A Virtual Reality
The battle for VR is steadily heating up. Whether it will prove itself to be a flash in the pan or a convention of the future of gaming and experiential methods is yet to be determined. One thing is certain, there are a lot of big players entering the ring for VR dominance; Sony, Samsung, HTC, Microsoft and Oculus VR/Facebook are all puffing their chests with the two mainstream headliners Oculus’ Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus due for consumer release in early 2016.
In April, on the hunt for the latest tech and gadgetry, some of the Drive Creative Studio team headed up to The Gadget Show Live Professional. Truth be told, we were a little disappointed at the absence of VR and the abundance of Selfie Sticks. It came as a nice surprise then, when at a local Meet-Up ‘Exeter Web’ there would be two Oculus VR headsets to experience.
Oculus’ Kickstarter roots had always made it the underdog, but through its $2 billion acquisition by Facebook in 2014 it has become something of a Silicon Valley giant and its development has since been fast-tracked on the road to a convincing virtual experience.
Both headsets for demo were the Oculus Development Kit 2, featuring low persistence OLED displays at a resolution of 960 x 1080 pixels per eye. They boast a gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer to help track your movements as accurately as possible when you’re immersed in games. Thanks to a deal with Microsoft the headset is bundled with an official Xbox One controller as well as an additional external camera for positional tracking.
Seeing is believing
Placing on the headset for the first time, it was comfortable, visually impressive and not at all disorientating. No longer having my hands in my field of vision was the strangest feeling as my first instinct was to reach out to interact. I quickly became accustomed to the virtual retro games arcade I was transported to, complete with neon lettering, 80’s movies posters and lots and lots of playable arcade cabinets. It was the ultimate ‘man cave’ I had longed for. Here’s a very excited person experiencing the same thing:
Movement was one-to-one at around 150fps, including some tolerance for crouching and leaning, thanks to the external tracking camera. The level of immersion was incredible. After the virtual arcade cabinet of Street Fighter II I had begun playing suddenly stopped working, I was able to physically lean behind the machine to see if it was still plugged in – much to the amusement of the crowd watching my live feed on an external display.
Next up was the rollercoaster demo. This was not nearly as nauseating as some have found it, although my stomach did drop a few times which is testament to the device’s ability to fool your mind and therefore your body.
The best use by far was experiencing the Oculus version of the first person stealth survival horror game Alien: Isolation. Having beaten the main campaign and DLC on the PS4 I was raring for a fight with some virtual reality Xenomorph. Thrust into the abandoned space station corridors, the experience from TV to VR was transformative. The need to physically turn your head to check for the ever-present Alien and the feeling of it lurking behind you added a new dimension. However, the new tactical gameplay advantages of playing in VR are what really impressed. Hiding takes up a huge portion of the 12-15 hour campaign, so the ability to use the controller and headset in tandem to crouch behind cargo and peek through the gaps with complete accuracy as the Alien hunted, genuinely added a new level of empowerment (and terror) to the game.
The only slight let-down was the cable that tethered me to the PC preventing a true 360 motion experience. The resolution within the headset was also a little lower that I had hoped for. However this is still a development kit and the technology as a whole is still in its relative infancy. With the grunt of high-end PCs behind the Oculus, higher resolution screens are infinitely possible when the hardware evolves.
After 30 years in the geek wilderness, virtual reality entertainment is suddenly being taken extremely seriously. The consumer version, the Rift, has all manner of technical and aesthetic upgrades. As well as Microsoft’s HoloLens on show at this years E3, the Rift was on the show floor, reportedly feeling super lightweight and looking sleeker with in-built audio and a generous starter pack of games. Oculus also revealed the Oculus Touch controllers that reportedly allow you to reach out in to the virtual world. Read Tech Radar’s review.
If you can’t wait that long and you have a beefy PC rig that can handle it, you can buy an Oculus DK2 direct.
Or you can get your hands on The Samsung Gear VR. Powered by Oculus this device turns your Samsung GALAXY Note 4, S6, or S6 edge smartphone into a portable next-generation virtual reality system. The beauty of this device is the smartphone’s ultra high definition screen. Although if you’re looking for something distinctly more low-fi, check out Google Cardboard (yes that’s a real thing).
For a comparative run down of devices look here.
Ultimately it’s the eco-system that supports this technology that will define which devices flourish and which will join the Virtual Boy in headset history. The HTC Vive has Steam support and Project Morpheus has the existing PS4 motion control hardware. These are exciting times; the games, the innovation and the willingness to support this technology will hopefully make that 80’s VR dream a legitimate reality.