22nd Sep 2014 | 22:52
Oculus gives its first standing-up virtual reality demo with the new Rift Crescent Bay headset
Hands on at Oculus Connect 2014
Update September 22 2014:Oculus has revealed its latest Rift prototype, codenamed Crescent Bay, and it's undoubtedly the most impressive virtual reality device yet.
Oculus held its first ever Oculus Connect virtual reality conference in Hollywood on September 20, and the growing company used the opportunity to show off its newest Oculus Rift prototype: Crescent Bay. The lighter, more comfortable Crescent Bay Rift prototype has beefed-up specs and, for the first time, integrated headphones designed by the engineers at Oculus VR.
But unlike with past prototypes like DK2 or "Crystal Cove," Oculus is being less than upfront about Crescent Bay's specifications. They bumped the last headset up to 1080p, and Crescent Bay certainly appears to have an even higher resolution, but the company won't confirm as much.
That's because they want to focus on the Oculus Rift as a full package rather than as a simple amalgamation of its various components, all of which will no doubt change by the time the consumer version Rift - CV1, as the company refers to it - is finally ready.
"It's the combination of the resolution with the optics, with the mechanical engineering and industrial design of this thing, that allow for it to look like it's a higher resolution, even though it may or may not be," Oculus Vice President of Product Nate Mitchell told TechRadar. "The synergy of all the components together is what takes it up a notch."
What Oculus instead focused on with the Crescent Bay demos it showed off at Oculus Connect was the level of "presence" the Rift can make users feel under optimal conditions and with content designed specifically to be as immersive as possible.
Down with the Bay
Whereas every past official Oculus Rift demo took place with users seated, this time the company had journalists and other Oculus Connect attendees standing up and walking around with the headset strapped to their faces.
In interviews afterward, Mitchell and Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey emphasized that the stand-up Rift experience is not the experience that they're stressing for consumers, but was simply meant in this case to crank up the immersion as high as possible. Mitchell called this demo "conceptual," and Luckey said "the Oculus Rift is a seated experience. It's very dangerous to stand up."
As true as that may be - you probably shouldn't try walking blindly around your home while the Oculus Rift is tricking your brain into thinking you're on a different planet or in a submarine - the stand-up experience demonstrated with Crescent Bay at Oculus Connect was undoubtedly the most immersive and impressive virtual reality demo ever.
The experience consisted of about a dozen demos developed by Oculus's new internal content team. Luckey said these demos are the cream of the crop as far as what Oculus has developed, and many more experiences were scrapped or sidelined. Over several minutes they showed off a variety of potential Rift applications, eliciting a number of very different responses.
The Crescent Bay demos took place in a highly controlled environment: a small, empty room with four plain, grey walls. A camera - larger than the one used with Crystal Cove - was mounted on the wall, tracking users' positions as they walked around a small, black mat on the ground.
By tracking the Crescent Bay prototype's white-studded surface (these nubs are now located all around the headset, including on the back of the strap) this camera can accurately understand your position in the room, allowing you to walk around freely in virtual space. Not to get too dramatic, but it really is a mind-blowing experience.
The demos themselves consisted of several non-interactive environments, from a creaking submarine chamber to a sunny museum in which a life-sized (looked that way at least) T-Rex sniffs around and ultimately steps directly over you.
These short experiences lasted less than a minute each. One highlight took place at the top of a skyscraper in a steampunk, BioShock-inspired city. Standing up in that grey room, you could walk to the edge of the virtual roof and look down hundreds of feet to the traffic below. And as with the T-Rex's roar, the Crescent Bay Rift's attached headphones - technically stereo, but with simulated surround sound - made the experience seem all the more real with traffic noises, hissing wind and more.
That demo called to mind the Game of Thrones "Ascend the Wall" Oculus Rift experience designed by visual effects firm Framestore. Used by HBO at promotional events like the premiere of Game of Thrones' fourth season, Ascend the Wall put users inside an actual metal cage - replicating the elevator from the series - that rumbled and blew cold air at them as they virtually ascended to the top of the show's fictional 800-foot-high Wall.
The more points of feedback these demos are able to simulate, the more "presence" users feel, Oculus contends. These feedback points range from that feeling of cold air being blown in your face - which is not very practical - to ambient sound, which is practical - to something as simple as standing up, which is not ideal for every situation but nevertheless ramps things up considerably.
