riftback

Building the Ultimate Rift PC

When was the last time the time you just met the minimum requirements?  You want your VR experience to be better than the minimum.  Forget about optimization. You want power.  You want performance.

I wanted to build something bigger and better.  This is the quest for the best Oculus Rift VR PC build.

Get that credit card out, here we go.

Processor – Intel Boxed Core I7-6700K – Powwwwer.  Doesn’t come with a cooler so you know it’s serious.

Cooler – Corsair Hydro Series H115i Liquid Cooler – Maximum cool. Radiator with dual fans.  You may need to tweak the fan speeds or just wear headphones all the time.

Motherboard – MSI ATX DDR4 Motherboard Z170A XPOWER – Overclock as much as you want.  Rock solid board with a great BIOS. Unnecessary amount of USB ports.

Graphics Card – GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 980Ti 6GB WATERFORCE – This is where the rubber meets the road.  Stable even when overclocked.  Spring for the water cooled version and grab updated drivers when installed.

Memory – Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB – DDR4 memory that can shed the heat.  16GB or 32GB, your choice.

Storage – Samsung 850 EVO 2TB 2.5-Inch SSD – Everyone loves a SSD.  Make sure you don’t run out of room.

Case – NZXT H440 Mid Tower – Sleek case with excellent cable management and sound deadening.  Display this proudly.

Power Supply – Corsair HXi Series, HX750i, 750 Watt – Make sure your components get nothing but the finest electricity.  Powwwer for all that overclocking.

OS Windows 10 USB Drive – About as exciting as Windows can get.  On a USB stick for easy installation.

The RiftOculus Rift – Available directly from Amazon

That’s it.  Buy it, build it, and get ready to do this all again in 12 months.

rift_fox

Building a Budget Rift PC

As the release of the Rift draws closer I thought it would be a good idea to put together a budget Rift build.  There is a lot talk online about the steep price to buy into VR since many people will need to purchase a new PC in addition to  the Rift headset.  Oculus has published a set of official recommended specs as a guide map for any PC build but the question still remains:

“What is the cheapest PC I can build for the Rift?”

I thought it would be possible to build an Oculus PC under $1000 and cheaper than a premade “Oculus Ready” PC. It can be hard to mix and match parts to find the right combination. but here is what I would recommend:

Component Link Price
Processor  Intel Core i5-4590K $199
Graphics Card  EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 4GB GDDR5 $335
Motherboard  MSI ATX DDR3 2400 LGA 1150 $95
Memory  Crucial Ballistix Sport XT 8GB Kit $38
Storage  ADATA SP600 2.5-Inch 64 GB SATA III $35
Case  Rosewill ATX Galaxy Case $48
Power Supply  EVGA 500W $35
Total  $785

This covers the bare minimum for the PC but you may need some additional items if you don’t already have them:

Component Link Price
OS Windows 10 Home – USB Drive $120
Monitor Acer S220HQL Abd 21.5-Inch LCD $100
Keyboard and Mouse LED CM Storm Devastator $30
Total  $250

My previous Rift PC Build slightly exceeded the recommenced specs by using a few higher end components and was built to support some future upgrades.  I wanted to shoot for the lowest price components to deliver the most inexpensive Rift build possible.

The selection process was straightforward since Oculus’s recommended specs already have the CPU and graphics card already selected – I only needed to find the supporting components.

Two key decisions I made were eliminating an optical drive to save money and the inclusion of a SSD over a regular hard drive for performance reasons.  Physical media is almost dead and if you’re building a new PC you should have a SSD otherwise you’re selling yourself short.

Here are the components and a few details about the selection process.

Intel i5 CPU

ProcessorIntel Core i5-4590K – This is the minimum Oculus recommended processor so no options here.  It’s a Haswell processor from Intel, will offer excellent performance for the cost.  Note that this includes its own cooler, fan, and thermal paste – nothing else is required here!

EVGA GTX 970 GPU

Graphics CardEVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 4GB GDDR5 – This is the minimum recommended chip set from Oculus and the most inexpensive card that has it.  Great performance for the price and EVGA is a quality manufacturer.

MSI Motherboard

MotherboardMSI ATX DDR3 2400 LGA 1150 – supports Z97, modern and inexpensive.  (2) USB 3.0 ports for the Rift.  This is a great foundation for a new PC and has an awesome BIOS screen for easy setup.

Crucial RAM 8 GB

Memory – Crucial Ballistix Sport XT 8GB Kit – Two sticks of 4GB RAM to meet the minimum requirements.  Nothing special here but it does look cool!

ADATA SSD

Storage – ADATA SP600 2.5-Inch 64 GB SATA III – Solid state drive for the OS.  It’s on the small side at 64 GB but it will make the entire system snappy.  Consider a  3.5 SATA expansion disk for game storage.

Rosewill Case

Case – Rosewill ATX Galaxy Case – Nice inexpensive case with plenty of room inside. I don’t think this is winning any style awards but it fits the bill and Rosewill makes quality products.

Power SupplyEVGA 500W – Inexpensive but well made power supply, plenty of juice to go around.

OS - Windows 10 Home – USB Drive – The new standard here, shipped on a USB drive for easy installation.

Monitor – Acer S220HQL Abd 21.5-Inch LCD - Inexpensive LED monitor that’s great for gaming for when you’re not wearing the Rift.

Keyboard and MouseLED CM Storm Devastator – A nice combo to go with this PC, the back lit keyboard is a nice touch

This should be everything you need to put together an inexpensive Rift PC. I included Amazon links for everything as they have competitive prices and I recommend them for their Prime shipping and ease of exchanges.

