Category Archives: Analysis

Analysis of news and information regarding the Oculus Rift

christmas

Guide to Virtual Reality Gifts

Virtual reality (VR) is shaping up to be one of the most popular gifts for Christmas 2016.  VR is new medium that offers a wide range of immersive experiences unlike anything else.

It’s one of those experiences you really have to try to believe.  It’s fun to share with the whole family and can be enjoyed by everyone!

About this VR Guide

This guide is to help people unfamiliar with VR, whether they’re parents or just someone who’s curious.  The goal is to provide a well rounded explanation of VR systems available and not to get bogged down in technical specs.

The guide covers the VR systems available, has advice on what VR to buy, and has recommendations for the VR system that will be the best fit.

Is VR Safe?

VR Safety

VR is a relatively safe experience. The number one complaint is motion sickness or nausea with some experiences.  Sometimes moving images in the headset can cause a feeling of disorientation or a loss of balance.

Wearing a headset also prevents users from seeing obstacles in the room.  Bumps and collisions into furniture, walls, or TVs can happen so it’s important to clear your VR space of any clutter before you start.

Most headsets also have an age limit to protect young eyes.  Oculus recommends users be 13 or older, PlayStation VR has a recommendation of 12.  Younger users may experience eye strain when focusing on a small screen that’s close to their face.  Short breaks are recommended for everyone to reduce eye strain.

Will VR Give me a Workout?

VR Workout

Surprisingly yes!  The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift will have you on your feet dancing around and dodging enemies.  You’d be surprised at how much work it is!  It’s easy to get your heart rate elevated while moving your feet and waving controllers around.  The headset is still tethered to a PC so you won’t quite be running circles around the room but some experiences will still be very active.

The Gear VR is best enjoyed when seated and promotes less movement.  The PS VR will have you on your feet but won’t let you move too much or stray too far from your TV.

 

GearVR

GearVR

What is GearVR?

GearVR is a VR system that uses a Samsung cell phone with a headset to create a VR experience.  The cell phone mounts in a headset to act as the screen and the phone software takes over to create the VR experience.

Oculus partnered with Samsung to create the system so you have a combination of great hardware, great software, and excellent content.  If you’ve ever tried Google Cardboard this is easily 10 times better.

The best thing about the GearVR is that it’s 100% mobile.  You’re not tied to a computer so you can use it anywhere – on a plane, on vacation, or on your couch.

The downside is that any phone is slow when compared to a computer so VR experiences are good but won’t match higher end systems such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.

Who is GearVR for?

Anyone who wants a VR experience they take anywhere  or anyone who already has a Samsung Galaxy phone. It’s great for frequent fliers who want to enjoy movies on planes.

The GearVR has a broad appeal because it allows anyone with a Samsung phone to easily try VR if they’re curious.

GearVR is compatible with the following Samsung Galaxy phones:

Content Available on the GearVR

Gear VR has an excellent library of games and apps!  It’s amazing how well games run on the GearVR, you’ll be surprised!

  • Netflix
  • Minecraft
  • Oculus Arcade
  • And much more!

What to Buy for the GearVR

PlayStation VR

psvr

 What is PlayStation VR?

PlayStation VR is a VR headset that works with the PlayStation 4.  It has great games, great visuals, and almost all of the features as the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.  A camera is used to track the illuminated headset and controllers to allow for a wide range of motion.

The PlayStaion VR has great support by Sony and many game developers.  It has some of the best content available and is a great fit for any home or family.

Who is PlayStation VR for?

PlayStation VR is prefect for anyone who already has a PlayStation 4.  The VR headset builds on the PlayStation 4 by adding touch controllers, a camera, and a VR processing unit.

It’s easy to setup and great for families to share.  This is your best VR option for anyone who wants to try VR.  It’s easily approachable, provides an amazing VR experience, and is inexpensive when compared to the top of the line VR systems.

