Oculus Connect

 

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I don’t attend many conferences, but when I first heard about Oculus Connect I knew it was going to be awesome.  An invitation only developer conference for something as world changing as VR is just too hard to resist.  Now that it is over, I have to say that it has inspired me, and put a human face on Oculus and the larger VR community.  I hope they do it the same way again next year and make it bigger and better to encompass the ever growing VR community.  There are plenty of great news articles about the conference and all the announcements made there.  I won’t go into details about all of that, but will cover some of my thoughts on the things I felt were important and highlight the special moments I experienced.

 

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I went with some great folks from Boston.  All friends in the VR community there.  Oculus gave us a bunch of cool swag, although I would have traded it all for a Crescent Bay prototype!  The view from the hotel was also sweet.

Right after arrival we managed to find an impromptu Carmack gathering in the lobby.  I was lucky enough to find three of these over the two day event.  John was awesome.  He discussed all kinds of issues over those three little gatherings.

He discussed topics covering mobile VR power/heat issues, asynchronous time warp and the trials and tribulations to bring that to PC (Microsoft get on the bandwagon!!!).  He also went on about all the details of 360 panoramas and video in VR and how it is being worked on but is going to take some time and has tradeoffs, especially on mobile.  The Oculus Home environment on Gear VR, that will eventually make it to PC, has 360 panorama and video viewers built in!  He also discussed concepts on getting positional movement within a small area working in them by measuring depth in different ways (lasers and light fields were mentioned).

There was so much incredible information that I really wish someone had followed him around with a video camera during the whole conference and it was posted up for everyone to enjoy.  If you read this John, make it happen, we would all love to see that next year!  The OC Carmack Vlog!      

 

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The party Friday night was great and the Gear VR headsets were very cool to try.  The asynchronous time warp makes the tracking incredibly smooth.  I tried a number of the demos and they all were excellent.  I can’t wait until that technology makes it into the PC.  I was a little dismayed that I could still see pixels if I looked for them, even with the 1440p screen.

What made my day with Gear VR was that the lenses could be adjusted with a dial on the top.  I have horrible vision and I could take my glasses off and use them by adjusting the dial all the way to have my vision corrected by the device’s lenses.  Unfortunately I was right on the edge of the dial adjustment and really needed a few more clicks to get it perfect.  But, now I have hope that I will be able to eventually use headsets without my glasses on!

As the party started to wind down, we decided to see if Palmer was still out bowling.  We managed to catch them wrapping up, got to say happy birthday, and that was about it for the evening.  Although we did manage to wander over and crash the first Proto Awards!  Virtual Boy was hilarious.  

 

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Saturday morning was pure awesomeness and luckily everyone got to see that via live stream.  The announcements were great except for the lack of anything on input.  However, I just knew there was going to be something on sound – if you don’t believe me check out my last Rift Ramblings.  And thank the heavens, official Unity support and it works in the free version!  Of everything, that made me the most happy.  Unity 5 is going to be awesome and in my opinion will be the best VR development platform.  Abrash was great, Carmack was amazing as usual, and of course Crescent Bay was the cherry on top.  Thank you Oculus!

The talks on Saturday were all top notch.  They will be out sometime soon for everyone (these are now available on the oculus youtube channel).  I really want to watch the ones in the other tracks that I missed.

 

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I ended up camping out with my VR friends from Boston and setting up Lost Loot for random folks to play.  Throughout the conference everyone was set up all over the place in the extra rooms and halls showing ad hoc demos.  There was so much to see.  I met lots of devs I have only known via the oculus subreddit or the oculus developer forums.  It was great to meet many of them.  I think everyone was trying to discover each other.  The highlight for me was having Drash just come up and talk to me – thanks Drash!

 
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I decided to try Crescent Bay in the evening after all the talks were over and the pool party was in full swing.  I took a late slot so I wouldn’t miss any of the talks during the day.  All I can say is absolutely stunning!  This is as big of a step from DK2 as DK2 was from DK1 and even surpassed the Valve demos in my opinion.  It is a serious achievement.

When people experience VR and content on that quality level they are transformed.  I talked with one young guy who had never tried VR before and he was beside himself.  All he could think of is that it will be huge and he wanted to be a part of it.  That seems to be a common theme from people who get a solid dose of good VR.  They see how fundamental the technology is and then start thinking about all the possibilities.  Even the folks helping run the show and the guards in the hotel got to try it and they were visibly shaken by the experience.  We talked with some of them towards the end and they still couldn’t believe what they were seeing.  They had never heard about it before and were floored by it.

All of the Crescent Bay details are divulged throughout this video Oculus Rift “Crescent Bay” Prototype Hands-On + Impressions by Norm from Tested.com.  I highly recommend watching the whole thing if you are a VR geek, there are so many juicy bits of information all throughout.  Another really good writeup is On the road for VR: Oculus Connect, Hollywood by Doc_Ok which under the Crescent Bay section details the possible special lens arrangement.

