Impossible Figure: Plus

Plus
Plus_00_10_032015-07-31
Linework | Fillwork

From the top three pillars turn into a solid wall and then to four pillars.

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Impossible Figure: Frame2

Frame2
Frame2_00_13_012015-06-24
Linework | Fillwork

The center frame goes from jutting out to being a cutout without changing elevation.

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Show your face in a VR profile picture

Since 2013 I’ve been sporting a profile picture or avatar that features me wearing an Oculus Rift DK1. It was originally a photograph for my post about my impressions of the headset. It stuck with me for the longest time but now when consumer hardware has actually shipped I felt the need for an update. The full non-cropped version of it is below.

BOLL in the Vive

BOLL Avatar UpdateAs I recently did a photo project with the consumer Rift, I decided to use the Vive for my profile to kind of balance things out. I had already featured Oculus hardware for several years so it just seems fair, no? I might swap back to Oculus in a few years or perhaps even to a third brand!

For reference you can see my old and new profile picture next to each other to the left.

Tron ModeThe concept itself is based on the camera mode that exists in the Vive headset, dubbed Tron-mode because of the traced outlines and blue color. This is basically the Tron-mode but reversed to show what’s inside the headset rather than outside!

I posted the resulting image to Reddit as I thought it was good enough to share and there I was asked to provide details on how I made it. As I have now written it up once already I figured I could just as well post it here too.

Photo shoot

  1. BOLL Vive CameraI used my Panasonic Lumix G5 with a 20mm f1.7 lens. This was mounted on a rail with a webcam facing the back of it, this put what was on the camera LCD on my screen through using OBS Studio. The rail itself was mounted to a tripod.
  2. On the PC I ran Virtual Desktop to see what happened on the camera screen while in VR. I used a wireless keyboard so I could press F4 to reset where my desktop was positioned in space, this so I could see my old profile picture to try and strike a similar pose.
  3. To trigger exposures I connected my TriggerTrap dongle to the camera and mounted my phone which ran the TriggerTrap app to a video monopod. I set it to do time-lapse with an exposure every 10 seconds, this to give me time between shots to adjust. I also set the camera to three seconds of review to let me see the result.
  4. I had my flash unit mounted on a separate tripod and I bounced the light off of the white ceiling. The flash was triggered via wireless FlashQ trigger units. The flash was set to manual mode and the second highest gain level.
  5. On the camera I manually set the white balance, aperture, shutter speed and ISO but used single shot auto focus. With the focus area around my nose and eyes and at the same time the front of the headset I could get both shots I needed to be sharp. Manual settings were used to get as close to identical exposures as possible as the result is going to be a composite image.
  6. When I thought I had gotten a good shot with the headset on I would try to stay as still as possible while quickly removing it so I had the same face and pose in the next shot. This was a process I had to repeat a number of times until I was happy with what I got, I actually swapped lenses a few times too. It’s easy to get a mismatch in head angle between the two exposures.

Photoshop

  1. I lifted the shadows in the two selected RAW files and then put them in layers with the no-HMD one on top, setting its blending mode to Difference and matching position on my top row of teeth as they are fixed to my skull.
  2. Then I made a smart object of the top layer which again is only my face. I applied Surface Blur, Find Edges and Invert. Then put the layer in a group, set blending mode of the group to Screen and applied a layer mask to remove everything that was outside the headset profile.
  3. Finally put a new layer above the face layer in the same group and fill it with your tron-mode color of choice, set layer blending mode to Color.
  4. The thumb graphic is just painted, blurred and with blending mode set to Overlay.

Virtual photo shoot

  1. BOLL Vive HeadsetI had to get a background as I did the shoot against a boring dark roller blind. My tripod was still in the same position and angle so I mounted the Vive headset onto the rail to get the same angle of the virtual camera as the physical one I had used.
  2. I booted up The Lab and after some experimentation (and a ton of crashes) I ended up taking a screenshot from the Valve demo room #1. I chose this room as it had similar lighting conditions to my actual room. There are yellow tinted reflected light on me as the photo was shot in a room with yellow walls and the demo room naturally had yellow tinted light.
  3. I scaled up the screenshot and put it in the background, applied blur and brightened it up to match my photo. I extracted myself from my original background with a layer mask so the new background became visible then walked over the edges with a soft eraser to clean it up.