Content Available on the PlayStation VR

PlayStation VR has some of the best games and experiences available.  An amazing demo disc is included with the system to give you a taste of what’s possible.

What to Buy for the PlayStation VR

Oculus Rift

Rift with Camera

What is Oculus Rift?

The Oculus Rift the “original” VR headset that has jump started the recent VR craze and attracted competitors.  It is a high-end VR headset that requires a powerful computer for it to work.  It is arguably the best designed headset available with the best visuals and headphones that are built in.

The Oculus Rift originally launched with a hand held controller for playing games which was a bit limiting for VR.  They are working on hand held motion controllers that will be launched soon.  The system uses a camera to track the headset and will require additional cameras to track the controllers.

Oculus has partnered with many software developers to create a great library of content and games.  Some of the best VR experiences are only available on the Rift.

Who is  Oculus Rift for?

Oculus Rift is for PC gamers or anyone who wants the best-looking VR experience. The Oculus Rift has to be tied to a computer so  it may be difficult to share with the family like the PS VR.

The Oculus Rift is a little technical to setup but users are guided through the experience by the software.  The headset requires a powerful computer so double check your PC before you buy or plan on buying a new PC.  Oculus makes it easy to check your PC with a compatibility tool.

Motion tracked controllers aren’t immediately available for the Rift but they are launching soon.  If you want a more complete and immersive VR experience immediately then you may want to consider the HTC Vive.

Content Available on the Oculus Rift

  • Minecraft
  • EVE: Valkyrie
  • Elite Dangerous
  • Project Cars
  • Dirt Rally

What to buy for the Oculus Rift

HTC Vive

HTC Vive

What is HTC Vive?

The HTC Vive is a powerful VR headset that is a competitor to the Oculus Rift.  It requires a powerful computer to work but has the most immersive VR experience available today.

The HTC Vive includes motion tracked controllers and allows users to have a “room-scale” experience where they can walk around and experience VR in 360°.   A laser-tracking system called Lighthouse tracks the headset and controllers.

The HTC Vive has a huge advantage over the Oculus Rift because the Rift doesn’t allow users to walk around in VR like the Vive.  Oculus is offering this option as an upgrade in the future.

The Vive works with Steam software and has many great games and experiences available. Many of the games available for the Oculus Rift are also available on the HTC Vive.

Who is  HTC Vive for?

HTC Vive is for PC gamers or anyone who wants the best and most immersive VR experience available. Motion tracked controllers and room scale experiences are available right out of the box. The HTC Vive has to be tied to a computer so  it may be difficult to share with the family like the PS VR.

The HTC Vive is the most technical system to setup with many parts included. The headset requires a powerful computer so double check your PC before you buy or plan on buying a new PC.

Content Available on the HTC Vive

  • Minecraft
  • The Lab
  • Elite Dangerous
  • Space Pirate Trainer

What to buy for the HTC Vive

VR Recommendations

What’s the best VR system for someone who’s curious about VR?

Consider trying Google Carboard which will use a standard smartphone.  A better experience would be the GearVR although it may be pricey unless you have the correct Galaxy phone.

If you already have a PlayStation 4 you may want to consider PlayStation VR.

What’s the best VR system for families?

The PlayStation VR is probably the best fit for a family because it’s easy to use, easily shared, and works off of a PlayStation 4.

What’s the best VR system for gamers?

Serious gamers are going to be the most interested in the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive because of the performance available from either of these systems.  HTC Vive may have better game support since it is well integrated with the Steam library.

What’s the best VR system for kids?

There are concerns about young children using VR but the PlayStation VR is probably the best bet for older kids.

What’s the best VR system for adults?

The HTC Vive or Oculus Rift will offer the best VR experiences out there although each system will be somewhat complex to setup and use.

What’s the best VR system available?

The HTC Vive currently offers the most immersive and enjoyable VR experience with its room-scale 360° tracking of the headset and controllers.  Oculus is working to match the Vive’s capabilities but isn’t quite there yet.