When I got to try Crescent Bay, I was in the same room shown in the video and that guy running the demo was very nice even though I forced him to put the HMD on without taking my glasses off.   They were really scared of any damage since they were all 3d printed and hand assembled.  When I put it on the first thing I noticed was how light it felt.  I didn’t even feel the weight on my face.  It was almost like a piece of Styrofoam stuck to my face.  The ergonomics are a massive step forward from DK2 which is very heavy and uncomfortable.

I also never noticed any pixels even when I tried to look for them.  From the reports it doesn’t seem the resolution is any higher than 1440p but it has a unique lens setup that may be diffusing the screen.  There is also speculation it could have a special pixel arrangement.  In comparison I could see pixels on the Samsung Gear VR which is also 1440p.  Another big difference is that everything is being rendered at 90fps and they were using the new Nvidia GTX 980 GPUs.  This new generation of GPUs has built in support for VR that is critical to the experience – Big News for VR: Nvidia’s New Graphics Cards Are Designed for High Performance Virtual Reality Rendering.  I am already starting to think about a mini desktop with a dual GTX 980 setup for a pseudo mobile VR solution.  For high end experiences laptops are just not going to work.

Another video that shows some of the demos in more detail is in this Engaget article New Oculus Rift prototype brings out the best in virtual reality.

I won’t go into detail on the demos too much other than to say that they did induce presence for me in places.  On the tower, I actually tried to grab the railing once before I realized what I was doing.  I also ducked a few times here and there in the street combat scene and crouched down instinctively as the tyrannosaurus rex walked over me.

Another area that deserves a comment is the built in headphones.  Don’t let the look of them discourage you.  They are really good and they snap down right over your ear and the sound is intense.  I had a hard time hearing my operator with them on and the demos running.  The positional audio also works well although I did not test it as much as I should have.  I was simply too stunned by the demos.  After sitting though the audio talk, it is clear that Oculus is putting audio on the same level as visuals so expect to hear a lot more about it.  Also, check out the audio talk when the talks are posted, it was very good.

I think with Crescent Bay Oculus has finally reached the threshold of putting you in a personal holodeck.  I can’t wait to see how CV1 turns out and I keep thinking this has only been two years.  I can’t imagine what it will be like in five years or ten years.

 

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The conference officially ended late Saturday night and we hung out in the hotel bar until about 2am with a large crowd and some of the Oculus folks.

We talked with Nate a bit about the conference, Crescent Bay, the lack of input and so on.  Man, what a nice guy, even to random lowly developers.  He still would not divulge anything on input, but he said to be patient it was coming.  We all felt like that meant in the next few months.  I guess we will see.

I also was able to hang out with a few other people and talk with Tom Forsyth for a while.  We talked about input and he is in full agreement that hand input like leap using gestures to do stuff won’t work – you must have buttons and the like to do things!  We also got to hear a lot of stories about game development and his time at Intel and Valve.

I think one of the interesting moments in the conversation came when everyone was talking about the ramifications of VR, especially after experiencing Crescent Bay.  We were discussing if those making the technology were responsible for what can be done with it.  I guess many technologies can be used for both good and evil purposes, but I feel like this stuff is going somewhere other technologies don’t.  It is really on a whole other level and a direct interface to the brain.  Once the general populace gets an understanding of the realism and power proper VR has, I feel like there could be some kind of huge backlash by society in various social dimensions.  This of course will be triggered by some tragedy in which VR will ultimately be blamed.  Perhaps the good will outweigh the bad.  Only time will tell.

We are now at year two of this journey and we have at least one more to go – hopefully.  I don’t know of any other technology that has been developed over such a long period of time in public like this and has been so highly anticipated for so long.  I can say that each major step has been equal to the last in inspiring me.  What I have seen with Crescent Bay has been a huge inspiration and that kind of VR experience will blow people away.  My only thought is that those people will also need to have a PC and GPU that can deliver it.  I think that will come with time and we are now on the path to get there.

So I will leave you with my wild and crazy predictions coming out of the conference:

  • VR development nirvana early next year with Unity 5 and official Oculus build support.  Expect amazing tools built in like editor interfaces for the positional audio system.
  • Asynchronous time warp and driver stability coming to PC by the end of the year giving us a reliable Direct Mode with buttery smooth tracking that covers up short frame rate drops.
  • More news following Nvidia’s announcements hopefully from AMD on next gen GPUs and VR support there.
  • An input prototype at CES early next year.  My super wild and crazy speculation is they are going to work with Sixsense to deliver something!
  • A commercial release in late 2015 that is truly going to shock the world!
See you all next year at Connect 2!
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