Final touches

  1. Levels adjustment layer just below the tron-mode group, adjusted all three handles to my liking, it’s basically a more versatile contrast adjustment.
  2. Cropped it to use as a profile picture. Export. Done.

BOLL Vive HOWBOLL_Vive_LayersTo the left is an animated gif showing the major Photoshop steps, a bit simplified but it’s basically what is going on.

Additionally to the right, as a reference if anyone wants to recreate this, are all the Photoshop layers I ended up .

Phew, well, it took way longer than I expected both to do this and to write it up! I did all in all four different versions of this profile picture before reaching something I was enough satisfied with to use :P Not sure how many hours went into it but more than I want to think about ;)

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Impossible Figure: Butterfly2

Butterfly2
Butterfly2_00_06_012015-05-31
Linework | Fillwork

From the top the center column vanishes and the two loops flip their orientation.

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PC VR Buyer’s Guide

I’ve hinted on making a buyer’s guide a few times now and I used a few evenings to set up a page for it. Originally I was going to make a folding form you could print and fill out, but considering many of the terms used can be unfamiliar to people I opted for an interactive version with tooltips.

The form itself is built using JavaScript and radio buttons. The original had jQuery sliders but that didn’t really work on mobile for people so I opted for radio buttons instead. The best way to navigate the form on PC is to just click on a radio button, then use the arrow keys to step sideways and TAB or Shift+TAB to change row.

Go to the PC VR Buyer’s Guide

I’ve tried to be as objective as possible making this and have avoided adding features that is in any way subjective or based on personal preference. In the end I recommend to actually trying the hardware out if you really care about getting what suits you the best. Try to find demos in stores or see if any of your friends have bought a system. Personally I’ve had random people from the Internet come by my place to try things out, but that might be tricker to arrange :)

If you think there are misrepresentations in the form please provide me with feedback! I’ve had about 20 people try this out previously through Twitter and instant messaging and I’ve done adjustments accordingly. You can contact me through the comments section below, the email form or Twitter.


To clarify one thing. At the moment I only see the Rift and Vive as the currently available consumer hardware on PC, this as the official OSVR headset while available is still labeled as a Hacker Development Kit. The name alone makes me think it’s not directly targeted towards consumers.

But, the HDK 1.4 does feature positional tracking, a low persistence screen and can be bought by anyone so I guess if someone wants to help me expand the guide to include the OSVR HDK (or any other headset I guess) feel free to supply me with which features in the list it supports and suitable extra features that are not included yet including tooltips. I’ve felt hesitant to add the HDK mostly because I’ve assumed it is not the final iteration yet and I also don’t own it myself so I have little knowledge of the actual feature set and lack the ability to validate things in person.

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Impossible Figure: Slim

Slim
Slim_00_14_012015-04-30
Linework | Fillwork

There is a horizontal walkway between close to the top to close to the bottom of vertical frame, if you traverse it you go forwards to go back.

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Three Headsets, Three Pictures, Three Years

Sometimes I get this creative urge that drives me to just make something, then photography is a nice outlet, I get to conceptualise and plan something, set up and experiment with image technology, act as a talent and finally dabble around with editing. This entry is about a project that stretched between 2013 and 2016, it turned into a series which I now see as complete. I’ll tell you the story.


Back in 2013, the year I got the Oculus Rift DK1 virtual reality headset, I got the idea to somewhat reenact a very known cyberpunk art piece using the kit, the end result is what you see below.

This is where I live nowThis is where I live now, 2013-11-19

At the time I had just moved in with a few friends the previous month. In the shot I used the bottom mattress I had to sleep on, placed my work Macbook Pro next to it and emptied the rest of the visible floor, which at the time was done very quickly as my room was almost entirely void of possessions.

The experience seen on the screen was an actual live application and indeed what I saw in the headset. I moved around in the game world until I found a vantage point I thought looked like what you can see on the goggles in the reference art.

