It’s not every day a duck-taped brick with lenses can raise over $2.4 million on Kickstarter. But the Oculus development kit did just that. This was before Facebook purchased the company for about $2 billion and the refined, powerful virtual reality headset currently known as the Oculus Rift emerged. I unfortunately never had the opportunity to try the original dev kit 1, but I’ve developed multiple experiences for the consumer-ready Oculus Rift + Touch.
Review of Oculus Rift
The Oculus Rift is one of the best Virtual Reality headsets available. For $399 (previously priced $499) the package comes with the headset itself, two Oculus Touch controllers, two sensors, all the necessary cables and seven free amazing virtual reality content including but not limited to Medium, Robo Recall, and Quill. With this bundle and a VR-ready PC, you can be transported to highly immersive virtual worlds.
Oculus Rift REQUIREMENTS
Asides from purchasing the Oculus Rift bundle, to truly experience the impressive virtual reality content it has to offer, a VR-ready PC is required and an open room that will be your play area.
What is a VR-ready PC? Well, according to Oculus, for you to seamlessly experience virtual reality content with the Oculus Rift, your PC must meet the following specifications:
- Nvidia GTX 970/AMD 290 equivalent or greater
- Intel i5-4590 processor equivalent or greater
- 8GB RAM or greater
- Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
- 2 USB 3.0 ports
- Windows 7 or newer
Admittedly, the Oculus Rift can be used with PCs of slightly lower specs but it is advised otherwise to avoid an uncomfortable experience owing to the PC not being able to render the high-quality experiences at the required frames/second; 90. Also, using the Oculus Rift on laptops that are not specifically known to be VR-ready is a risky business. I have personally tried running the Oculus Rift on an HP Envy with 16GB RAM, Intel i7, and Nvidia GTX 950m. Though this laptop runs the HTC Vive quite fine, albeit being a bit jittery occasionally, performance on the Oculus Rift is abysmal.
The second requirement for the Oculus Rift is significantly easier to come about. Your play area. Since the Oculus Rift gives 6 degrees of freedom (3 dimensional positional and rotational tracking), a dedicated play area is necessary. A play area of 3 feet by 3 feet (1 meter by 1 meter) is the bare minimum space necessary for an adequate VR experience but some experiences may require you to have up to 7 feet by 5 feet (2 meters by 1.5 meters) space.
DISPLAY; REALISM OF THE REALITY
Virtual Reality is only as immersive as it looks. If a virtual reality experience is pixelated, blurry or just plain low-quality, the immersiveness of that experience would be mitigated immensely. To tackle this, the Oculus Rift sports the following features:
- OLED Display: The Oculus Rift uses two OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diodes) displays which not only facilitate lower power consumption but deliver a better picture quality on display. This is great because of the better the picture quality, the more immersive the experience.
- Resolution: Each OLED display of the Rift has a resolution 1080 x 1200px which then combines to a whopping 2160 x 1200px display.
- 90Hz refresh rate: The Oculus Rift’s display goes through 90 frames in one second. The refresh rate has to be this high to avoid motion sickness and to deliver a smooth experience.
- