- 19 Ιαν 2006
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A few minutes with an Oculus Rift
Well I finally got to try the Rift. I was at QuakeCon Thursday and half of Friday. Since Oculus was such a recent addition to the show, there were a few technical and bureaucratic issues that prevented Palmer and crew from demoing the Rift on Thursday. However, Palmer graciously granted me and another MTBS3D member a private demonstration on Thursday night. Now I didn't get to actually see the Doom 3 demo, but I did see an earlier Carmack test within a small Rage environment. On Friday, the Doom 3 demo was still unavailable so they were still showing the same Rage demo to the public. So I got to see it twice, but in total only for about 5 minutes. Not near enough for a proper and valid review - but I gotta talk about it anyway.
It's hard to be very objective. The first few minutes is really all about just wanting to look around. It's hard to really concentrate on the details: are the edges visible, can I see the pixel structure, what is the resolution like - all the stuff that I wanted to look at closely just got shelved as soon as I stuck my face in the Rift, because the coolness of the whole thing is just so overwhelming. You just can't stop looking around and admiring just how "real" it all feels. At one point I found myself just grasping my hand in midair because it looked so much like there was a cartoon pipe right in front of me. The sense of depth is just amazing - so far beyond 3D (but not in a silly pop-out way). Everything just somehow has a tangible "weight" and depth to it. When you move to the edge of a ledge and look down - you feel the vertigo in your gut. I experienced simulator sickness for the first time - not just some general discomfort. But a strong and instant gutteral feeling as I was looking down a hole and swaying back and forth. Oh, and for you guys that are concerned about the resolution... With the strong antialiasing, it didn't bother me at all. Now I can certainly imagine for reading text and HUDs it would be noticeable, but with pure scenery watching - it is not a big deal. I forgot to even try to find the pixels because I was so enthralled with the experience.
If I have to nitpick, I would say my main issue was a small tracking latency that I observed. One of the major points that came across to me at QuakeCon was the important of low latency. I've heard Carmack talk about it endlessly and I sort of discounted what he was saying a bit - assuming he was just obsessing over the last 2%. But when it comes to this level of immersion I completely understand his point now. You can get away with all kinds of delays and inaccuracies with non-immersive displays. But the moment you start to feel like you are "in there", you can't ignore those things anymore. I believe Carmack in the keynote claimed the Doom 3 Rift latency was around 40 or 50 milliseconds. Now I saw an older version of that code base, so it may have been even a bit more on this demo. But it was definitely noticeable to me. I wouldn't call it a "stutter" necessarily - that's overstating it. More like a "vibration" as I panned my head. You wouldn't think about it twice if it was your frame rate on a normal screen. But on the Rift, the effect is amplified.
And that's one potential pitfall I see with the Rift. The device is so good, that it amplifies any other problems with latency and inaccuracy. It forces perfection in every other aspect of the simulation. Forget trying to play games with all the effects turned up and running at low frame rates. You'll need all the frame rate you can muster. And it forces me to seriously reconsider inaccuracies in my own projects. Currently I can tolerate all types of motion inaccuracies, stuttering, and latency problems. With the best consumer HMDs those problems just sort of look crummy, but I can deal with it. But I suspect the Rift is not so forgiving - and instead of just looking crappy it might actually make me throw up! Another subtle detail - the way that Carmack modeled the head translation as you rolled your head was sort of funny. The first time I tilted my head sideways the wall in front of me sort of stretched and sheared. The reason is because I was rotating my head around my chin (sort of lopping it to the side onto my shoulder). Well the Carmack interpretation was more like rotating around my nose. Once I consciously rotated around my nose, everything looked correct. That's the sort of thing that you would never-ever notice on a desktop screen, but is so obvious on the Rift.
Ok, well I've gone on long enough - much longer than I actually even used the device. To sum it up, I think it's just fantastic. I would be completely satisfied even if this was the consumer version. Well done Palmer. I can't wait to get one at home to start tinkering with it.