It's really interesting that I have the same frustrations with video calls, however I also play VR videogames and video chat with "remote friends" very often, and almost NEVER have those issues.

I'm not sure if it's greater familiarity with the tools, or something else, but I can be on a 4 person group video call with my friends WHILE playing a VR game with them as well and everything runs smoothly and without lag for hours on end, but like 40% of video calls for past jobs have had dropouts, lag, difficulty hearing, and other issues.

One thing I think that really helps some of those issues is to get high quality headsets for everyone and make sure they know how to use it, but the lag I genuinely don't understand what makes it so common in work contexts.


Good hardware is essential to make frequent video calling work well. We have a semi-distributed team, spread between two offices and a bunch of remote workers.

The biggest difference to making it work was for everyone to be issued a decent headset so that you're not battling people using Apple headphones which pick up everyone else in the room, and setting up meeting rooms with decent video conferencing hardware so that its possible to bring in groups from different places.

If I had my way we'd have taken the much simpler approach of declaring that for any meeting with one remote participant, everyone connects by video, but that's a battle I lost long ago with management!


>If I had my way we'd have taken the much simpler approach of declaring that for any meeting with one remote participant, everyone connects by video

I've tried that in the past, but sadly even good office networks often get pretty choppy when you have 4 or 5 people all video calling from the same connection independently.

The best solution I've found for that case is to invest in good video conference hardware for meeting rooms. Get a couple of area mics, and a big TV with a camera on it that can see the whole table.


Thanks for this Klathmon.

The reason meeting in VR is fundamentally better from a technical standpoint is the amount of information your sending over a network is GREATLY reduced. A video is a series of pixels with 4~ values that all have to be sent around 30 times per second at least.

On the other hand, in VR, all the textures are stored locally, so the only two network "dependencies" for communication are voice over IP and positions (usually about 4 sets of coordinates). This allows you to have 20+ people in a room with almost no lag.


> The other "big" issue (anecdotally) is lack of visual cues to know when it's likely to be OK to start and stop talking

This is something that is much better in vr. Eye contact becomes a thing.


We are hoping we can simulate that as time progresses!


I tend to agree, I don't think VR is addressing the major problems - it's simply adding a layer on top of something that is still fundamentally not as frictionless as meeting in person. VR simply adds another input layer and more hardware to go wrong.

Land-lines may have lacked fidelity but they were near enough to 100% reliable and simple enough for a child to use which is quite an achievement. In the world of consumer teleconferencing we are not even close to that experience.


I politely disagree with your premise. I dislike video calls and have never found them technically clunky or unreliable.


Which video call services have you used? My experience has had me use these:

Slack Webex Teams Zoom Skype

Of those, Slack and Teams both cut out at seemingly random times. The others, though, were generally reliable.


I'd love to dive into this a bit more - why do you dislike video calls?


Video can add a significant cognitive burden to someone who is easily overstimulated. It sounds like this could add to it.


because they are terrible and not fit for busy people who might prefer multitasking calls


That sounds more like a problem with the way the meeting is run not if it’s conducted via audio, video or VR.

If you feel like it’s wasting your time you are probably in a meeting you shouldn’t be in or it’s not properly organized with specific goals that need to be addressed in the meeting.

I feel like running an audio stream in the background and just do other things is not something that solves that. And why wouldn’t you be able to just minimize the video and do what you want to do if you don’t feel like attending?


It is not though and I don't feel like I'm wasting my time. Audio stream in the background and pitching in when I need to is perfect -- I learn all that I need to learn and I can multitask. It is the same concept as listening to podcasts whilst driving, albeit a bit more interactive. You can see why it'd be incredibly awkward to do this via video.


Hey Fareesh! Thanks for your input, check out my comment on Klathmon's reply.


Seems like an unfortunate name choice when used besides Facebook/Oculus hardware.

"Portal" is the name of Facebook's home video call device.

"Spaces" is the name of Facebook's VR chat & hangout platform.


A bit unfortunate, yes, but we embrace our names meaning as a way to transport you to any space you'd like. We actually came up with the name before facebook released their portal platform, and weren't to excited when they released.

We also were using different hardware at the start, but as I'm sure you know, the market takes you wherever the best fit is, and now we are on the Go


I didn't think of either of those services FWIW. Name seems fine (if a bit bland) to me.


good to know!


This seems sick, I think you can really change the way lectures or other massive talks are viewed! I'm looking forward to trying it out!


Thanks!!


I as remote worker (with different work hour for each team member) doing asynchronous communication. We don't video conference, just leaving notes for other team member (email, Github issue, Slack, etc). But I think VR in the workplace is the future and you have something good to start. Very cool product anyway!


Awesome thanks for the input, I think it would be an interesting problem “how to engage async workers in VR”


Hello everyone!!! Thanks for showing so much support thus far for Portal Spaces. It means a lot to us. We just launched on product hunt! We encourage you to check it out https://www.producthunt.com/posts/portal-spaces

Thanks!!


Interesting play to include the hardware. I can tell you put alot of work into this, it's a shame that the demo video doesn't reflect that. Really need to redo that with some compelling use cases (actually talking, sharing a video, etc) instead of the MS Paint and 1 finger typing.


Definitely will work on a better video to display the full potential. But who doesn't love MS Paint??


The space for remote work in VR is going to be HUUUUUUUGE. You're off to a great start! My advice is not only copy/paste what we have today, but think about how you can use VR's unique advantage to make remote collaboration even better than in-person collaboration.

The best of luck!


Will do Shafyy I appreciate the comment!!!