To capture this self portrait I used my phone and TriggerTrap to continuously take in-camera bracketed shots, reposing myself between every three exposures and trying to imagine what could look remotely similar to the artwork. I did bracketing because I wanted details in the lit lamp, the screen as well as the very dark shadows.

I did about 4-5 passes, posing, checking the camera for results, posing again until I figured I had something to work with. As I currently don’t have access to my large Lightroom Catalog because the app refuses to work with network drives I have no way to check what kind of editing I did, now 2.5 years later it is quite fuzzy in my mind but I’ll post a small strip below of the three source exposures and the final edit. Basically it’s a simple HDR merge and no other editing outside of basic adjustments and some selective desaturation.

DK1 Steps

The image itself was made solely to be posted on the Oculus subreddit over at Reddit, an open forum and community about virtual reality and the company behind the headset I was wearing. Just as I mentioned in the previous entry it’s easier to find motivation to be creative if you have an audience you are fairly certain will appreciate what you make.

After posting it, it randomly got a lot of attention over at Imgur, the image host I used. Somehow that score seemed to have transferred to the Reddit post itself, it ended up being the top voted post for the entire subreddit for quite some time to probably everyone’s surprise.


In 2014 I got the Oculus Rift DK2, the next generation development kit, and after a couple of months using it I decided to do a follow-up image to the first one. This time around I had no real idea or concept behind it, so I just went full bonkers and used all accessories I had amassed for VR up till then. You can see the final result below.

Home improvementHome Improvement, 2014-10-05

One motivation behind making this picture was that I less than two weeks earlier had acquired a GTX 970, this is the the card you see shining blue inside my old desktop, a computer that was brought out of storage for me to have something to play games on. The Macbook was not really built for gaming or VR.

The accessories in the picture that I had bought solely for VR are as follows: Razer Hydra, Logitech G27 wheel, Thrustmaster T-flight HOTAS and the Leap Motion (on top of the PC tower) hand tracker. The Xbox gamepad is in there as well because it was used in quite a few of the VR titles I played and I preferred it above keyboard and mouse when in VR. Fitting enough the consumer Rift would end up shipping with just that, a gamepad.

This time around I figured I wanted more stops of light between the darkest and brightest pictures so I went for five exposures per bracket, this as each step in the bracket can at the most be one stop from the previous one. This is a limitation of the camera I own, the Panasonic Lumix G5.

If my memory serves me I had ghosting issues when merging the five shots so I ended up not using all of them, which was fine as long as the entire range of light to shadow is still covered. As reference I’m providing a similar strip of images as before, or a grid I guess, so you can see what I had to work with. The sixth image is the final edit.

StepsDK2

It didn’t help with editing that my brightest image still was quite dark, so increasing brightness introduced crazy amounts of noise in the image, this left the final result quite dark. What I really struggled with was getting a look I thought would fit the scene, I was uncertain if I should keep the sad mood of the first picture or make this happier, mostly from color balance and saturation, this confusion came from me not really having a set theme this time around so it became a little bit of everything. In my opinion this is definitely the weakest picture in the series, I even had a hard time coming up with a sensible title for it.

A fun tidbit about this photograph is that the game on the screen is just a static screenshot. I wanted something flashy and I didn’t have access to an early build of Elite Dangerous, it was to be released first two months later. It is still what I was looking at in the headset though as I was running with a single monitor back then, I tried to angle my head so it would match what I saw.

This was also posted exclusively to Reddit.


In 2016 my mind was fired up for the actual Oculus Rift release, the CV1, the consumer product. My original idea was to have me standing in a victory pose of sorts, that things went from dystopian to utopian from the first to last picture in the series. This fell short though as the Rift did not ship with Touch, Oculus own tracked hand controllers, because of that my mind went in the opposite direction and it became perhaps an even more dystopian picture than the first one. See the result below.

This is my life nowThis is my life now, 2016-05-07

A lot of things are going on here. The base concept is actually an old idea I had before I wanted to do the utopia one, but where I would be in an ambulance or an actual hospital bed while in VR, kind of what would take place after this picture. I am lucky to know a few people in the medical business so I was able to get my hands on an IV bag and a catheter without too much trouble, prop ideas that came from a nurse I know when I mentioned the project. Add to this some bottled coloured water, a bucket with a toilet paper roll on it, a bunch of cornflake boxes and it’s a picture. I was told by the nurse it was the proper color for matching the urine from someone who has been on IV for some time, otherwise that color was the biggest uncertainty with this shot for me.

