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Oculus Rift: Hands-On Impressions from a Realist

Geekenstein Oculus Rift

The day we have all been waiting for is finally upon us. Geekenstein Media has received our very own Oculus Rift Development Kit. After countless hours of drooling over it, I decided it would be best if I cracked open the box and actually hooked the pair of digital ski goggles up to my computer and downloaded some demo games to play on it.

If you thought you would look stupid wearing Google Glass on your head, just wait until you strap yourself into the Oculus Rift. Unlike Google Glass, which simply adds a transparent HUD to your field of vision, the Oculus Rift transports you to far away lands in a way that are unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before, all while making you look like you belong on one of those distant worlds. The moment you put on the Oculus Rift, all your worries about how you look will be eliminated. That worrisome person doesn’t exist anymore. You are now in the shoes of your favorite game character. You are who you’ve always wanted to do be. Well, at least in theory.

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From a bystander’s perspective, the Oculus Rift looks ridiculous. I’ll be the first to admit that I laughed my ass off when I first heard about the Oculus Rift. The Wiimote, Kinect, and PlayStation Move all came to mind. Sure, they work and do what they are meant to do – but they are all of the same, give or take a feature or two, and only supply the gamer with boring motion wiggling. Great for party games, but far from what I would call immersive. That’s what makes the Oculus Rift so special, though. It’s truly unlike anything else on the market today. It’s not yet another ripoff of an existing product, it is a unique game-changer. Now, I don’t use the term game-changer very often. But when I’m taking about the Oculus Rift nothing has never been closer to the truth. All of the hype surrounding the Oculus Rift isn’t on a whim. It’s not from a couple of stoned college students giggling about it on Youtube. The entire tech and gaming scene is raving about the Oculus for a damn good reason. You really should believe the hype, but not without having realistic expectations and holding off for the consumer HD model.

You really should believe the hype, but not without having realistic expectations and holding off for the consumer HD model.

The majority of those ranting and raving about the Oculus Rift were fortunate enough to play around with it in a closed demo environment. I wasn’t able to make it to a convention this year showcasing the Rift, so I had to buy a developer kit. And let me tell you, setting it up kicked my lily-white ass. While attempting to connect it to my computer, I was abruptly reminded why the Oculus Rift isn’t available to the general public just yet – it has a long way to go before the everyday gamer will be able to appreciate the level of hype it has been receiving. After what should have been an easy setup process, I found myself exhausted by the amount of troubleshooting I had to endure before I could get the Oculus Rift to register as an additional display on my computer. See, the Oculus Rift isn’t a plug-in-play device. It’s currently considered an external monitor and to get it up and running I had to mirror my main display onto it. That wasn’t as easy as it should have been. Since the Oculus Rift has a unique display format, it was impossible to navigate the desktop while wearing it, so this resorted in a lot of taking it off and putting it back on as I launched applications from my main screen, which was shrunken down to a Rift-friendly display resolution. It’s a pain, but hey, that’s expected with a developer kit.

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Once set up, my main display looks like ass, but it has to be extremely low-res to mirror that ass into the Oculus Rift. I know a full-HD Oculus Rift is in the works, but that couldn’t come soon enough. At this point I downloaded at least twenty-gigabytes worth of tech demos, but decided to try out the stock demo that is available for download from the developer website. I launched the demo and put the goggles on. I thought I launched a drunk bum simulator instead of the tech demo, as everything was burry and my eyes couldn’t make out a single detail. Lucky for me, the Oculus Rift shipped with three sets of lenses. Turns out my 20/20 vision wasn’t compatible with the 20/20 lenses, so I had to try out the other pairs before settling on the “C” lenses.

The Oculus Rift tech demo didn’t do it for me. Who wants to walk around a house when they can ride a roller coaster or fight dragons? I couldn’t find a dragon-slaying game, so I settled for ParrotCoaster, a straightforward game that has you riding a roller coaster on a never-ending loop. Boy, was I glad it was a never-ending loop. Finally, I was immersed. After all that pain, suffering, and doubt, I finally saw what the Oculus Rift was capable of. Something so simple was amplified tenfold and nearly brought tears to my eyes.

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This was one of the times where my gaming PC wasn’t able to run a game on ultra settings… and I hated the Rift for it. Being able to sense the immersion, but not fully experience it is such a painstaking endeavor, I don’t think that it should be the general public’s first glimpse into the future of video game VR. I originally wanted to share this device with everyone in my neighborhood, but now I fear it would only tarnish the name the Oculus Rift has been building for itself over the last year. Without HD, your enjoyment with the Rift is severally limited.

