Introduction and Hardware Specifications
To tell you the truth, I don't know how to tackle this "review"... it's not a review, because the product isn't really a product, it's more of an alpha of a device that might come out next year. You can't really review the first draft of a novel, or the first cut of a movie, so this is more of a "my thoughts on Oculus RIGHT NOW" review.
I've used Rift before, but professionally, for TweakTown, when I covered PAX Australia last month. I used the Development Kit first, which is the 720p model, and later on in the day I used the 1080p model. I think the 1080p HD model spoiled me, because the 720p model while it's great, it definitely has its flaws.
What I'm going to do is write this "Preview" then I'll have another piece up which will cover some of the various games I played on the Rift in more detail, with video. I've purchased a Razer Hydra that should arrive tomorrow, and I just finished downloading the entire Half-Life 2 saga which works with both Rift and Hydra. This will be an interesting couple of weeks!
First impressions of the box: awesome. That's the only word that can describe it, pure awesome. Dean uses the word too much in Supernatural, but awesome is a great way to describe something that can't be described with the words "great" or "cool" or "good". It surpasses that. For something that is an alpha product, crowd funded by the general public, the box really blew me away.
It's not like the box is the only part, but it gives you the impression that you're not just about to use any old virtual reality headset, but you're about to wear THE virtual reality headset. You're about to slide on the future of gaming, and quite possibly, the future of technology (yeah, I went there).
I've already written an unboxing article on the Oculus Rift.
The container it comes in, is awesome. As you can see from the pictures below, this isn't some cheap eBay purchase. It's a premium way of displaying the next leap in video games and technology. Before we unbox this bad boy, we'll run through what the Oculus Rift is, and the hardware inside of it.
Starting off with the screen itself, which has a resolution of 1280x800 (640x800 per eye). This isn't too bad, but the consumer version will include a resolution of at least 1920x1080. The panel size is 7-inch, which sounds huge, and small at the same time.
We have a 24-bit panel, which is also stereoscopic 3D. The field of view is great, with more than 90 degrees horizontal, and 110 degrees diagonal. This is close to double the FOV of any competing VR device, and is one of the main strengths of Oculus' Rift.
The Rift weighs approximately 379 grams, so it's not that heavy to be sitting on your head for long periods of time, but we will have more on this in the coming week or so after I've had a very long couple of nights with it.
The Rift has a couple of dials on each side that can be tweaked with a screwdriver, which allows the adjustment of each display to be moved closer, or further away from your eye. There's also some interchangeable lenses in the box, which allow for dioptric correction.
Inside the box we have DVI and HDMI input through a control box, a DVI cable, two HDMI cables and a DVI to HDMI adapter. There's a USB interface which handles the tracking data to the host machine and a power adapter which provides power to the breakout box itself. Oculus VR provide multiple power adapters in the box, covering nearly all countries.
Setting the Oculus Rift up and First Impressions
Setting the Oculus Rift Up
What I did was create an "Oculus Rift" folder on my PC, downloading everything to this folder to make it easier to work with. This is just a personal thing, but it did make things easier to manage. First off, you'll need to download the Oculus Rift SDK, which is an 83MB download.
Once you have this downloaded, extract it and you'll see a folder with two executables inside. The first, is the Oculus Configuration Utility (as shown above) and then, the Oculus World Demo.
Setting the Rift up is incredibly easy, you just have to fill in some details about yourself. Your height, which eye cups you're using, and then you can launch the Interactive Utility to check it all out.
Once you have the feel of this, it's time to get the VR party started. In that same OculusSDK folder, you'll see Oculus World Demo, which is where the fun really begins. Opening this, will open an entire new world, but equally as impressive.
To be absolutely, brutally honest, the screen door effect is absolutely shocking. It really is bad, and it is instantly noticeable. But, really, this is the main argument here: this is a Development Kit. Think of it like a pre-Alpha to a game, or the first draft of a novel, or the first cut of a movie.
It is far from the final product, which will feature a Full HD 1920x1080, 7-inch panel compared to the 1280x720, 7-inch panel inside of the Development Kit. But, even with the screen door effect, the immersion level is absolutely mind-blowing.
I think the weight of the Rift, at 379 grams, is perfect. It's not too heavy at all, and isn't distracting. I wore it on and off for around two hours on the first night, and around 30-60 minutes on the second day, and I haven't had any neck cramps at all. I haven't sat there and thought to myself "gee, my neck or eyes hurt", but each person will have a different experience.
I'm using the "A" eye cups, as my eyesight is pretty much perfect - I don't wear prescription glasses at all. There are two different eye cups in the box, but I didn't see much of a difference with the other two eye cups. You can also adjust the distance that the 7-inch display sits in front of your face. You can adjust this on the side of the Rift headset itself (as shown below).
The easiest way to explain the screen door effect is to imagine seeing hundreds upon hundreds of black squares across your vision. It's annoying, and can really take you out of the immersion and 3D effect of the world you're currently experiencing.
It feels like those old full-motion video (FMV) games from back in the 90s, which used interlaced video because of bandwidth and disc/CD space restrictions of the time. For every line of video horizontally, there was a black line. At the time, you didn't mind, because FMV in games (when done well) was impressive for that time.
In the days of Full HD monitors, 4K displays finally hitting the market, the Oculus Rift's 720p resolution is really shocking. But, the team at Oculus are using screens from the Nexus 7 (7-inch, 1280x800 panels) and the consumer version will be 1920x1080.