The hardware used in the picture is my recently built Mini-ITX machine, an old 4:3 monitor and the Rift CV1. Yet again the monitor is displaying a static screenshot of a game, Lucky’s Tale, this because the actual game is only displaying a very small window on the screen during normal gameplay which would have looked quite lame.

Lumix G5 and webcam mounted on a rail and tilted. Smartphone reverse mounted running TriggerTrap for bracketed bulb time-lapse.

Lumix G5 and webcam mounted on a rail and tilted. Smartphone reverse mounted running TriggerTrap for bracketed bulb time-lapse.

This is the monitor I saw in Virtual Desktop, I used OBS to quickly rotate and crop the webcam image.

This is the monitor I saw in Virtual Desktop, I used OBS to quickly rotate and crop the webcam image.

In the headset itself I was looking at the secondary monitor, which I also used for tome side light from the left. I was using an app called Virtual Desktop which shows me my desktop in VR and was through OBS displaying my webcam which was aimed at the camera LCD. This way I could actually see how I was posing while wearing a VR headset, similar to what I did for a Christmas card in 2014, even if the camera has no live output.

I also used this to reposition some of the props, it was a bit tricky though due to how much the image had degraded before I saw it in the headset. The images above show the technical setup, it was taken with a crappy camera though as my best gear was part of the actual rig.

Below is a short time-lapse of the setup and shooting process, I messed up in the middle with the classic mistake of turning off the recording when I thought I turned it on and vice versa, but it is fairly complete nonetheless.

Yet again I used TriggerTrap to do my chained bracketing. On a whim I tried a different mode and used Long Exposure HDR time-lapse. Basically I put the camera in bulb mode so it would expose for as long as the shutter release was held, then by using the TriggerTrap dongle and this LE HDR mode I could get way more stops of light between my bracketed shots, which I think is pretty evident in the final picture. It did bring with it a few issues though.

When I the day after shooting merged my selected three shots in Lightroom I would get strange halo effects around the brightest spots of the resulting HDR image which made me wonder if I had messed things up, the source images looked fine though. What I could do was use de-ghosting, it effectively removed the halos but also introduced a whole lot of noise in the darker parts of the image, which means most of it. What I ended up doing was to layer one HDR image on top of the other and mask out the halo effect and bring in the brightest parts from the de-ghosted image. This worked out very well, see below for the source images, the two HDR merges and the final result in a single grid.

Steps CV1

As you might have noticed in the final version I also added a painting on the wall, this was a texture downloaded from Textures.com which I then applied some selective masking to. I also replaced all the ICA logos on the cornflake boxes with the Oculus logo as well as adding it to the IV bag. And hardly worth mentioning, I digitally opened the IV tube and valve in case anyone would study this in detail, they were closed as I did not actually have a needle in my arm. After that there was the standard adjustments like color balance, levels and fixing a few blemishes before I posted this as well to Reddit.

The last detail that is fun to mention is that I had gone without shaving for almost a month and grown out my beard and hair since winter because I wanted a specific look for this specific photograph. The day after the shoot I trimmed it all down to get back to looking somewhat respectable!

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Limited Edition VR Hardware

I got my VR hardware fairly quickly after launch, as I mentioned before, only one week late for both the Vive and Rift. This limited access of course had me thinking about what I could do to have some fun online, and Photoshop was the obvious answer. I worked on both the Rift and Vive and I’ll detail what I did in this entry.


For the Rift I went with some old school stuff, it was an idea I had gotten ahead of time and knew I just had to make, see if you can tell where this is from.

Oculus Rift Kickstarter Edition

If you couldn’t guess it’s the pre-Kickstarter logotype for Oculus, they’ve changed their that twice since but this is what they had on their site from the beginning. The graphic itself was made by Denny Unger of CloudHead Games in the MTBS3D forums.

After finishing the picture I published it on Twitter, it didn’t gain much traction but no fret as it was a quick job with a fairly obscure reference. I did think more people in the VR community would catch on, but no matter. Below is an animation I made to show how it was done, I’ll mention the most interesting parts in text.

