So I figured I would write about my experience of the Oculus Rift so far. There are probably tons of impressions to be found online, but perhaps this might touch upon things that are not too common to bring up :)
First day thoughts
The Not so Good
- Very pixelated
- Motion blur
- Crushing my nose ridge
1. So yeah, I wasn’t entirely sold the first day, even if I had been super hyped for six months. Luckily discovered later that many of my negative impressions could be alleviated easily. The low resolution is hard to change though as it depends on the panel in the development kit which is both too large and has a low pixel density. I have noticed that running at a higher resolution (1920×1200) causes the breakout box to downsample the signal which makes the image look smoother, which helps. Anti-aliasing is also nice if you have performance left to run with it on. The current HD prototype has a better sized display which also has a higher pixel density so Oculus has that under control.
2 & 5. The motion blur depends on both human and hardware factors, like the backlight and eye tracking. I thought it was quite horrible when I started using my development kit, again making me kind of skeptical about if this thing would actually work. I will reveal later what made it better but a contributing factor to my bad first impression was because I only had my Macbook Air to play on at the time, a machine that is not exactly made for VR.
3. Haha, the nose thing? I still have not read the paper that came with the devkit, it probably says the first thing I should do is adjust the screen and optics distance. There are knobs on either side of the unit which moves the screen assembly relative to the face mask. Naturally it was delivered with the screen and thus nose recession as close to the mask as possible. I just had to move the adjustment to zero and it was all fine, doh!
4. Tearing is when the image drawn changes during a single update of the screen, which means it will look like the world is split in two. I had this problem even if I activated vsync which should fix it. I read up on it and apparently you need to set the screen you want to sync with in the primary graphics port, which is hard on a laptop, but on my desktop I plugged the Rift into the primary DVI port and it works perfectly! Only problem is that when I want to play on my normal screen I get tearing there instead :P It would be nice with a box to switch two DVI inputs but that sounds like a very specialized piece of kit that probably doesn’t exist.
6. Nausea is a big one. The first day I could do about 5-10 minutes in a demo that involved movement before I felt wonky. What affected me the most was strafing in the Tuscany demo and flying in FIRMA, those activities had me face go green. It’s simply something to get used to, more on that later.
- Awesome field of view
- Headtracking is key
- It’s super light
- Good build quality
- Cool case
- Easy to connect, no installation
1 & 3. Ages ago I tried a university VR headset, and it was so bad that my fantasy of ever experience good VR pretty much died. Super low resolution, bulky, laggy tracking, tiny picture. It was just not an appealing experience. But having tried that it meant I had something to compare the Rift with when getting it. I knew it would not be the headset to end all headsets, but compared to my previous venture into VR it was like night and day.
The image covers probably 10-15 times more of my field of view, the tracking is butter smooth, and the headset is small and light enough to almost be forgotten. The resolution per degree might not be much better right than the old headset because the pixels are covering a much larger angle here, but there are a ton more pixels in total. The field of view could be higher too, but I would be perfectly satisfied playing games with the Rift as it is today because it is still much higher than anything else on the consumer market. It feels pretty much like wearing skiing goggles which is something I’m used to anyway.
2. What really sells the experience is the head-tracking. Currently it only tracks orientation, but if you keep that in mind and only rotate and tilt your head it should be fine. It becomes problematic if you try to move your head though, as that will currently not be represented in the virtual world. They aim to have positional tracking in the consumer version and right now some demos can add it via the Razer Hydra.
4. The unit itself including the attached control box has been holding up just fine even if it has been dropped and carried around quite a lot. In total I’ve had about 20 different people in my Rift since I got it, these have been just casual demonstrations, and the only thing I’ve done so far is wipe the lenses clean of smudges and dust. I do think some dust has made its’ way inside the unit but I haven’t bothered trying to fix that yet.
5. One good reason it is still in such a good shape is probably the neat case it was delivered in. I doubt the consumer kit will have anything like this, but for the development kit it was very clever as it becomes an incentive to bring it along. Right now the hardware is unusual enough that it’s fun to bring along to let people try it out, and move between desks or offices. It has made me think I should get similar cases for other things I have, like my cameras!
6. While bringing it around I have also attached it to other people’s machines, and as the control box is plug and play, a standard HID device, no drivers are needed to play with it! You just plug it in and go! As long as you have software with Rift support.