"You stand up, and suddenly your balance kicks in, and you're like, 'woah!' and you feel your weight shift subconsciously," Mitchell explained to us after the demo. "When you stand up suddenly [your subconscious] is totally engaged."
All of these demos showed off the ways that standing up can enhance virtual reality. For example, within environments that appear small, like a tiny cartoon city or a sci-fi terrain map that could be used for a strategy game, walking around makes you feel like you're playing an Ender's Game-like simulation.
But one of the most fun demos involved simply standing and facing a curious alien on a distant planet. As the user bends down and moves around to better examine the alien, it does the same to the user, clucking in a strange tongue. You actually get the sense that it's talking to you, and it's easy to see how this type of interaction could be used to make video games better.
Yet another demo had you staring into a mirror, with your head represented by a floating mask. No matter how hard I tried or how fast I moved, I couldn't detect a shred of latency as the mask in the mirror reflected my every movement. Again, the grey room in which this took place was a more controlled environment than most people's homes, but it was nevertheless impressive.
The final experience - and the most game-like - showed off exactly how cool an Unreal Engine 4 Oculus Rift game might be. Futuristic soldiers shot at a hulking robot as it fired right back, explosions sending cars flying in slow motion as the point of view crept slowly down the street toward the machine. It felt natural to physically dance around, dodging incoming bullets and ducking under flipping vehicles, no matter how ridiculous I might have looked to onlookers who couldn't see what I was seeing.
This could legitimately be the future of gaming - if Oculus can figure out the input problem. Although many Oculus Rift demos have used an Xbox 360 controller, there's still no standard input device for Rift games. Like Crescent Bay's integrated audio, though, this is a problem Oculus is actively working on.
"There's a very real possibility that we would have come to the conclusion that audio is something we were going to leave to third parties," Luckey told us at the conference. "We came to the conclusion that we had to do it ourselves, and we had to do a good job, because it was so important to get right. I think input is in that camp."
That's just one of the problems Oculus needs to solve before the Rift is ready for consumers, and given that Crescent Bay is just the latest of many prototypes it's unclear when it will be. But when Oculus Rift CV1 is ready, it has the potential to change entertainment forever.
Hands on at Comic-Con and GDC 2014
Update: Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2 is on its way to game makers and it's being used for by movie studios. We revised our hands-on review and added facts about its Galaxy Note 3 screen and Mac support.
Hands on impressions by Matt Swider and Alex Roth
Codenamed Crystal Cove, the updated Oculus Rift DK2 costs $350 (about £207, AU$373). That's $50 (about £30, AU$53) more than the first-generation developer kit.
However, the improved specs make it well worth the price bump if you're a developer with a passion for cutting-edge technology and the patience for beta hardware.
The face-worn display outfits developers with an HD screen that's 1080p or 960 x 1080 per eye. It finally meets our next-generation gaming needs.
Believe it or not, the Oculus Rift DK2 display actually uses the 5.7-inch Super AMOLED panel from the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Behind its rubber casing is same exact front panel, "Samsung" logo and all.
This makes sense. Oculus was rumored to be working with Samsung on the South Korean electronics giant's own virtual reality headset. Whether or not that pans out remains to be seen.
Despite both the physical and theorized Samsung ties, Mac compatibility has been added to the Oculus Rift DK2, making good on the start-up company's promise to support Apple machines. All five OS X game developers are rejoicing right now.
Oculus Rift DK2 drops the first interation's control box in favor of integrating the guts into the headset itself. Only a single cable - HDMI and USB woven together - dangls from your face.
The new kit also comes with a motion-tracking camera, which allows for greater movement within the world of the Rift. It looks a bit like a webcam, and a lot like a PlayStation Eye camera from the PS3 days.
It features a blue "on" light and an Oculus logo, but its true power isn't visible to the naked eye. It uses forty infrared LEDs on the headset to track your head movements and integrate them into the game. These LEDs were visible on the version we tried at CES 2014, but not anymore.
In the demos we saw at GDC 2014, this meant players could lean in for a closer look at in-game objects and characters. These were the same demos we saw at CES, with the exception of a new one by Epic Games, which integrated the player into the game a unique way.