Oculus Rift Kickstarter Edition HOWThe main thing that made this look authentic was the slight bulge distortion, layer blending mode and most of all the lens blur filter. The blur really does a whole lot to make it look like it belongs due to the shallow depth of field in the photograph. I prepared a gradient that matched depth of the front of the headset and used that as a depth map to gradually blur the logotype.

I published it and thought no more of it, until people on Reddit thought it was real, so I zoomed in and was baffled myself how authentic it actually looked. This is one reason why I made the how-animation.


Next up is the Vive, this was also a no-brainer as even Valve themselves are theming their VR stuff after the Portal universe. As before I took a bunch of photos of the hardware and got to work.

HTC Vive Special Edition

Honestly I didn’t think this would be much different when it comes to attention, but it kind of blew up in my face on Twitter, at least when compared to what usually happens with my tweets (0-1 likes). It’s definitely my most liked and retweeted tweet ever, and will most likely stay that way for a very long time!

I’m assuming the main reason why it caught on is because of the familiar branding. Franchises and IP is so important for recognition, most apparently, and Portal and Aperture Laboratories are well liked brands. This is one reason why making fanart is quite rewarding, you automatically get a (mostly) appreciative audience, I know this myself from back when I was a Halo fanatic and everything I produced was connected to that universe.

Back to the Vive and what I had to do to rebrand the product. This Photoshop job required way more effort than the Rift one, I liked the shallow depth of field there so I tried to replicated the effect. It was way trickier when I wanted to change the entire paint job though, I’ll describe what I ended up doing below.

HTC Vive Special Edition HOWLuckily I realised the difficulty of what I wanted to do even before taking the photos, so I shot it at both with a shallow depth of field and with sharpness throughout. To change the color of the blurred image I painted the sharp image and then laid that on top of the blurred one and blurred the edges manually to match the image below. It was quite laborious but ended up being the method that made it look realistic enough to satisfy my creative needs.

After that it was a matter of placing the logos and logotypes, I might have rushed that a bit as I was just so worn out after the recolouring and wanted to be done with it, but it looks good enough. I tried applying a curved distortion on the headset logotype but after struggling with that I realised the logo would fit around one of the sensor dimples so I just ran with that instead!

As with the Rift job it caused some confusion if it was real or not both on Twitter and Reddit, which when it comes down to it is the the entire point of Photoshopping in the first place, to make something that is not real appear real. For some reason I’ve done stuff like this for what, more than a decade now, meanwhile it’s still just a hobby.

Hopefully you enjoyed this quick journey into the mind of a Photoshopper :)

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Impossible Figure: Wings

I might have said this before, but I’ll describe the way I come up with titles, as it confuses even myself sometimes. For every single figure I have a sketch on paper first, this sketch seldom represents what the final figure ends up looking like, much because of the transition to perspective which automatically changes thing around. The name, in any case, comes from the original sketch. I decide what to name all my files from when I make the first digital file. In this case it was most likely the top shape that made me think of the name, while the entire figure feels fairly unrelated.

Wings
Wings_00_10_012015-03-31
Linework | Fillwork

Going from the top to bottom the single object turns into one board and one U-shape.

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My mostly subjective comparison: Rift and Vive

HeadsetLogos

Since a few weeks back I’ve had friends ask me what I think about the Rift and Vive as I’m in the lucky position to own both headsets, each arrived exactly one week after their individual launch date which is probably a better experience than most have had with this launch. You really do have to wear them yourself to decide which one is for you due to how different they feel depending on your physicality, because of this I’m writing this article mostly from my subjective point of view, even though I find myself trying to be objective even then.

Comfort & Quality

To me either headset is fine to wear for prolonged sessions, that is for an hour or three.