There’s a reason why the Nintendo 3DS is dominating the handheld market, and it has nothing to do with the 3D aspect that has always been marketed as its selling point. The Oculus Rift is much like the 3DS as it allows games to be played with an interesting visual experience that’s truly unique. Unlike the 3DS, the Oculus Rift doesn’t have an impressive catalog of games to fall back on for those who don’t buy into the gimmick. Of course, this is because the Oculus Rift is still in the development phase, so it would be unfair of me to count the lack of games against it. However, the current state of tech demos publicly available is quite worrisome. At the moment, the tech demo scene rivals that of the iOS scene when Apple’s App Store launched back in 2008. Those developing for it simply didn’t know what they were doing, and the same goes for the vast majority of those currently developing for the Oculus Rift. A glimpse into the developer forums will show you what I’m talking about; amateur demos from amateur developers. Granted, they all very well could be developing proper games that will blow us away and are simply not  letting the world see them, but that’s highly unlikely.

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Looking around while wearing the Oculus Rift does not feel as natural as you would think. You have a thick cord dangling down your face, getting caught on things, potentially even knocking stuff off of your desk if you get too immersed. Without any built-in motion control functionally, you still feel like you are stuck at your desk, pecking at your keyboard and moving your mouse in the direction you want to go. The immersion is like a carrot dangling in front of you. It’s so close you can almost taste it, but it’s abruptly yanked away before you can take a big bite. There are too many real world nuisances that interfere with what the Oculus Rift is trying to accomplish. We can eliminate those nuisances one by one, but each of those is going to require a standalone peripheral, and that will quickly put you in a financial hole.

Take all of this from a born again believer. After watching video after video of the Oculus Rift in action, I decided to take a chance and put my money where my mouth is. After all, I can’t form a valid opinion about something without first getting my hands on it, otherwise I’d be no different than a judgmental comment troll that only makes a fool out of himself thanks to his own lack of knowledge. I had get my hands on an Oculus Rift to prove my initial fears right or prove myself wrong – and that’s just what I did. The Oculus Rift is, without a doubt, the next big thing to hit the world of gaming, but it still needs a whole lot of polish before it’s ready to be released to the public. By itself, the Rift can provide hours of pleasure, but much like the 3D on your 3DS or that chair that rumbles along with the bass, it’s immersive, but not immersive enough. I believe the the Oculus Rift is step one in the right direction toward the next generation of virtual reality. Once finally realized and coupled with the Omni treadmill and some hand-held weaponry of sorts, the Oculus Rift will reinvent the world of video games from the ground up.

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Like any good gentleman of the evening, Dustin has been around the Internet more than a few times. He's co-founder of Geekenstein Media, a regular co-host on the Nuts and Bolts podcast and co-stars in the Broke and Bored video series. He does a lot of co-things.
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  • http://www.thevideogamenetwork.com/ Marc

    Nice! Im looking forward to this when it eventually comes out.

  • robertsons

    fuck you

  • Pluckerpluck

    I’m only posting this to tell you something important (if you ever read the comments). If the 20/20 lenses aren’t working for you then something is wrong (If you truly believe you have 20/20 vision and aren’t shortsighted).

    Maybe your IDP is completely set up wrong (you need to set that before you just jump into demos) but that would cause double vision for distant objects. Close objects should still be in focus and clear.

    Maybe you stuck it on your head wrong (potentially likely), or maybe the lenses were just poorly made (very unlikely). But I would actually get you eyes tested if I were you.

    If you have 20/20 vision the A lenses should work. The B and C may also work but would put strain on your eyes (I don’t know the strengths of them). The fact you didn’t comment on the screen door effect (seeing lines in between pixels) makes me think it wasn’t a massive problem for you which may mean it was still blurry.

    Anyway, get your eyes checked or test how far you can read a sign with a friend. If the A lenses doesn’t work something IS wrong, find out if it’s your eyes or not.

    • http://www.dustintriplett.com/ Dustin Triplett

      I did set-up the IDP correctly and even watched some Youtube videos of other people setting their Rifts up just to make sure I did everything right. There’s only a right way to put it on your head. If it’s too tight, you loosen the strap until comfortable and adjust it accordingly. I found that everything looked best when the Rift was strapped on the tightest, as when it was looser (and more comfortable) light from the outside world would leak in and prove distracting. I have tried playing with it both loose and tight, but the same problems persisted.