The game was a one on one battle between two sword and shield wielding avatars. It takes place in a living room, where players can see representations of themselves seated in the room, controller in hand. To keep an eye on the fight we had to swivel our head and crane our neck.
The Rift was a surreal experience as always; when our opponent turned his head or leaned forward it gave his neck a stretched, snake-like appearance. And when one of the battling avatars leapt up onto your lap, you half expect to feel his little feet on your legs.
If you've used the previous Rift, know that Crystal Cove is a night and day difference. The higher resolution makes all the difference in the world; it's like going from Skyrim on a four-year-old PC to one from last year.
Note that we say last year; the Oculus Rift still isn't sporting visuals that you could call next gen. There are still jaggedly rendered objects, but the immersive nature of the experience trumps graphics any day, and is one you need to see to believe.
Movies come to Oculus Rift at Comic-Con
Comic-Con 2014 provided a different sort of experience - with entertainment at the forefront - and maybe one we can expect more of now that Facebook owns Oculus VR.
Both Twenty Century Fox and Warner Bros. were backing new Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2 units at the cosplay-filled San Diego convention with demos for their X-Men and Into the Storm films.
The X-Men Cerebro Experience provided the more surreal experience as attendees slipped into the wheelchair and saw through the eyes of mutant leader Professor Charles Xavier. He, fittingly, donned the just-as-snug brain amplifying mutant detector Cerebro on his own head.
The concept involved seeking the shapeshifting mutant Mystique by looking 360 degrees in any direction. She was hiding in a Comic-Con crowd that was fictitious and barren - it would have been cooler if it used augmented reality here.
The actual hunt was automated and fairly boring, but Professor X's replica wheelchair at the Fox booth provided developers with the opportunity to predict the location of our limbs and torso. It accurately overlayed his body onto our own.
Obviously, this demo didn't call for much movement and that worked to the movie studio's advantage. It could easily trick your mind into thinking that the Professor's subtle finger tap on the armrest was your own with a "Wait, I didn't just do that!"
Into the Storm upped the energy level with simulated tornado winds inside a small glass both built by Warner Bros. Through the first-person perspective, we saw three characters hunker down behind a gated sewer entrance, truck-sized debris smash against its ironclad bars and pipes burst with gushing water.
It didn't have the advantage of a stationary wheelchair-bound character to map our bodies and there was no interaction whatsoever, but Warner Bros did aptly demo its new disaster movie with this terrifying scene recreation. It also messed up our hair.
Both X-Men Cerebro Experience and Into the Storm also gave us insight into how big-name movie studios intend to use Oculus Rift to invent new ways of enjoying theatrical experiences. Video games were just the beginning.
Hands on CES 2014
Oculus Rift gets more impressive every time we see it, and the futuristic virtual reality headset's appearance at CES 2014 was definitely no exception.
Since E3 2013 Oculus VR has gained impressive talent and raised an extra $75 million in funding, and the result is the Oculus Rift Crystal Cove prototype (named for a state park in southern California). It's significantly easier on the eyes than older versions of the headset and, by extension, closer than ever to the Rift's final, fully functional, consumer-facing form.
The two game demos Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell showed us in a private meeting room at CES were designed to showcase two new features: positional head-tracking and low persistence, both of which help make the virtual reality experience more immersive and address some users' complaints with the headset, including motion blur-induced nausea.
The head-tracking is the most obvious improvement. The new white studs on the Oculus Crystal Cove prototype's face are indicators that communicate your head's position to a new external camera, mounted near your monitor. As a result the full movements of your upper body, not just the sideways and up/down movements of your head, are detected and translated to the game world.
That means you can lean forward while playing CCP Games' extremely impressive 3D space-shooting game EVE: Valkyrie, bringing your in-game face closer to your space ship's various monitors and switches so you can better read their warnings and instructions. Since the very first demo Oculus Rift has inserted players into virtual worlds, and with this addition it's a more immersive experience than ever.
Get low, low, low, low
Second and more subtle is the low persistence, which makes the Oculus Rift's somewhat notorious motion blur a thing of the past. Now the graphics remain more clear and sharp even when you move your head around rapidly. There's still a tiny amount of blurring, but it's a massive improvement over the previous version of Oculus Rift.
