CES 2014: Oculus Rift Hands-On

by: John -

It’s been over a year since I’ve used the Oculus Rift and at this year’s CES, the team brought to the show their latest iteration. Codenamed Crystal Cove, the new version offered up some nice improvements over the previous HD version.

For starters, the Oculus Rift now used high speed OLED panels with an increase of display resolution over the initial developer kits. The improve visuals was most welcome as the OLED panels really produced some nice high quality images. The higher speed panels also helped reduced jittering as they can now switch off the panels quicker to not show images that weren’t correct in the timeline of when someone views a scene and quickly switch the panels back on when the scene is correct to the viewer without the wearer noticing.

As you can see in the pictures, there are now many little dots on the outside of the Oculus Rift and these dots are IR emitters. In conjunction with a custom camera, the Oculus Rift can now track the position of your head rather than just which way you are looking at. They can do so with a very accurately as well. Yes, if you turn all the way around or tilt your head too far, the position tracking fails since the camera can’t see. I asked about other solutions to this problem such as using a STEM System attached to the Oculus Rift and the folks at Oculus VR stated that they are concentrating on the sit down experience of VR and they feel this approach offers up the most robust and solid solution. Now, there’s nothing stopping them from say putting a camera behind a person, but for now they just really wanted to show how well the position tracking worked.

One of the battles that Oculus VR fought when using the Rift was to make text readable when someone turns their head quick. The blurring of text can have a jarring effect and one that doesn’t make for a good experience. The team has developed a mode called low persistence which allows for text to be very readable and clear when sudden head movements happen. An example was shown where I was reading some read text in a cockpit of a spaceship. Turning quickly, the text instantly blurred and became unreadable. With low persistence turned on, the red text was easily readable.

Another battle that Oculus VR took up on was the make sure that objects stayed in the world in the exact position that you think it would be. An example would be say you’re staring at a pencil on a desk. In real life, looking away quickly and looking back, the pencil should be in the same spot when you come back. If it’s in a different area, your mind has a little bit of trouble adjusting to it.

Two demos were shown to me in two different genres. The first was a tower defense game powered by the Unreal Engine in third person mode. With the Oculus Rift staring down at the game world, it was almost like playing with miniatures on a table top. I was able to peak around, look at various spots on the map close up, and then lean away to get a nice overall picture of the playing surface. Needless to say, I felt fully immersed in the world with the Oculus Rift providing a smooth and detailed playing experience. The positional tracking was spot on and when I turned completely around and back forward, it failed and recovered gracefully from losing the ability to track the position of the Rift to picking it up right where it should belong.

Eve Valkyrie was the highlight of the demo though as being inside of a space fighter really blew me away. Looking around the cockpit, you could read the various instrument panels and see the various parts of the interior. Launching into combat, I was in awe of how incredible it felt to be able to look above and around you for enemy fighters using my view to garner a missile lock on my opposition. I no longer felt confined and even though there are products out there to do head tracking, having the entire view always be in front of you when you look up or to the side and even behind is something that you just can’t replicate on a stationary monitor. It really takes simulations to a whole new level and to have a high quality 3D experience along with a nearly flawless head tracking experience is something you really have to experience to believe. After playing a few minutes of Eve Valkyrie, I was sold and thoughts of other games such as driving sims benefitting from the Oculus Rift came rushing through my head.

The Crystal Cove version of the Oculus Rift is hands down one of the best things I tried at CES. It really makes me so much more anxious for the consumer version to be released. I hope it’s close because what Oculus VR has done is truly a great feat of engineering in providing a high quality VR experience that blows away anything I’ve ever tried and something that can truly enhance gaming in a whole new way.

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