  1. The Rift is a bit easier to put on due to the integrated headphones, the Vive is a bit easier to keep on due to the integrated front facing camera.
  2. The Vive is a bit softer on my face with the thicker and larger facial foam interface, the Rift feels a bit lighter on my head due to the sleeker construction.
  3. The Rift has a hard head strap that can make for uncomfortable pressure points, the Vive has a soft head strap that can require more tightening to keep the headset in place.
  4. The Vive has a bulky cable that can be felt pulling on your head but it’s also longer for more tracking freedom, the Rift has a single slimmer cable that weighs less but is also shorter.
  5. The Rift has sharper optics but they generate quite some flaring for me, the Vive has more blur towards the edges but also less flaring.
  6. The Vive has a hard outer shell that seems able to take a beating, the Rift has a minimal mesh covered housing that feels more premium but also more fragile.
  7. The Rift has tracking integrated in the back of the head strap so it can use a single external reference point for 360 tracking, the Vive needs two reference points but on the other hand doesn’t have the head strap as an additional failure point and it can easily be replaced.

As you can tell these are mostly side-grades if anything. I can’t say that one headset is definitely better than the other because there are so many things that will depend on you as a person, what you prefer, how your head is shaped, your vision. For this reason I’m going to look past most of the hardware for the moment and focus on the entire experience instead.

User Experience

The short description would be that Rift is the system that is effortless to setup and run which has a solid but limited feature set, this while Vive is the more complex system to setup and run which has a rich feature set but some occasional glitches. Allow me to elaborate.

Installation

The Rift comes with a single camera that you put on your desk, then you connect the camera, headset and controller dongle to your PC and install the software, Oculus Home, which act as both the underlying software and storefront. Done, you can put on your headset and it automatically boots into the store so you can buy and download games and experiences to run.

The Vive comes with two laser emitters that are meant to be mounted to your walls in opposing corners of the room and connected to power, next is the link-box which takes cables from your PC on one side and from the headset on the other, finally you have the controllers with chargers. After hooking that up you run the Vive setup and install Valve’s storefront Steam and the SteamVR software. You have to start SteamVR manually in the Steam client to activate the headset and then you can buy and download titles in VR.

Both systems have a few additional steps if you are a new user, like updating graphics drivers, creating a store account and adding payment details. There is also a desktop app for both systems so you can buy stuff, manage friends and do other things using your monitor.

Store

Home, while fully functional for what is is, is also quite simplified and lack a lot of expected features that are readily available with Steam: things like chat, VoIP, forums, refunds, demos, DLC, cloud saves, download settings, UGC, family sharing and probably more things. Not all of these features are available in VR but in the desktop app, like the forums.

Oculus are working hard on adding more features to Home, they just recently made it possible to install on another drive than C, this while Valve are working hard on making Steam with all its already existing features work well with VR. Both stores will certainly work better and better in VR with time.

Stability

For me the Oculus store has just worked, no issues, this while SteamVR has had a few various issues like calibration going bonkers and virtual keyboard not taking input. From the reply to my support ticket it seems most issues with calibration I had were caused by having the Rift still attached to my system, so this might not be representative of what an ordinary user would experience. And stuff like the virtual keyboard and friend chats are still features that the Rift interface lacks completely, so there the choice is between occasionally glitchy functionality or none at all.

I’ve had some tracking issues with both systems. In the Rift I get a noticeable shift of my view when I turn around so the camera is using the back plate for tracking. In the Vive I’ve had my controller fly away or a complete loss of tracking, covering up windows and glass door cabinets has greatly improved that though. There are certainly some extra precautions to take to improve your experience with the Vive.

Software Stack

While you are in VR in both headsets you have general underlying systems that will provide various features when called upon. It has to do with the software that runs in the background whenever you are in the headset, or at least whenever you start software through the respective stores.

The Rift actually automatically starts its store whenever you run software that is going to use the headset, even if started from another launcher. If you want to use software outside of the store you have to tick a checkbox in the settings to allow for that. In addition to the store you can when you are inside an experience press the Xbox button to bring up a system menu. Outside of obvious stuff like seeing the time these are the things you can do in the interface:

  1. See notifications for system messages like finished downloads or disconnected devices.
  2. See friends list with online status and pending requests, only possible action is to accept or deny requests.
  3. Set the device volume.
  4. Reset camera orientation, where you are relative to the virtual world.
  5. Change lens spacing, a guide to get the correct value using the physical adjustment.
  6. Toggle DND mode.
  7. Exit the currently running title so you get back to the store/library where you can browse owned titles or buy and download new things.