To prove it Mitchell turned low persistence off and then on as we moved around, and although the image became darker with it on, it almost totally alleviated what was previously one of the Rift's biggest issues.
The tech behind the low persistence is somewhat complex, but Mitchell explained the gist of it. Essentially the new "Crystal Cove" Oculus Rift's OLED display has zero latency, so it takes the pixels no time at all to change color.
Even then, Mitchell said, there was some blurring, but Oculus alleviated it even further by programming the pixels to consistently but imperceptibly flicker on and off, only turning on when they have "good" data to display.
That new OLED display is also full HD 1080p, just like the prototype Oculus showed off behind closed doors at E3 2013. That of course helps as well.
We played EVE: Valkyrie at E3 2013 as well, though on the older, lower-resolution Oculus Rift. In 1080p, and with minimal motion blur and the new positional head-tracking, it was even more immersive now than it was back then - and that's saying something, because even that first time it was totally mind-blowing.
Piloting a space ship with an Xbox 360 controller while you look around the cockpit and target enemies with the motions of your head is one of the most impressive gaming experiences ever created. It feels like the first time you played Super Mario 64, or Halo, or Wolfenstein - completely fresh and like it has the potential to change the world of gaming. And right now it's only a demo.
The other software Oculus had at CES was a very basic defense game built by Epic Games in Unreal Engine 4. It's an evolution of one of the original Oculus Rift demos Oculus showed around - the one where users simply walked or floated around several beautiful but interaction-light Unreal Engine 4 environments, including a snowy mountain and the lava-filled lair of a scary-looking demon lord.
Now, that demon sits on his throne across from you, the player, he being your apparent opponent. Around you is his cavernous, fiery lair, and before you is something like a 3D board game with moving pieces. He sends tiny dwarves marching inexorably toward your goal, and you press buttons on the Xbox 360 controller to fire arrows, cannonballs and flamethrowers at them.
There are two views: one overhead and one from closer to the game's level, almost like you're leaning down toward it to put on your thinking cap. And thanks to that positional head-tracking you can actually lean forward to peer into the game and examine the little dwarves up close. You can look into their faces as they're pinned with arrows and crisped with fire.
The experience of playing a game inside a game world is not unique to Oculus Rift. This little game, though still very basic, could conceivably be a mini-game within some epic, sprawling RPG. But like with everything else, playing it on Oculus Rift makes you feel like you're really there.
Mitchell said the camera that enables the positional tracking may be only a temporary solution. But whatever Oculus settles on to make sure the final version of Oculus Rift features full six-point head-tracking will be included with the unit, whether that means bundling a camera in or something else.
There's still no projected release date or final pricing for the consumer product that the Oculus Rift Crystal Cove prototype will eventually become, despite rumors of a Christmas 2014 goal that Mitchell would neither confirm nor deny. And the conspicuous indicator lights on the Crystal Cove's front aren't final either, Mitchell revealed, even if they do look kind of cool.
Mitchell and his colleagues at Oculus VR seem to think the Rift still has a long way to go. That may very well be true, but the fact is the Oculus Rift is the coolest product in the world right now, and it gets better every time we see it.
Alex Roth and Matt Swider also contributed to these hands-on previews
Update: It's E3 2013, and it's been several months since TechRadar last saw Oculus Rift. The virtual reality headset has undergone two major changes since January: a new prototype now comes with full HD 1080p visuals, and it's now got something resembling an actual video game.
Hands on impressions by Matt Swider and Alex Roth
We went hands on at the show to check out what's new with Oculus Rift, and we came away extremely impressed.
Oculus VR is now using Epic's Unreal Engine 4 to demo its Rift headset. Specifically, the company is showing players the lava and snow demo that debuted in videos in late March. Wearing the standard-definition headset (similar to the one we saw at CES, but with an extra top strap for added comfort), we felt like we should be able to catch a snowflake with an open mouth when we looked up at the virtual sky.
It's that real-looking, and when we put on the brand new prototype HD Oculus Rift that sensation was only heightened.
Oculus Rift is incredibly immersive, and part of that is thanks to its true stereoscopic 3D. The two screens inside the goggles become extensions of your own eyeballs, and your brain quickly adapts to the point that you'll raise your arm and expect to see them in the game world. You can truly sense the world's depth, and despite knowing it's an illusion it feels very real.