What’s the most immersive VR system available?

The HTC Vive is the only system to currently offer room-scale 360° tracking of the headset and controllers.

What VR system has the best graphics?

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive both offer excellent graphics through the use of a powerful gaming PC but the Oculus Rift has a slight edge in screen and optics.

What’s the most expensive VR system?

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are both pricey options considering you need a powerful computer to go along with each system.  The HTC Vive is the most expensive as a single product but the Oculus Rift will be more expensive if you factor in the cost of the headset plus the additional touch controllers.

What’s the Cheapest Way to get an Oculus Rift?

VR gaming started out as an expensive hobby.  Originally you needed a modern and top of the line gaming PC to even think about getting a Rift.  Oculus has made some recent software improvements to lower demands on your PC which has made VR more accessible to everyone.

Right now you’re looking at a $1300 minimum cost for a Rift and capable PC.

This doesn’t include Oculus Touch but it does get your foot in the VR door with the option to add Touch any time in the future.

The key change for lowered requirements was a new technology called Asynchronous Spacewarp or ASW.   The improvement here is that ASW allows games to run at a much lower frame rate with software filling in the gaps between frames.  Essentially you’re getting more bang for your buck.

Oculus has been working with CyberPowerPC to release a $499 Oculus Certified VR ready PC which is an insane price point.  This PC has not been released yet but will feature components that meet the new minimum requirements:

  • AMD FX-4350 quad-core processor
  • Radeon RX 470 4 GB graphics card
  • 8 GB of dual-channel memory

In the meantime you can pick up the next cheapest thing which is an Intel i5 system with a RX 480 GPU.  This may actually be a better option as it gives you a little more muscle under the hood.

 

rift_package

How Can I Get an Oculus Rift?

The VR headsets made by Oculus and HTC have been hyped for months and they are finally starting to ship to consumers.  For many the experience has delivered and VR has lived up to the hype.  Interest will continue to grow as these VR experiences are shared by the early adopters who actually have a headset.  The challenge for expanding the VR community will be the limited number of headsets available to the public.

Anyone who  has a headset today was one of the very first to pre-order a headset, likely minutes or seconds after pre-ordering went live. The communities at /r/Oculus and /r/Vive have been tracking deliveries very closely and have been stirred into a frenzy with each delay in the delivery process.  Both Oculus and HTC have had hiccups in shipping and many early pre-orders are still weeks or months away.

Each company still has a substantial backlog.  If you ordered a Rift today be prepared to wait until August for delivery.  HTC is faring a little better with a new order shipping in June.

cv1_unbox

These long queues are a nightmare for the impatient. The good news is that there are alternative channels for those who want a Rift or Vive today.

If you’re extremely impatient and have the money to spend then head over to eBay where you can find a Rift or Vive for double or triple the cost.

If you’re interested in a Rift and have some patience then there is an interesting alternative available.  Oculus has partnered with a few PC manufacturers to offer Rifts bundled with gaming PCs at normal retail outlets.  These bundles have had Rifts allocated from outside of the long back-order queue and can be delivered immediately when they are in stock.  For many people new to VR the bundle is a great option as includes an inexpensive VR capable PC and eliminates the headache of building or upgrading a PC.

amazon

Amazon has a variety of bundles available ready for shipment as soon as they’re  back in stock.  Reports from /r/Oculus have placed the delivery time at around two weeks from the time of order to delivery.  Two weeks is a huge improvement over the 16 week direct preorder.

How could this happen?  Is this a fluke?  Oculus likely has agreements in place with both retailers and the PC manufacturers to provide Rifts in these bundles so that they’re available in normal retail channels.  While most of the new Rifts off the assembly line will go to directly pre-orders some will be filtered off and sent through these channels to retail partners such as Amazon.  Oculus isn’t trying harm the community doing this, it’s in their best interest to get the Rift out to as many people as possible through various channels.

tl;dr – Want a Rift ASAP?  Skip the preorder line and go to Amazon for bundle.  You can get one in ~2 weeks.