For the Vive you need to start SteamVR through Steam to get access to the specific features SteamVR adds, otherwise you’ll just straight off get the game in the headset, which works but it makes it a hassle to go between titles unless you have a different solution for that. If you have started SteamVR and put on the headset you will be in the blank starting room, if you then press the system button you get a large virtual monitor that is basically Steam Big Picture, the mode made for TVs. The list below are not exhaustive, but it will give you an idea of the available functions you can use while in the headset:

  1. Change VR settings: DND mode, reset orientation if in seated mode, Chaperone appearance, play area appearance, environment, controller and base-station customization, headset camera features and appearance.
  2. Set the device volume.
  3. Toggle room view using the headset camera, can also be done by double-tapping the controller system button or headset button.
  4. Access Steam Big Picture mode which includes access to your entire Steam library, launch games (screen games will launch into a virtual theatre), access friends list with chat and VoIP, read community news, browse the store and buy and download games, read reviews, watch trailers, check notifications, integrated web browser.
  5. Access the desktop view, this will show what is on your actual displays, even multiple monitors, and you can click around with a laser from your controller, scroll with the touchpad and type using a virtual keyboard.
  6. Access the Vive quick launcher if you have that installed, it’s a list of all only your VR software and can launch the Vive Home application which I so far have not really used.
  7. Exit the currently running title.

Outside of these user accessible things there are automatic features. A currently unique feature of the Rift is something called asynchronous time-warp which should reduce judder and ensure consistent low latency. This is a nice feature to have for a VR system, and for me personally the Rift does feel like it has lower latency than the Vive. I’m not sure if I’m imagining it but that’s what it feels like.

The Vive has something that helps keep you safe when walking around your entire room, it’s called the Chaperone system and it basically is a grid, pattern or camera view (setting dependent) that appears when you move close to one of your defined boundaries. This is to hopefully prevent you from smashing into things while in VR, but even then games can be immersive enough for the user to miss it. I know this as I’ve actually broken one of my monitors while trying to slay a skeleton with a sword swing, I was engaged enough to disregard the Chaperone grid that appeared and struck through it.

Both these last two features can be implemented for either system, it is software, this is just how things are right now.

Range of Experiences

Here I will try to describe why I paid a lot of money for the Vive even while I got the Rift for free as I was a Kickstarter backer of the original devkit, DK1. This section might be the most subjective of all since I have almost three years of experience with VR by now. Time for some storytelling.

Consumer VR Dreams

My Rift DK1 arrived in May of 2013, other people had gotten it before me and because of that there were already demos available to download and try. As I had kept my eyes on the scene I had even before the Rift arrived bought and received a Razer Hydra, because getting my hands into VR seemed like an obvious upgrade, it also enabled ad-hoc positional tracking of the headset. Experiencing this already back in the DK1 days got me dreaming about limitless headset and hand controller tracking for what was to be the consumer version of VR.

The Rift DK2 arrived in July of 2014, here half of the dream I had was partially fulfilled. Positional tracking was an integrated feature of the system and it let me walk outside of the car I was driving or stand up to get a better view of the environment the tiny character I was controlling inhabited. I walked as far as I could in the virtual world, stretching the headset cable until it was taught between me and the PC, which in the end wasn’t more than a few steps. The sense of freedom multiplied compared to DK1, some of my best VR memories come from standing VR in the DK2.

When HTC in March of 2015 announced that they were making the Vive system with Valve and that it had full tracking freedom in a room and included tracked hand controllers it was hard not to get excited. In June, just three months later, Oculus announced that the Rift would ship with an Xbox One controller as the official input device. As you can imagine my disappointment was severe, they did continue with announcing their Touch hand controllers that would be sold separately but as of yet they have no other release date than the second half of 2016 with no announced price.

From my experiences with the Hydra and the dreams they created coupled with the Rift DKs I just knew I had to get the Vive, Oculus helped give me the dreams and expectations of what consumer VR could be, what it should be, but HTC and Valve were first to deliver on those dreams. To me personally a tracked or matched controller (like a fixed steering wheel) in VR adds so much, it’s a presence multiplier, as they say. Oculus are coming out with their solution at some point later this year, that will be the time when a comparison will make more sense.