Never built a PC before?  It’s easier than you think – everything snaps together.  I recommend the step-by-step guide at Tom’s Hardware.

 

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.

Building a PC for GTA V

GTA V has been one of my favorite games of the last and now current generation of consoles.  A PC port is on the way and it will benefit from higher horsepower machines and a lively modding scene.

Rockstar introduced a first person mode to the game when it made the leap to current generation consoles.  The mode begs for Oculus support and we’ll see it one way or another soon after the game’s release.  The open world of Los Santos is gorgeous and ripe for exploration with the current DK2 or the CV1.  Consider future support by the popular iCEnhancer mod and you’ll have a near photo real gaming experience.

The rumored  recommended hardware requirements are as follows:

  • CPU –  Intel Core i5 3470 @ 3.2GHZ  or AMD X8 FX-8350 @ 4GHZ 
  • GPU – NVIDIA GTX 660 2GB / AMD HD7870 2GB
  • RAM – 8GB

The game will be an absolute monster, especially if it requires a +75 fps frame rate for Rift support. These requirements are nothing more than a starting point.  We’re going to need a beast of a machine for a comfortable Rift experience.

Here’s what I would recommend:

ProcessorIntel Core i7-4790K – New Haswell processor from Intel, will offer excellent performance for the cost.  You can overclock it too but performance will be fine right out of the box.

MotherboardMSI Z97-G45 – supports the Z97 chipset, modern and flexible for different builds.  This is a solid foundation for the system.

Graphics CardEVGA GTX 970 Superclocked 4GB – Not exactly cheap but this card delivers excellent performance for the price.  Don’t skimp here.  I’m actually tempted to recommend a beefier card here but prices get out of hand pretty quickly.

MemoryCrucial 8GB 240-pin DDR3 – I’m recommending two 8GB sticks.

Storage Samsung SSD 850 EVO 250GB – Solid state drive for the OS.  I’ve had bad experience in the past with SSDs so I prefer to stick with a brand name.

CaseCorsair Carbide Series 400R – Nice clean case that’s easy to work on with plenty of cooling.

Power SupplyRosewill 80 PLUS BRONZE 650W – Very nice power supply to run the system and support future upgrades if necessary.

OS - Windows 7 Professional 64-Bit – Everyone’s favorite Windows OS, I still prefer it over Windows 8.

This should be everything you need to put together a solid gaming PC that can tackle GTA V.  The system is built with upgrade potential so with carefully selected upgrades (namely the GPU) this rig can keep you current for the next few years. Total cost is around $1400 which is downright reasonable for a new gaming rig built from the ground up.

Headphones for the Rift

Headphones are preferred for the Oculus Rift as they provide a much more immersive experience than speakers.  There are many wired headphones that will work well with the Rift but one of the key requirements is comfort.  Wireless headphones may be preferred to eliminate the inevitable tangle of wires when wearing and storing them with the Rift.  Latency is a concern with wireless headphones and most Bluetooth headphones introduce a noticeable amount.

Here are my two picks for headphones.  The wired Audio Technica set is comfortable and the cord can be disconnected at the ear to make untangling wires much easier.  The Sennheiser wireless set is rechargeable and uses a digital signal to eliminate any interference. I’m personally using an older pair of the Sennheisers, the RS140 model that has been discontinued.

Wired: Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

Wireless:  Sennheiser RS 160

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 Shipping Update

Yesterday Oculus community manager cybereality released a statement regarding the shipment of DK2.

Via Oculus’s forums and reddit:

The first batch of official DK2s have left the manufacturing facility and are making their way to our distribution centers now. We expect to ship roughly 10,000 DK2s from the factory in July, with just over half of the units through distribution centers and on their way to doorsteps before the end of the month. The very first units are expected to reach developers the week of July 14th. Tracking numbers for all DK2s will be generated as soon as the shipment has been processed by a distribution center.

Please take a moment to confirm that your shipping address is up to date via the Oculus Sales page (https://www.oculusvr.com/sales/). We’ll ship to the address on file, and if the information is incorrect, it may cause delivery delays. In the event that your payment information is no longer valid, you’ll receive an email prior to shipment with instructions on how to complete your payment.

We’re now over 45,000 DK2 pre-orders, which is incredibly exciting. That said, we’re slightly behind in manufacturing and there’s currently a high chance that some developers with estimated shipping in July may not have their DK2s shipped until August. We have a team in China working on continued ramp of production at our factory, and we’ll work our way through the queue as fast as we can.

Once your Development Kit 2 is ready for shipment, you’ll receive an email with a tracking number which can be used to see an estimated delivery date. Please do not contact Oculus support asking for a shipping estimate, as we do not know the status of your package until a tracking number has been generated.

We’ll continue to post status updates, so everyone can stay current on what’s going on behind the scenes. Thanks again for your continued support, and we hope everyone is excited to be begin working with DK2!

So it sounds like my DK2 will be pushed into fall, hopefully I’ll see it sometime in September.

The very first line of this statement is interesting:

The first batch of official DK2s have left the manufacturing facility and are making their way to our distribution centers now.

EDIT:

Apparently I am way off base and ill informed about Oculus’s distribution network.  The following blurb was originally included with this article and is best described as nonfactual.

Without reading between the lines too much it sounds like the first batch of DK2s are in a sea container steaming across the Pacific.  And that’s if we’re lucky and the container has already left China.  Otherwise you’re looking at a minimum of 20+ days before the container hits US ports for domestic distribution.  I’m guessing Oculus is using the US as their main distribution hub so orders outside of the US will lag further behind.

DK2 units should still reach early preorderers before August but shipment dates will realistically be in late July.  Expectations should be tempered.

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.