Thoughts after a few months
The Not so Good
- Edges are quite blurry
- Small area of panel actually visible
- USB issues
- Slight discomfort
1. Most of the time in the Rift I’m quite immersed, it feels like an authentic experience, one thing that keeps breaking it is text though. Even if the text is large enough to read, if it goes out to the edges it becomes so blurry it’s quite hard to make out what it says. Right now things are fine as long as elements that should be readable are not fixed outside of the sharp area. From my experiments I’m still not sure if the amount of pixels in focus is different depending on your set distance to the lenses, the sharpness goes down quickly for me, I guess it could have more to do with my eyes actually as I’m nearsighted but still use the standard eyecups.
2. Something I found odd in the early TF2 videos was that the two views were tiny on the screen. Now I have understood that the optics are pretty much working the same way as they would with a 5″ display even if there’s a 7″ currently in the devkit. To the right you can see an image where I have drawn the edges of what I can see when I wear the Rift at different settings, I have also added a rectangle for where a 5″ and 5.5″ display would sit. The new HD version Oculus has shown off uses a 1080p display around that size which seems to be much more optimal.
3. I got to play troublefree for a few weeks on my gaming rig before I bumped into issues. After installing the Logitech Gaming Software 8.48 my Rift tracker would stop reporting. The Oculus support told me about the incompatibility but I still had problems after uninstalling. Finally I read in the dev forums that it could also be the Xbox wireless receiver which I use for connecting a wireless Xbox 360 controller to my PC. In the end I’m now running with a wired controller instead and so far it has been working without ever hanging the USB stack. These are clearly some issues Oculus will have to look into, luckily this is only the development kit!
4. One slight discomfort is that my headphones combined with the headband of the Rift introduce pressure on the top of my head, noticeable after an hour or so, but that is probably just because I’m too lazy to adjust things properly. I have considered trying to mount ear-cups straight onto the Rift, but so far just a couple of headphones works just fine, especially as I can easily get the headband to go above my ears.
5. Something you have probably heard about is that the sensors drift, meaning straight forward stops being straight forward but some other direction. This is not a problem in free-look games like a normal shooter where the HUD follows the camera, but when you sit in a cockpit or you have a relative HUD you might find yourself misaligned after a while. Oculus has put a magnetometer in the Rift to counter this, basically an electronic compass, but support in the SDK came a while after many demos had already been release which meant a lot of them do not utilize it yet.
Another form of drift that has only happened to me a few times after prolonged sessions is where the Rift seems to forget what is down so the whole world is leaning to one side. Normally when you boot up the Rift you can see it calibrating to gravity to know what is down, the image levels out, but I guess with time this calibration can be off due to the normal sensor drift. Just sitting straight for a while usually fixes it, but right when it happens it’s pretty uncomfortable and for me it has taken a few moments to realize what is wrong. Perhaps this is just a sign that I should take more breaks :)
- A high framerate helps alot!
- Half-Life 2 is fantastic
- Free demos galore!
- Awesome 3D movie viewer
- Finally a 3D photo viewer
1. In my initial experience I complained about motion blur and latency. It was actually quite bad. When I finally got access to my desktop machine it was a completely different game. When I ran at a constant 60 fps the motion blur was reduced, the latency became negligible, and my enjoyment of the Rift skyrocketed. Perhaps most importantly my tendency to get nauseated decreased. Earlier I was actually unsure if I would ever be able to play for very long without feeling ill, but on my gaming rig I’ve spent up to three hours in a game without interruption.
2. I’m going to make a separate writeup of my Half-Life 2 playthrough, but I have to mention it here. My first ten minutes in HL2 had my face go green, but this was when I had just gotten the headset. The time I could spend in the game increased with more use, and at the end I think I can honestly say that my maximum level of nausea was low enough that I could play for as long as I wanted to, even while driving the airboat or the scout car. What often got me to stop was the need to sleep or eat, discomfort from the headphones or other factors other than nausea. Again, it was a very awesome experience and I look forward to playing through Episode 1 and Episode 2 which are also Rift enabled, unless I am mistaken. I do have some feedback for Valve but I’m not sure where to put it.
3. The outpouring of free demos to try has been amazing. Everything from game prototypes to just VR experiences and multimedia applications. The sources I’ve used the most are probably STV.RE and TheRiftList.com. Oculus themselves have started up Oculus Share, an official service where you can find experiences tailored for the Rift. And actually, right now they are also holding an IndieCade VR Jam that appears to generate a ton of interesting demos!
