Anyone who has been casually following video games lately has no doubt heard of the Oculus Rift. The return of Virtual Reality has been one of the most exciting trends in our industry for the past couple of years. I personally have been very excited to try the Oculus Rift for myself to see if there is any truth to all this VR hype. To quench my curiosity I was able to get my hands on a DK2 unit; and for the past month I have dived deep into the world of virtual reality. I was also able to borrow a DK1 so I could, in addition to giving overall VR impressions, discuss the improvements Oculus has made so far as they move full steam ahead to their first consumer version.
Down the Rabbit Hole:
Putting on an Oculus Rift for the first time is truly an immersive experience. You are completely enveloped in the image with nothing taking you out of the experience. The feeling is tough to describe; your brain knows that it’s not real but you still feel like you’re there. My first experience was with the Oculus World Demo which comes with the SDK software. You walk around a Tucson Villa and take in the sights. The sense of presence is nothing short of amazing. You can look up at the sky, check out the trees and stare out over the balcony at the water. I recommend your first time with virtual reality to be something relaxing like this demo. It is important to get yourself acclimated as some of the more intense experiences can make you uncomfortable in the beginning.
Return of the Space Sim:
Now that I have my VR sea legs it was time to dive into some real gaming. Hugely successful Kickstarter campaigns for both Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen have brought a resurgence to the Space Sim genre, and the Oculus Rift is poised to be the ultimate accessory for these titles. With Elite: Dangerous further along in development I decided to give it a spin with my new shiny DK2 and played about 30 hours. I really wanted to investigate if the Rift could be used for a more full game experience instead of just demos you constantly see people trying when they talk about the Rift. The first time putting on the DK2 for this game is mind-blowing. You truly feel like Han-Solo. Looking around your cockpit and having menus pop up as you look at them sounds like nothing special but experiencing it really is.
(An example photo of seeing a menu pop up)
My favorite moment came when I was in a dogfight with another pilot and he flew above me to get a better position. Without thinking about it or realizing what I was doing my eyes just followed him naturally like looking at a plane in the sky. I was able to re-position myself and go in for the kill. The level of presence to not even realize you are wearing a headset and use only your head and eyes to track the enemy is really going to make this genre popular again among hardcore gamers.
(Shooting lasers in space, nuff said)
Improvements Over the DK1:
I felt like it was important to test a DK1 for comparison to see how far Oculus has improved the Rift in the last year. It is clear that there are huge improvements in two key areas. First is the head tracking. Yeah, the resolution s doubled from DK1 to DK2 but the head tracking for me was the biggest difference I noticed right away. Each motion felt 1:1 and being able to duck and lean over objects greatly adds to the experience. This is key because trying some of the demos on the DK1 take you out of the experience as soon as the head tracking starts to get off even by a little and can make you nauseous. The second major improvement is latency. In all games and demos I tried with the DK2 I can’t say I experienced a single noticeable moment of lag. Compared to the DK1 this is almost a 100% improvement and will be the silver bullet that lets you play games longer and feel more comfortable while doing it.
You’re Better Off Waiting:
While I have been singing the praises of the technology, the DK2 is still a development kit and has a ways to go before the everyday consumer should consider buying one. The resolution has been doubled from the DK1 but it is still not enough. The current 1080p screen still shows a lot of pixels and can easily take you out of the experience. The screen will probably have to be near the 4K range before we can truly get the full un-pixelated experience which is necessary for VR to become mainstream. While I enjoyed my time playing Elite: Dangerous, getting it to work with the DK2 was a whole other story. Getting software to work on the DK2 in general is a mess. That’s not a major issue because this product is only meant for developers and I am sure it will be much better implemented with the first consumer version. Then there are the games, or lack thereof. Mostly what’s available right now are tech demos or betas like Elite: Dangerous. Sure, the games are coming but they are not here yet so there is no killer app to rush in for and buy a DK2.
I went out to discover if virtual reality was more than just hype and my answer is a resounding yes. However we are not quite there yet. The DK2 is close but you should absolutely not buy one. Even Oculus themselves would tell you to please wait for the first consumer version. I know a lot of people are excited for this technology but you should wait until the devices and the games get better. Trust me, it really will be worth it. We are all gonna be Han Solos soon.