      Because my life revolves around staring at computer monitors I went to the optometrist a couple of months ago to see if there was some type of glasses that could protect my eyes from strain and potential damage. While I was there he confirmed that I had 20/20 vision.

      In theory, let’s say my eyes were the problem. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the Rift to its full potential because my eye condition falls outside the range of the three included lenses. I’m sure there are several people with different levels of eye functionality who are interested in trying the Rift, but won’t really be able to. Then again, I’m sure there’s some limbless chaps out there who want to enjoy Kinect Sports but won’t be able to, so I guess the Rift just isn’t meant for them.

      • Private draken

        Except this is a dev kit for DEVELOPERS(not you).

        The retail version will have adjustable Lens for any prescription.

        You sound like a crying kid complaining about how a beta of a game has this and that problem.

        If you have problems with the RIFT, you are not 20/20 vision. I suggest getting your eyes checked again.

      • Pluckerpluck

        Well the consumer rift is apparently planning to cater for a much larger variety of eyesights. This will either be achieved through more options or (more likely) some adjustable system so that you can move the lens to the perfect position.

        However for the development kit three lenses were released so that shortsighted developers would still be able to work with the rift rather than see a complete blur.

        The problem shortsighted people have is that everything in the rift focuses as if it’s a long way a way (using the A cup). But if you’re shortsighted you can’t focus in the distance. So the B and C cups actually cause it to appear as if it’s a set distance from your face (rather than infinity away). This allows shortsighted people to focus on it.

        Another problem in the dev kit is that if you’re IPD is very different from 64mm then it’ll be harder to get the rift to focus (as that’s the distance physically apart for the two lenses). This will be adjustable in the consumer version, but you only get perfect focus if your eyes are directly in front of the lenses. 5mm in either direction doesn’t matter much, but if you’re an extreme case you may have problems getting both eyes to focus at once. You should always be able to get one eye perfectly in focus though, so that would tell you if it’s your IPD or your eyes (or a dodgy rift).

        The quality is low, the screen door effect is very visible (it’s crisp actually) but everything is definitely in focus.

        I have an IPD of 59mm and have no problem focusing in the rift.

        Remember the Dev kit is not for the press or consumers to try. It’s for developers to get their games working with the system. When I demo it I heavily stress it’s a prototype for the sole use of development. It lowers people expectations such that they don’t think they’re stepping into real life. I tell them they’ll see the pixels, and so when they see small pixels they’re surprised because they thought they’d be bigger.

        It’s hard to demo a product that isn’t designed to be demoed, but it can show the potential for the future.

  • CrockOCrapp

    Man it get’s annoying hearing shallow people talking about how ridiculous it looks. Who fucking cares if it looks silly? Do you really spend that much time thinking about how other people see you?
    I haven’t had a single person demo my Rift who even thought or cared about how it looked on them, you would have to suffer from some definite self awareness issues if that were the case I would think.
    And what’s with the BS comparison with the 3DS and the Rift? While I am sure the writer didn’t mean for things to sound such a way, it’s ridiculous to even think of such a comparison, they are two completely different things.

    Bleh.

    • http://www.dustintriplett.com/ Dustin Triplett

      To be fair, we live in a society where looks sell. I couldn’t give a shit about how someone perceives me, but that’s not the case for a lot of people.

      I know the 3DS and Rift are completely different. As a whole, it’s like comparing a cow to a brick wall, but I wasn’t comparing them handheld to peripheral – I was comparing their level of immersion to one another. Both of them offers a completely different visual gimmick to experience video games in new ways.

      • Subterflume

        nah. You still sound like a clueless moron who shouldn’t have gotten near a devkit, much less attempted to write about it.

    • Blaze

      I will use the Oculus alone at my apartment or with my GF (who really loves the idea too) so I couldn’t give a fak about how I look with it on.

  • JJameson

    Is that rollercoaster screenshot from Parrotcoaster? Doesn’t look anything like it from what I remember.

  • justin_case

    Jesus, the Rift is about as plug and play as it goes. You hook it up to the graphics card, a usb connection and a power cord, and you are done. If you can’t handle mirroring your displays, you might want to start thinking about writing about something else than tech.