 

 

htc

The HTC Vive Experience

I was lucky enough to try the HTC Vive at their event in Philadelphia this morning.  They are able to show the ~15 minute demo to about 80 people in one day.  Friendly people running the event and other VR enthusiasts waiting for the demo.

After making small talk with the event staff they wave you into one of the testing rooms and are immediately set up with the head set, headphones, and controllers.

There’s a quick tutorial in a Matrix Construct type of environment regarding the Chaperone system and the controllers.  Part of the tutorial has you use the touch-click wheel  on the controller which was a cool interface method but not really used again during the demos.  After the tutorial was complete they jump right into the 4 demos.

theBlu

This was a well executed demo to lead off with.  It demonstrated the immersive feeling of an environment and the ability for VR to show scale and perspective.  You can walk around a little bit and there’s plenty of stuff to look at.  A whale swims by and it’s very impressive to feel the scope and scale.  It was a well designed introduction and probably my favorite demo.

Job Simulator – Kitchen

Next up was the kitchen demo from Job Simulator.  Extremely fun and a good introduction to the controllers.  Intuitive to pick things up and manipulate them.  A little strange how some items “snap” in orientation to the controller.  I’m curious how the Oculus Touch controllers feel, it may feel more natural to grasp items with a middle finger trigger.

Tilt Brush

This seemed a bit silly at first because I wasn’t sure what to draw.  I doodled some 2D shapes and then started to move my head around so see things from an angle.  This is where it clicked, I should be drawing and thinking in 3D.  I immediately started to sketch a cube and sphere.  I ran out of time before I could accomplish too much, I would love to have a second shot at this demo.  The controllers were well utilized, one controller is your brush and the second is a color palette.  It was a very natural setup.

Aperture Robot Repair

I actually saw this video a few weeks prior to the HTC event so this was slightly spoiled for me.  This was an extremely impressive demo though.  Intuitive to manipulate everything and a well done environment. Valve had fun playing the sense of scale, funny to see a drawer full of tiny people followed by the feeling of being in an enormous warehouse at the end.  The exploded robot view demonstrates the potential application in engineering or any type of design industry.

Hardware Thoughts

The headset was lightweight and comfortable. I made a mistake and I didn’t take the time to adjust the headset straps to my head.  One side of the headset kept drooping and it would cause everything to loose focus in that eye.  Annoying but it would take a minor correction every minute to get my eye back in the sweet spot.  No motion sickness like I experienced with the DK2 but after removing the headset I had a moderate headache – I’m guessing it was due to eye strain.

No tracking issues with headset, everything was extremely smooth and fluid.  I bumped into the Chaperone system a few times which was a bit jarring but it makes complete sense in implementation.

Screen door effect could be seen if I looked for it but it was virtually unnoticeable in the demos.  The only time it cropped up was at the end of the Robot Repair demo where I was looking in the far distance of the warehouse.

The controllers were intuitive to use and comfortable.  I would have liked to use the click-wheel more, I think it was possible in Tilt Brush but I forgot it was there.  No tracking issues, everything was 1:1. This was my first experience with positional controllers, I’m now curious to try Oculus Touch.

Final Thoughts

A very cool experience overall, HTC is smart do demonstrate this technology as it’s very hard to advertise and communicate the feeling of VR.

The Road to 4K

The Rift will eventually benefit from a 4K resolution which will have a tremendous impact on its clarity for gaming and other computer tasks.  It may start to be taken seriously as a replacement for traditional computer monitors as John Carmack has claimed.  The 4K improvement for draw distance clarity and the text readability can be seen with the previously discussed Oculus Simulator.  It’s like night and day.

Oculus has been vague about the actual resolution of CV1 although they say it will exceed 1080p.  Achieving 4K in an eventual consumer unit has two current obstacles.

