Hands On With the Retail Oculus Rift: Countdown to Launchby Ryan Smith on March 16, 2016 10:00 AM EST
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- Oculus Rift
The Oculus Rift Hardware
The fundamentals of the Rift have not significantly changed even as far back as the DK1 and DK2 – it’s still at its core a screen and sensor package strapped to your face – but having used all four generations of the headset in one form or another, there has been a clear degree of improvement in each and every generation. Oculus has of course continued to upgrade the screen, cutting down on pixel response times while improving pixel density. But they’ve also been working on positional tracking, the optics, the fit, audio, and more. The end result has been an increasingly refined product that is as fun to use as it ever was, but with the rough edges and early technical issues reduced and/or resolved.
To get right to what I expect will be the big question, based on my time with the Rift at Oculus’s press demo I don’t believe that this is the perfect headset. At some point in the future there will undoubtedly be a second Rift, and it will be faster, cheaper, and better. In particular, we’re not yet to the point where pixel density is high enough to avoid seeing the edges of individual pixels (the screen door effect) on a VR headset. But that said, the Rift doesn’t need to be perfect to offer a technically solid and very enjoyable experience; it delivers on the fundamentals of the VR experience that Oculus has long promoted.
|Oculus Rift Specifications|
1080x1200 (per eye)
|Refresh Rate||90 Hz|
|FOV||100° - 110°|
|Sensors||6 degrees of freedom tracking
3-axis rotational tracking
3-axis positional tracking
|Position Tracking||Constellation system based on infrared sensors|
|Audio||Supra-Aural Headphones, Built-In|
|Controls||Xbox One Wireless (included)
Oculus Touch motion controls (sold seperately, release date TBD)
Starting with the screen then, as is well-known since last year, the Rift ships with a pair of OLED displays, one for each eye at a resolution of 1080x1200. From a technical perspective OLED works well here given its inherently low pixel response times, which has also allowed Oculus to run the displays at 90Hz. This not only improves the framerate, but also improves on what Oculus calls the motion-to-photon latency as well since a new frame is dispatched more frequently. I don’t believe Oculus has officially commented on the matter yet – and we’ll want to confirm this in our full review – but I believe the panels are using a pentile layout, which means the resolution isn’t quite as cut and dry as the official numbers.
Consequently the screen door effect is definitely present, though to what degree depends on the game. Games that are heavy in fine details like Project CARS are the worst, as even anti-aliasing can’t accommodate for what’s functionally such a low pixel density for how close the displays are to your eyes. On the other hand games that are lighter on the finer details and more abstract overall better hide this effect. Even in the case of Project CARS it’s never annoying to the point of being distracting, but it is there. It goes without saying that future iterations of the Rift will ship with higher resolution displays, and that PC video card makers are already preparing for this.
When it comes to head tracking and overall latency however I feel that Oculus has absolutely nailed it. At no point did I feel like the headset was lagging the real world – what latency is present was low enough that I couldn’t perceive it. This comes from a combination of advancements with the graphics technology and the position sensing technology, with the latter being fast enough and accurate enough that I never felt a disconnect between how my head was oriented and how the rendered world was presented. I can’t say that this means that the Rift will be a motion sickness-free experience – it’s going to depend on the content as well as an individual’s reaction times and sensitivity – but certainly after using it for a couple of hours I was no closer to being sick. Though while I’m on the subject, although the Rift doesn’t induce sickness, there’s a definite readjustment period after using it for a long while, as it takes some time to get reacquainted to depth perception and focusing in the real world.
Audio on the other hand is a mixed bag, though I feel like part of that is because I need more time with controlled testing to get a good feel for it. The Rift’s built-in supra-aural headphones are extremely convenient, making the entire Rift experience contained within a single device. However supra-aural headphones are by their nature not isolating – and with your vision already isolated this may not be a bad thing – and overall you’re looking at a limited driver side. The outstanding question then is whether a set of full headphones would deliver a better experience. At the same time controlled testing of 3D audio positioning in a few games would also be helpful; it’s a solved problem, but 3D audio implementations within games have historically varied wildly.