4. Even if the Rift development kit has a limited resolution i’ve used it to watch a few movies, both in normally and in stereoscopic 3D. The first movie I watched was a sci-fi survival horror flick. I have to say it was a bit discomforting to have scary images filling my view and even when I closed my eyes the headphones still made me feel like I was present in the scene, which actually made it scarier to not see! Yes, for me the rift actually makes normal movies more immersive too, probably because everything else is blocked out. I remember a similar experience when watching Blair Witch Project on a normal TV but in a pitch black room, that was intense! Not sure I want to watch that in the Rift…
I’ve also watched Legend of the Guardians in stereoscopic 3D, and it’s a very good 3D experience as there is zero ghosting or crosstalk, and again the surroundings are blocked out so there is no depth issues. Things that would pop out of a TV now just feels like they are closer as you don’t focus on a TV anymore, which does feel more natural. As a bonus you can set the size of your perceived screen, it’s quite neat to have a 100″ TV or even a cinema screen in the compact format of a headset.
5. Since a few years back I have had the Fujifilm W3 3D camera, and I’ve enjoyed experimenting with it quite a lot. I have not had a good way to share the resulting images though, the best way to look at them has been on the display of the actual camera. I did convert a bunch of photos to anaglyph but honestly, how many people have a pair of red/cyan glasses readily available? Viewing the photos in the Rift was quite nice. As usual the limited resolution does detract from the experience but the sense of depth is very nice. Some of my older photos would have the parallax way off so I tried just deactivating auto-parallax in the camera and that made the photos display correctly in the Rift. Sadly it seems like Fujifilm have stopped developing this series of cameras, I would really have liked a version with more wide-angle optics, better sensors and a flash hot-shoe.
So what do think will happen? I’m not sure if the general public will actually buy into this, but I think the gaming and tech communities will be raging about it for quite some time to come. All the people I have shown it too are impressed and wondering where it came from. Some think it’s scary, mostly women, while others just wonder where and when they can get one and for how much. The lacking resolution is something that gets commented on pretty often but again that will go up with the consumer version and personally I cannot wait to get my hands on the final product!
I think there are a few factors that will set the Rift apart from the competition.
- A superior field of view. Actually between five to ten times the viewing area of other consumer headsets. This is one of the key factors that makes wearing the Rift such an incredibly immersive experience. It might not be your full vision, but I think it’s definitely close enough for a consumer product.
- A good value. The development kit is $300 right now and they, Oculus VR, have said repeatedly that they aim for a similar price point for the consumer version. Most other headsets are about $700-$900, probably a bit above what the casual consumer is willing to pay. Actually, I was quite hyped up about the Sony HMD, but the price here in Sweden was just crazy ($1500). I really wanted it but I wouldn’t put down that much money unless I had tried it first, which I still haven’t, and it was excellent.
- Accessibility. Right now you can just plug the Rift in, start a game or application that supports it and you are good to go! Using a gamepad has been the best for me, and currently there are plenty of games that support the Xbox 360 controller for Windows. As for the Rift there might be some calibration involved but it just means looking this and that way, very simple. All in all I’d say it’s a very user friendly experience so far, even for a development kit, at least until you start to hook up the Razer Hydra or other specialized accessories! One issue that might need some attention is the primary/secondary port vsync issue, not sure what can be done there.
- Comfort. One of the more obvious properties of the Rift is that it’s very light and comfortable, especially if you compare it to units with similar field of view. The weight is also close to your face making for very little neck strain. I’m not an athlete, I have a thin nerd-neck, and it can handle it no problem. And in the future the the consumer version will use a lighter and smaller panel making the unit even more comfortable!
As for content, what I want to do the most with my Rift is definitely to play video games. I want to go on adventures, explore worlds and interact with other people wearing the Rift. My preferred in-game activities are exploration, senseless action, progression and definitely co-operation, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a game that fills most of those. Because you can actually tell the scale of things and distances the game worlds feel very real in the sense that they are believable, they feel like a different world that could work. I’ll go more into this in the future HL2 article, whenever I get time to write that!
Secondly I want to watch immersive movies. I’ve just had too many bad experiences with ghosting when it comes to 3D movies, both with screens at home and at the cinema. The Rift uses separate parts of the screen so it has zero risk of crosstalk and all the other screen properties like brightness and contrast are unaffected which is not the case with shutter-glasses or polarized glasses.
I guess the Sony headset could be more fit for movies as it basically is a 3D TV mounted to your face. The Rift though will make it seem like a much larger screen and it is not completely unlikely that we’ll get some surround videos to watch in it too! Then there is also the fact I can get two or three Rift units for the same price of a Sony, and if I already own a Rift for gaming I could just as well use it for movies too.
In closing, I hope this has been an interesting read, and thank you for your time if you actually reached this far :D Cheers!