I’ve been using Portal Spaces a couple weeks. The shared whiteboard excites me a lot. We’ve been able to cast Real Time Boards to it, to have focused conversations during our engineering retrospectives and planning meetings.


thanks for the comment :)


Portlandia had a funny take on this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eGFeD0n6ao&t=20s


Hahaha I’ll replace my demo video on the website with this, cool features


This would work even better in AR if everyone's facial expressions and other nonverbal cues could be included.

Also speech recognition or something should replace that pointer keyboard.


Thanks for the insight! We are working on adding speech to text, and AR is a bit far away from being a reality. Avatars are getting more complex everyday, though. I encourage you to check out this article: https://techcrunch.com/2018/05/02/facebook-photo-realistic-a...


Yes exactly the sort of thing I was wondering. Seems like you know what's possible now, soon, and later. Looking forward to hearing about or experiencing next achievements.


Thank you! I’ll keep the community updated for sure.


I think a more useful thing is simply asynchronous standup videos. There should ideally be little reason to have a standup live in real time, as most questions or collaboration should happen offline, not in the standup.

So virtualizing an already semi-broken part of scrum seems to address the symptoms not the problem but idk.

However this obviously pretty sweet. Amazing work. This appears to be fairly polished as well.


Thank you!! I get the differing opinions on scrum but like I said earlier I think live meetings are important for team unity and collaboration beyond the pragmatic actionable tasks/pending questions.


I really appreciate any development / inroads that further improves remote working. I also used to HTC Vive. I think VR for meetings /standups is as disruptive to typical programmer 'flow' as a regular meeting, at least until your coding is also done in VR. So I applaud the development, but I frankly hope it won't widely adopted in this form.


We appreciate your thoughts, but we really think stand-ups are essential to productive, effective team work. Solo coding doesn't get you far when you're only working on a tiny piece of a huge puzzle. You need effective communication to put everything together, we really think it's undervalued in the coding world - meetings get an undeserved bad rap.


If you must have stand up meetings, why not have them over e.g. chat or Slack or IRC or the like? That way you get a record of what's going on that people can refer to. What's the added value of being in a virtual "room"? For collaboration over documents just use Google Docs. Far more workable than shaky drawing on a virtual whiteboard.


Hey! Thanks for the response. We've definitely heard this before but the research continues to show that when people work remotely their top complaints are collaboration and isolation. We are hoping we can hit both problems with our product but bringing people in a room where they feel like they are together.

It's not a fully optimized "pragmatic" approach, but humans are social creatures and it shows in productivity and happiness when they are working remotely.

https://open.buffer.com/state-remote-work-2018/


It's great that you're not super gung-ho over the current approach, and still searching. While not convinced currently, I'll keep you guys on my radar in the future. I'm sure there is an application for VR/AR in this space, but I'm also sure it'll take some time and a lot of elbow grease to figure out what it is.

In the immediate future, I hope someone figures out a way to build a video conferencing solution which lets me "raise a virtual hand" when I'd like to speak, and for the person running the meeting to designate the current speaker. I think the current solutions all suck because there's no way to do it (so you have to talk over somebody else, fighting considerable audio lag), and I think VR would only exacerbate this because the experience is more visceral.


Just a note on your video - I scrolled right past it without realizing the embedded video was there. I scrolled all the way down to the bottom of the page and thought "what...no video showing what this is?".

I suggest a little more contrast on the default video image, plus the "play" icon in the center could be more pronounced.


Great suggestion - We will update this asap.


Didn't Facebook already make a similar feature for their Ocular series? Sorry, big fan of the idea, just wondering what makes your specific product novel.

But still, awesome work!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2U9lXEnHns


I like the idea of a remote vr standup. But, as a manager of a remote team our main struggle right now is handling asynchronous communication and time zones difference. Any tool already helping on that?


the meetings will have a transcript that is sent to the emails of the participants (a feature we are currently focused on). You could easily forward that transcript on to your remote employees who can't make it due to timezone issues!!


Email, GitHub, and Slack?


How many people can the platform support in one meeting? Would be very useful for >2 teams (instead of having multiple screens, could have just one environment with multiple people inside)


Yeah totally this is a primary benefit of working in an environment that is akin reality. You can have around 20 people, we aim to have support for 50~ or more coming soon!


My team and I have been using the Go to hold meetings and other collaboration efforts. What does this product offer that I can't already get from the free apps?


That depends on the software you're using! Our VR smart whiteboard offers a way to present and draw/save your notes. We are developing a transcript saving functionality, that saves everything you talk about into notes and emails it to you. We also will use that speech to text to allow you to use commands (hopefully replacing most of the usage of the keyboard).

That being said, we are a very young start up! We will continue to add to and advance our product in pursuit of creating optimal value for all of our users.

(Would love to hear more about what you like & dislike about your current work/meeting flow in the Go if you want to email kyle@portalspaces.com)



Definitely one of our competitors. We think the market is open enough for multiple players in the VR collaboration space :) Hopefully we will drive each other to build better products, with better pricing. That being said, we think some features we are working on will be key differentiators.


Do you send the hardware or do we need our own headsets? How difficult is set up if I want this for my team?


We provide you with everything you need. It's super simple to set up, just turn on the VR headset we send you, launch portal spaces and start inviting people to your VR space.


Any plans to include compatibility outside of Oculus Go?


Unfortunately we currently don't have plans for that. We think compatibility is important, but are more focused on getting the product to a more stable state before we expand to other headsets!


I played with a demo of a similar system awhile back. It's weird to say this, but eye contact matters.


I agree! Facebook avatars will soon have eyes and facial expressions that mimic your own.


Are you required to have a Facebook account?


Nope! You can sign up with your email :)




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