We didn't experience any nausea, but we only used it for a few minutes. We did get a touch of vertigo as we looked down from the top of a virtual mountain, though.
The consumer version of Oculus Rift, which Oculus VR Vice President of Product Nate Mitchell said is coming in "months and not years," will likely come in HD like the prototype we saw at E3. As you can imagine it's absolutely a superior experience.
Mitchell was hesitant to divulge too many specifics, though, mostly because they're always subject to change. "We want to continue to improve the hardware," he said. "Display technology keeps getting better. Sensor technology keeps getting better. We're adding new features and things like that, a lot of which we haven't announced."
He said they want to keep the price point around $300 (about UK£191, AU$312), though.
To infinity (and beyond)
The other big development in the world of Oculus Rift came not from Oculus VR itself, but from EVE Online developers CCP Games. The first development kits for the headset went out a few months ago, and in that time CCP built an impressive demo that they showed off at E3 this week.
In it players fly a spaceship using an Xbox 360 controller while the Oculus Rift tracks their head movements. This works incredibly well because just like when you're controlling a vehicle in real life, you can look around and move independently.
The multiplayer demo - which unfortunately is just that, a tech demo - allowed multiple players to fly around in a large outer space environment while shooting lasers and missiles at one another. We could shoot lasers straight forward while targeting other players above and to the sides of our ship by simply moving our head and visually targeting them.
The sense of space in this demo (no pun intended) was simply astounding. Tilting our head down, we could see our knees in the game; we found ourselves moving our arms and expecting our in-game avatar's arms to move as well.
That sensation caused some dissonance as our brain tried to differentiate the virtual body it was seeing from the body it's attached to. That could be solved with a Kinect-style sensor that tracked your arm movements used in tandem with Oculus Rift, though Mitchell said they don't have plans for anything like that.
The dev kits are out there, though, and it's not impossible. In fact, it seems we're just beginning to explore the possibilities of Oculus Rift, and if what we've seen so far is any indication then it's time to get very, very excited for what's in store.
Original article: Oculus Rift made headlines last year for its wildly successful Kickstarter project. The enterprise to create a commercially viable virtual reality headset raised $2,437,429, and at the pre-CES 2013 Digital Experience event, TechRadar got to experience Oculus Rift eyeball-to-eyeball.
The VR headset has been through several iterations, but the one we saw at CES was the most refined. It isn't perfect (and as we found out, it might not ever be perfect for some players) but it's undoubtedly superior to any previous attempts at a virtual reality display.
Instead of a clunky skull-encompassing helmet, Occulus Rift is more like a set of ski goggles, with room inside for small eyeglasses if you wear them.
Inside are two lenses, which each feed a separate 640 x 800 image to your eyeballs. Combined, they form a unified 1280 x 800 image.
Motion tracking means it responds to your head movements, as though you're looking around an actual 3D environment.
Oculus VR (the company behind Rift) showed off its remarkable new kit with the Epic Citadel demo - a standard video game input (in this case, from Xbox 360) in first-person view.
This plunged us into a medieval marketplace populated by humble townsfolk and knights in armour, with snow softly settling around us.
Wear it well
The first time we moved was rather perplexing and disorienting. It's almost like walking for the very first time.
However, the visuals seem extremely fluid and natural. And in less than a minute, we felt that Oculus Rift really could be the new face of playing games.
Unfortunately, not long after that TechRadar's motion-sickness susceptible reviewer began to feel something else. He was only able to tolerate ten minutes before nausea spoiled the party.
The time it takes for sickness to kick in appears to depend on the game's frame rate, camera system and other factors that have yet to be isolated.
But surprisingly, while Oculus VR's representatives say this initial reaction is common among first-timers, they also report that most (though not all) players subsequently become accustomed to the experience.
There is still no target release date for the final product, let alone price. At CES, two versions were shown: the somewhat rough prototype, which is covered by black tape; and the developer kit, which looks far more polished.
But whenever it appears, Oculus Rift seems set to mark a big shift in gaming. Clearly, though, there's work to do if the headset is to fulfill its potential - we can't see it becoming truly popular if it gets a reputation for making players sick.