I don't think the 1920x1080 version is going to be leaps and bounds better, but it is going to be a giant leap in terms of losing the screen door effect and immersing gamers even more than the 720p version does now.
The Oculus Community and Gaming on the Rift
The Oculus Community
One of the best things going for Oculus' Rift VR headset is its community. The forums are bursting with people who are developing games and software for the Rift, in all different shapes and sizes. I spent hours downloading a bunch of different games and software.
At PAX AU, Nate from Oculus showed me VR Cinema on the Oculus Rift HD Prototype, which blew my mind. I e-mailed him as I received my Rift and asked him what it was called again, and he warned me that it wasn't as impressive as the HD Prototype.
He was right, it wasn't. But, the immersion factor is still there. The Development Kit isn't here to impress with high-end graphics, and I came to understand this a few minutes into using the device.
The Oculus VR forums are filled with countless demos and samples made specifically for the Rift Development Kit, which gives a simple taste of what is to come. Most of the demos are very simple, that might last anywhere from 5-30 minutes, but it's enough to give you the impression that virtual reality is here, and it's here to change the entire technology industry.
Gaming on the Rift
The Development Kit only runs at 720p, with a massive screen door effect, but gaming is still so immersive. I took my Oculus Rift kit to my brother's house, to let him and my parents all use it. My brother really enjoyed the Rift, but was sided with me when it came to the screen door effect.
My parents on the other hand were blown away. Both my mum and dad never play video games, so they're not used to the fast-paced action of a first-person shooter, so what about virtual reality? Both my parents were standing upright when I started the Oculus World demo, and within seconds, they were transported to a totally different world.
They loved the immersion, with my mum saying she feels like she could "reach out and touch the books or chairs" in the game. As I walked up the stairs, she was disorientated somewhat, and needed to hold onto something, and after a while she needed to sit down.
The immersion for my parents was amazing to witness in person, they were completely blown away at what I had shown them. This is where I think the Oculus Rift will do quite well in the future, where it will open completely new markets that we haven't even thought of yet.
Moving onto Team Fortress 2, I loved it, but it wasn't all lollipops and rainbows. The screen door effect is distracting enough that you can make out 75% or more of the in-game text, which makes playing the game hard. The immersion though, wow, just... wow. I was able to shoot at a door as the Heavy, while looking behind my back for spies - something you simply cannot do with any other control method on the market right now.
I also downloaded "Quakespasm", which is the first opening level from the original Quake, from 1996. This is just a quick demo that you can walk around in, giving you yet another great sense of immersion. We'll cover more of the titles in our final piece, coming in a few days' time.
I played 10 minutes of Half-Life 2 and found it quite amazing... it changed the game completely and felt truly epic, even for a 2004 title. I'm going to write more about this in a follow-up piece soon.
The Future... is virtual reality
The biggest thing that sticks to you with Rift is the sheer level of immersion - nothing, and I really mean nothing can even come close to the immersion that Oculus VR provide with Rift. It's truly incredible and I think it's going to usher in a true next-generation of gaming and technology.
This is the most exciting piece of the puzzle: the future of Rift. I think the future of Rift is split into multiple factors. First off, the consumer version will be 1080p, which will remove most, but not all, of the screen door effect.
I'm sure that the unit itself will be made differently, which will feel better on your noggin' for hours at a time. The 1080p version will be much better for immersion within games, as you'll be able to actually read the text on the screen, instead of it being a jumble of blurred letters and numbers.
But the future... the future of Oculus is bright. John Carmack, the mastermind of Doom and Quake, has joined the company as its Chief Technology Officer. This is a gigantic step for Oculus, and paves a bright future for the company, and the future of PC gaming and virtual reality.
Where to from here, though? What would I like to see in the second and third-generation units? I think the first-generation "consumer edition" will be a great-seller, thanks to its 1080p display. But where to from there?
I think we might see a second-generation, refreshed 1080p model, which might debut close to, or simultaneously with a 4K-capable Rift. I imagine this would cost more, and would be aimed at the professional/enthusiast markets at something like $699. Even at $999, I would buy a 4K-capable Rift right now. Absolutely no hesitation would take place, I would click the order button immediately.
I think outside of gaming, the idea of virtual reality going into the mainstream is going to kill 3D TV sales as well as big-screen TVs. Sure, there'll always be a market, but for someone who can't afford $3000+ for a new 65-inch TV would surely see the benefits of picking up an Oculus Rift VR headset for $300.
Moving onto the future of virtual reality, imagine a travel agent and Google getting together for Rift Travel Edition. Where you could walk, in virtual reality, with Google Street Map data, around any major city in the world. How far is it from the hotel you booked, to the nice restaurant a few hundred feet away? Just go for a walk in virtual reality.
Imagine the possibilities for the disabled, who can't walk or move their hands or arms. They could be transported into a virtual world, travelling some of the most beautiful places our planet has to offer, all from the comfort of their chair or bed. I'm just scratching on the surface of what the future of virtual reality has in store for us, and it has me positively buzzing with anticipation to see what the next few years brings for us.
Next-gen consoles are mere weeks away, and they've already been superseded in terms of immersion, as nothing they will do will ever leave the TV without Microsoft or Sony building their own virtual reality headset, or opening up support for Oculus. Valve on the other hand, I suspect will release their Steam Box console with full Oculus Rift support, seeing their dedication and support to Oculus VR so far. The future of gaming just got a whole lot better, folks.
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