I have a great many number of interests, but I don’t know that I would have ever described myself as a VR enthusiast. I credit this more to the prospects of VR simply not being on my radar than to any sort of antipathy towards the medium. This is odd, now that I consider it, simply because I seem to share many of the trappings that those that are really into VR have. I recall playing Dactyl Nightmare at a Dave and Busters in Atlanta in the early 90s; I owned and LOVED my Virtual Boy; I’m one of those rare consumers that thinks stereoscopic 3D really adds to a game experience. But regardless of this, I was completely blind sided when the Oculus Rift Kickstarter launched last July. Without a moments hesitation, I put down my money and as of this past Monday, I now have one in my possession.
If you don’t know what the Oculus Rift is, I could spend a few minutes describing it to you. But instead, it would probably be better if you just viewed the same video that sold me on the device:
How is it?
The Rift is two things at the same time: awesome and nauseating. But first, let’s cover the awesome.
The first thing that stands out to me about putting on the Rift is the 3D. It is, by far, the most convincing 3D I have ever experienced. A number of previews I had read as I waited anxiously for it to arrive indicated that the depth perceived was subtle, and I could not find this to be any further from the truth. The depth perception is very strong for me, and gives a true feeling of volume to the world around you. I’ve always seemed to be a little sensitive to ghosting in most 3D sources, and though it’s never been a deal breaker, the obsessive compulsive side of me has always wished it away. I don’t know that the lack of ghosting contributes to my awe of its 3D, but it’s certainly something that I’m glad to be rid of.
Unfortunately, though the 3D is the most convincing and most amazing I’ve ever seen, I was disappointed to note that I felt no sense of vertigo when staring down from a high perch in any game. This is apparently some shortcoming of my own mental wiring, as a few of my co-workers I demonstrated the Rift to did experience some butterflies in the same situation.
Being able to turn your head to alter your view is another amazing factor that is hard to describe. Originally, I felt as if it didn’t add much to the experience and felt a small sense of disappointment to this. I wound up being proven wrong, however. In my consumption of Rift content, I found a number of videos on YouTube that were rendered for the Rift. I was able to make the video full screen, and don my Rift, and it would appear to me just as if I were in the experience myself, rather than watching a video. In this piece in particular, I found that I wanted to view the person sitting to the left, and would turn my head to do so; my world view would not change however, and I would be greatly disappointed. This didn’t happen once, but several times, though I consciously knew I was simply viewing a video stream.
There are a few drawbacks to this as well, however. Most prominently, it’s become clear that it may be time to build myself a new powerful computer. As it stands, my computer renders most of the demos I’ve tried somewhere around 45 frames a second. While I’m not prone to motion sickness, I’ve felt a little bit of queasiness while running around. It’s actually caused me to worry that I’m going to develop a Pavlovian response to the Rift, and that I’ll eventually be put off from using it completely due to my aversion of the uneasy feeling. I do, however, try it on very frequently just to marvel at the sites, and I’ve felt the nausea subsiding (though it does come back more when I’m noticeably running a poor frame rate).
The biggest let down of the Rift, sadly, is the Field of View. This video above is misleading, as it demonstrates a graphic that basically shows the Rift taking up your entire FOV. While they never shy from the fact that it provides roughly 110 degrees of FOV, I never really realized how much of a difference there is between your full field of view, and only 110 degrees of it. You don’t really have a periphery inside the Rift. The best way to describe it is as if you were looking through a very short tube. Some people describe it as looking through a pair of binoculars, and while the analogy is apt, I find you actually have a better FOV in the Rift than you would in binoculars. This, of course, is not to say that it’s not amazing because it most certainly is. I had just simply had some unrealistic expectations is all, and felt a little let down by it.
A lot of people expressed concern over the screen’s Screen Door and low resolution. Neither of these bother me. While both are noticeable when you’re thinking about them, they have not detracted from the experience at all. There is some blur as you move around due to the screen’s less than optimal refresh rate, but this too is easy to ignore (except when there is still the issue of my poor framerate mentioned above). All of these concerns will undoubtedly be addressed in the consumer version whenever that makes its way to store shelves.
Though I feel as if I’ve spent more time being critical than positive in this write-up, let me take this last moment to reiterate: the Rift truly is an amazing experience. It’s still not a perfect VR experience – but it’s an extremely impressive one!
Should I buy one?
There’s some caveats to the answer above, but if you’re interested in buying a Rift purely for consumer reasons, you’re better off waiting until the consumer version appears. The reason for this is twofold: first, the consumer version will likely address a number of my complaints above. Second, and the most important reason, is there is next to nothing in terms of content for the Rift. You could quite literally burn through everything available for the Rift right now in about forty five minutes. And this, of course, is what Oculus hopes to remedy with these Dev Kits. They want us game makers to produce content for this guy so that when the consumer version comes out, people have many exciting prospects ahead of them. And I certainly think that’s going to be the case.
So while I say to hold off on purchasing a kit right now, I will go ahead and tell you that you would be missing out if you didn’t buy the consumer version the minute it becomes available. That will be an extremely exciting time in the world of VR.