The Oculus Rift and the dream of Virtual Reality

Well, it seems VR has made a comeback with the Oculus Rift HMD Kickstarter.  Inspired by a dedicated hobbyist named Palmer Luckey and supported by John Carmack from Id, it seems we are going to have something very special in the coming year.  The Oculus Rift is unique with a wide field of view and low latency tracking.  It will be a consumer version of a true immersive stereoscopic HMD.

The hype level surrounding the Oculus Rift is now reaching epic levels like the Ouya did almost a month ago.  I have backed both on Kickstarter and am very excited about getting my hands on the Oculus Rift Dev Kit in December.

The most exciting aspect of the device is the 90 deg plus FOV it provides which should cover most of a person’s peripheral vision giving a feeling of true immersion.  This is now possible because we have small high density displays capable of providing enough pixels for the job.  These have likely been born out of the smartphone industry and efforts by Apple to produce things like the Retina display for the iPhone and iPad.    We also have the rendering capability to render scenes at 60fps or more and properly pre-distort images using shaders to avoid the need for complex expensive optics.  The dev kits will have a 1280×800 display giving a 640×800 display per eye with a 110 deg vertical and 90 deg horizontal FOV.  The final version will have an even higher resolution display so there is less pixelation in the stretched image.

An equally important aspect of the device is of course the low latency head tracking and high display refresh.  Pretty much all VR devices to date have suffered with problems of not being able to quickly enough track a person’s head movement and render a scene to match it.  Any latency here destroys the sense of immersion and also causes your brain to struggle with the situation which ends up giving you a headache over time or making you feel nauseous.  According to Carmack the sweet spot is about 20ms or less, which essentially means 60fps or more and a 120Hz display refresh rate.  

Unity is thankfully behind the project and there will be an out of the box Unity integration.  I am really looking forward to trying out the device and I have already started plans on how my framework will support first person views and using an HMD combined with a controller for input.  I will have an HMD mode in AOS for experimenting with the device.  It should be interesting to see what kind of UI is possible and how the input will work.  This will likely push AOS to a simpler interaction model which is something I want to shoot for anyway.  We will have to wait and see – meanwhile i will be playing Doom 3 BFG with it!

Hopefully all the developers participating in the kickstarter can provide good feedback for the final version which will be mass produced in a commercial version next year.  

Finally, some great talks at QuakeCon 2012 about the Rift and how we are at a transition point for wearable gaming and using HMDs  for VR and AR.

QuakeCon 2012 Panel – Virtual Insanity
QuakeCon 2012 – John Carmack Keynote

There is lots of interesting discussion about what kinds of games are possible using VR and how to interact with the game within the context of the gear.  Found the concept of “wizard like” gesturing as Carmack puts it being an interesting idea as this seems to be an extension of touch gestures in the mobile space.

A lot will happen in the next few years and this will be an interesting time for developers who want to experiment and break new ground in this space.  A new paradigm shift for gaming is not something to miss –  just think about how much phones and tables with touch have changed things in only 5 years!

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