So one of the big deals at Quakecon this year aside from some killer video games, Dishonored and Doom 3 BFG edition, was a piece of hardware that might just fulfull the long time dream of so many to be in the computer. This is VR or virtual reality. The primary input for the experience is vision. Particularly 3D vision. Previous renditions were either purely experimental or, if retail, pretty underwhelming(*cough*Virtual Boy*cough*). So the question becomes is Oculus’s Rift destined to finally make full immersion VR goggles something we all have sitting next to our keyboards, mice and game controllers?
First off go here and watch the promo video so you actually know what I’m talking about.
So the first question out of almost every ones mouth seems to be is it heavy? The first thought that comes to mind is of those massive heavy VR headsets from the 90s. Basically a pair of small CRT monitors strapped to your head. Let me put your mind at rest the Rift is seriously light. Not quite a pair of glasses but getting pretty close. I could easily see a few hours in the headset at a time with no discomfort. The product is still under development so I have no doubt it’s going to get even lighter and even more comfortable. The cable is the biggest hindrance to it’s comfort and some recent tweets by Palmer Luckey indicate he’s looking in to wireless HD video.
The field of view is very wide to the point where you don’t notice black spaces around the edges and your entire view is consumed. The outside world is simply gone. To help suck you in to the immersion the headset is sporting some reasonably high res displays that when combined come out at a proper high def resolution. The 3D effect is a little tricky in that it’s so good. We’ve all gotten used to the slight blur and some times odd frame rates and things that go along with movie theater 3D glasses. None of these defects exist in the 3D created in the Rift and the result is that it’s smooth and natural and hardly seems like 3D since it appears as our world appears in front of you. It’s interesting to think that this can create an uncanny valley of sorts. Not one of characters but one of environment. In fact the only thing that let on that this wasn’t the new real world was that the ground plane was visually straight but due to how the goggles were seated was off just the slightest bit. This created a disconnect between my eyes and my sense of balance. Of course this issue was because we were standing while demoing and I’m sure is basically non-existant if you’re sitting.
So is this the next big thing in gaming? It’s hard to tell. There was a bit of an issue with looking around since you are used to turning your head and your torso to look at things and in the game your torso is represented by the right stick. This makes for a pretty awkward experience while turning. Part of this issue is due to a conversion of an old game not originally designed for the controller. Like wise the balance issue possess a bit of an issue for coupling the device with something like a Kinect or other motion tracking devices. It’s yet to be seen if that’s something people will adjust to or not and it’ll actually work but the initial experience wasn’t to promising.
The take away is that in the grand scheme of things, despite previous attempts, this thing is new thanks in part to modern technology. It’s going to be a long road to find out how and when this device will be truly useful. If you want to know more make sure you check out the “Virtual Insanity” panel from Quakecon with John Carmack (id Software), Michael Abrash (Valve), and Palmer Luckey (Oculus). Moderated by Todd Hollenshead (id Software).