8th Jan 2014 | 04:32
Major improvements in the new Oculus Rift: Crystal Cove prototype
Hands on at CES 2014
At CES 2014 we got to check out the virtual reality gaming headset known as Oculus Rift for the third time. Read our latest impressions here, and see page 2 for our previous write-ups.
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.
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.
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.