Next to the screen, the other area where I feel the various iterations of the Rift have made the most progress is with the fit. With the first devices admittedly being little more than quickly built harnesses to hold a screen in front of your eyes, the progression to retail has resulted in much better fitting devices. The fitting mechanism on the retail unit is not wildly different from the previous Crescent Bay developer kit, utilizing two side straps and a top strap. However the overall flexibility/stretchability of the retail design is far better, and as a result it can accommodate large heads without too much effort. On a personal note this was always a problem I had with the previous units (ed: he has a big head in at least one sense of the word) and as a good fit is necessary to get the optics to align correctly, this has made it so even I can use the Rift without problem for a large period of time.
Oculus has not published an official specification for the weight of the headset, however in my experience with the fit now solved, the weight of the headset is not an issue. Even with the weight being front-loaded, the straps provide more than enough support, and the weight is low enough that it hasn’t affected my comfort. Most likely the least comfortable aspect will be that it can get hot wearing the headset, and the resulting fogging of the lenses. Though on that note, the front of the headset pushing against your face for an extended period of time will leave a temporary mark on the face for most people. And of course you will look dorky wearing the Rift – it’s a black box strapped to your face – but as the editor-in-chief for a technology website, wearing a Rift isn’t even the dorkiest thing I’ve done today.
When it ships on the 28th, the Rift will be only be available in its initial gamepad control configuration, and to this end includes an Xbox One wireless controller. Oculus also has a separate motion controller system called Touch that is in development, and while it is being demonstrated it will not be available until sometime in the second-half of the year.
Having used both input methods – albeit never both methods on a single game – the controls work about as you expect. Playing with the Xbox One controller is like playing a traditional console game with a VR headset, whereas using the Touch controller is not too far removed from playing a Wii game with a VR headset. So what works best will depend on the game, and I find that both are comfortable and sensible for games that are a good fit respectively. Though with this being the first time I’ve used the Touch controller, I will say that I was a bit surprised by just how natural it ended up feeling after I had gotten used to it. Manipulating objects in Fantastic Contraption in VR worked very well, as squeezing the controller with your middle finger is a good analog to holding something in your hand.
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cobalt42 - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - linkI wasn't aware much of the motion sickness was due to the mismatch in vergence and accommodation. I'm sensitive to the this, but it mostly means I have a hard time focusing on some things in 3D movies (generally when things pop out of the screen at me, e.g. I just see double images) and it causes eyestrain and probably some headache. But I've never felt nauseated in a 3D movie.
wallysb01 - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - linkWhat I'd like to know is when actual reality (AR) will be worthwhile!
SlyNine - Friday, April 15, 2016 - linkYou should try the motorcycle programs, they are amazing.
mrvco - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - linkRequiring a moderately stout gaming PC and then not providing displays capable of doing justice to AAA titles and requiring you to use a freaking gamepad is intolerably retrograde in my opinion. Especially considering how far we've come with regards to gaming monitor technology, but I'm still hopeful that this isn't just another cycle showing us that VR-tech isn't ready yet (or the next 3D, Wii or Kinect / Move). Of course there seems to be plenty of people willing to jump on the bleeding edge for $599, so all I can say is good luck, we're all counting on you!
Noctrn - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - linkIt's not that higher resolution screens could not have been used, it's that there is no graphics hardware currently in existence that can maintain 90-120Hz at 4k gaming on a AAA level quality game even in multi SLI or Crossfire. Releasing 4k res virtual reality in 2016 would result is such stuttering movement that it would be intolerable after 20 seconds of use. The most powerful machines currently available struggle to handle a single picture at 4k rendering at tolerable framerates in AAA level games with high end settings. If you're looking for seamless 4k level it's going to be a few years before it'll be feasible with VR and even then it'll be pricey. Until then, I'm happy to be a guinea pig as this is still by far the most immersive experience available to a consumer to date.
HigherState - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - linkI'm sure you can as long as you have enough vram and don't try to run everything on ultra. I could be wrong though.
jasonelmore - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - linkThe 4k models are coming. I would say in less than a year, as a specialty product for those with the proper PC's to run it.
bji - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - linkDo you have some special knowledge here or are you just guessing?
sor - Sunday, March 20, 2016 - linkAMD has stated they've been working with an unnamed company who has a 4k per eye device.
Death666Angel - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - linkHere's to playing the wait-and-see game with all the current VR stuff, as my money is way too precious to spend it on the first versions.