Current Games

The Rift probably has a higher degree of fleshed out games that take more hours to complete than what is available on the Vive for the moment, the majority of the Rift games use the included gamepad while some use the remote.

Even if the Vive do get mostly shallow arcade titles right now that still has me more excited than a longer gamepad game for the Rift. Having my hands in a game just connects me to the world on a different level and that’s hard to forget about.

As a relative VR gaming veteran gamepad games almost feel like normal screen games for me now. During my years with the Rift devkits I’ve been a beta-tester of numerous gamepad games and as such I have played almost half of the Rift launch lineup in some shape or form already, which does contribute to me not being overly excited by it.

There are still games I play in the Rift and there are a few titles on the store that I do want to get at some point, but in some games I now find myself missing my hands when using a gamepad, to me it feels as if they really should make a tracking add-on for the controller. On a side note, the only system with a tracked gamepad now is PSVR which I’m not even covering here as it’s released in October, it is also on console which I’m not sure if I will get into again.

That said I understand that I’ve now become a jaded VR gamer, for anyone completely new to VR the Rift library will most likely be very exciting. I know from myself that I bought anything that came out with VR support during the devkit days and mostly everything was played with only a headset and gamepad. If you are a new Rift owner I’m sure you’ll get some great moments with the titles available now.

On the other hand, even if the Vive games engage me on a different level, because most of them are quite intense arcade experiences I do long for more slower narrative experiences. There has been a few, but as they can be finished in two hours or less I’ve already finished most content I have. The Rift has the benefit of having existed longer in the minds of developers, also shipping with a control interface developers are already very familiar with, this while the Vive has only been public knowledge for little more than a year and it ships with an input system that few developers have even ever considered.

Conclusion / TL:DR;

The Rift is probably the most user friendly and integrated system for now, the hardware is polished and feels premium, it works out of the box without much hassle. The software is stable and jumping in only requires you to put on the headset and flip down the headphones. The store is perfectly functional while lacking a number of basic features, but they’ll hopefully add those soon enough. It is the headset that currently has the deepest/longest games. All this considered, to me it is currently only half a VR system, it will be complete when Touch has shipped. But, if you are satisfied with gamepad games or plan to sit in a virtual plane, car or spaceship Touch matters little.

The Vive while being sold as a finished a consumer product does feel more like a devkit 2.5 to me. Mostly I think that’s because it reminds me of the Rift DK2. A slightly bulky headset with a hard plastic shell and a some quirky software issues. The software is updated quickly though, and the last few days I’ve had no issues except for a few controllers flying away. In the end I still find myself looking for new Vive software in specific because the experience is so compelling for me, having tracked hand controllers makes a world of difference. There are also a number of convenience features in the Steam and SteamVR software that is hard to ignore, like built in chat, VoIP, desktop view, room view and the Chaperone safety system.

Afterword

It has to be said that SteamVR and the Steam store does have support for the Rift, you can buy games on Steam right now that play in the Rift, which would mean the most sensible choice is to get a Rift and use Steam. Then you have hardware compatible with both Home and Steam and your games reside in a library that supports both Rift and Vive, as such you could migrate in either direction later on. But, because of my experience so far I have mostly been using the two headsets in their respective stores, the last time I used my Rift with Steam I ended up in a bad place: When I pressed the Xbox button it would switch between the Steam store and the Home store, I had no way out except taking off the headset and fix things on my desktop.

As for which headset to buy, I’m working on a purchasing guide of sorts that will try to match unique features for the systems with what you want, look forward to that if you are currently indecisive! And if you are unsure if you should buy anything at all, this guide could still be helpful. In short I would still say that this generation of consumer VR is for early adopters and enthusiasts, like with most first generations of consumer hardware the experience will quickly become better with hardware revisions and the amount of content is quite limited this early. The Rift comes close in convenience and ease of use but still misses the mass market price point, I think.

Oh, you noticed that the system logos are reversed in the top banner image? Yeah, it’s mostly a fun thing that the back of the headsets quite well matches the competitor logo, sorry if it confused you :)

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