The first obstacle is the availability of small form factor 4K OLED panels.  They may theoretically exist but they are produced in extremely low volumes and are expensive.  Price would certainly drop as production ramped up to meet a wide demand for interested cellphone or tablet manufacturers.  Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus may give them the cash and buying power they need to design their own custom panel and buy in enough volume to make the manufacture of a panel inexpensive.

The second obstacle will be the limits of current computer hardware.  Rendering 3D scenes at a 4K resolution and the high frame rate required by the Rift is extremely taxing (if possible) on current PC hardware.  Gaming has recently adhered to a 1080p 60fps standard waiting to the cost of 4K equipment to fall.  While a $2500 “low cost” 4K build may be possible, it will be many months before a rig of that caliber is affordable to many consumers, and at that point it may not even meet the required frame rate to support the Rift.

Limitations of the Oculus Rift

Over the last few months I’ve heard nothing but praise sung for the Oculus Rift.  More recently while I have ramped up my research I’ve found the most common complaint regarding the Oculus is the limited “draw distance” due to the low resolution of the display.  Anything in VR that is of a great distance from the viewer will be a challenge to display with the current Oculus technology, including DK2 and CV1.

The issue isn’t actually draw distance in a traditional sense.  Your PC is theoretically able to draw an object at any distance whether it be two feet or two miles.  The challenge is displaying that object on a screen at a given resolution.  The clear lines your PC sees must be broken up and represented by individual pixels.  The more pixels, the more clarity for displaying your object.

I lack the knowledge and effort to really give this explanation justice but the Oculus struggles with “draw distance” because it is forced to use half of the normal screen real estate to display an image.  A normal image displayed on a monitor will take up the entire screen.  To display a stereoscopic image you need two slightly different copies of that same image, one for each eye.  That’s fine if you can display those stereoscopic images individually on separate monitors.  But if you want to display those images side by side on one screen (like the Oculus does) then you need to squeeze each image to fit both of them on screen.  All of a sudden you’re using half a screen to display a full screen image and your using less pixels per eye.

With fewer pixels objects lose clarity.  This is especially true for objects that are farther away from the viewer.  An object that is displayed with clarity and definition in a full screen image may be reduced to a smudge of pixels in VR. Anything of great distance from the viewer will be a challenge to display in VR.

This problem can be explained and understood much better than I could ever articulate with an interactive visual demo.  Luckily I was able to find one:

The Oculus Rift Simulator

To see the resolution and draw distance limitation issue illustrated, focus at a point on the map and switch between the available resolutions.  Notice how much of an impact this has on text.  We should be happy that everything from here on out will be an improvement on DK1. DK2 and CV1 look comparable.  4K is obviously where this technology is headed but will be further down the road.  Available 4K displays need to drop in price and rendering smoothly at 4K will massively tax current PC hardware.

Note that I’ve read complaints about the above simulator regarding the fact that it doesn’t accurately represent the pentile pixel arrangement of future displays.  This is a minor quibble with a great demo.

DK2 Recommended PC Requirements

For those of you who are curious if your current PC can handle the demanding Oculus requirements (myself included), I decided to do some cursory research.

From Oculus’s own DK2 FAQ:

Recommended specifications: A desktop computer running a dedicated graphics card with DVI-D or HDMI graphics output, with capability of running current generation 3D games at 1080p resolution at 75fps or higher.

Hmmmm, the concern here is the required frame rate at a 1080p resolution.  That’s a lot of high res frames for a graphics card to crank out.

A little more digging and I find a reddit comment from cybereality, a community manager for Oculus, regarding a recommended graphics card :

A GTX 770 is probably the minimum spec that would be OK. I wouldn’t go any cheaper than that.

So the floor for a graphics card is a Nvidia based GTX 770 card which is currently $300+

Interesting, I may need to invest in some new hardware soon.  I’m guessing most low end demos will run fine on my current PC so I plan to do a lot of initial evaluation before I start piecing together a new PC.