Oculus Rift Virtual Reality
16 September 2013, by Rich Bradley
The Softwire Morale Virtual Reality club got started recently with the arrival of our Oculus Rift VR headset. I set it up during a “Pizza and Programming” evening at the office, and then held an open demo one lunchtime for people in the office to have a go.
The Rift comes in a very fancy foam padded box, with all the cables and connectors you need included. I found it really easy to set up: just plug it in and start downloading Rift ready demos and apps.
The Rift SDK comes with a demo of the system called the “Tuscany Demo” where you can walk around a beautifully rendered Tuscan villa. It’s really quite stunning and very immersive. You can see some videos of the demo on YouTube.
There is no noticeable latency when you turn your head. It does seem to blur the view slightly as you are turning (I don’t know whether this is done deliberately to help minimise some view artefacts, or if this is unintentional). I felt a bit aware of the low resolution of the display — there is a definite “screen door” effect where you can see the black borders around each pixel. (I have heard that they are already working on an HD version of the Oculus Rift — the version we have is an early “developer” edition).
We downloaded a few other demos to try out. In Alone in the Rift you walk around a dark woods and occasionally things jump out at you. I found it fairly scary, due to the complete immersion of the headset. In Blue Marble you take a space walk and can look at the earth from orbit.
The most popular demo was RiftCoaster. In this tech demo you ride a roller coaster around a large castle (the castle model is the “Epic Citadel” from the Unreal game engine). The Rift headset gives you a very convincing sense of motion as the picture fills your vision and moves with your head as you look around. We had a few good screams from people trying it out, but I wouldn’t want to embarrass anyone by posting a video! Check out YouTube for some good Rift Coaster reaction videos.
Half Life 2
Finally I tried Half Life 2. Since I already had bought HL2 on Steam, this was as simple as redownloading it onto my laptop (this took only 15 mins thanks to the massively fast Softwire office internet), opting into the “beta” version of the app and turning on the “-vr” flag.
Playing the game with the headset on is a remarkable experience. The emotional engagement of walking inside the game versus watching it on a computer screen is breathtaking. However, I suddenly figured out why all the tech demos only allow you to walk extremely slowly (as in the Tuscany demo) or not at all (as in the Blue Marble demo) — the fast and jerky movements of the character’s POV in Half Life 2 clashed with the signals from my inner ear which told me that I was sitting still to create a profound motion sickness. I played for about 15 minutes, and felt very “car sick” at the end.
I think the motion sickness effect will probably vary from person to person, and there may be ways to ameliorate it by moving more gently — HL2 on the default settings is definitely a “twitch” shooter.
BBC News Coverage
Coincidentally the BBC News tech programme “Click” just released an item covering the Oculus & Omni (Softwire joined the Omni kickstarter, and we expect to receive our Omni some time early next year).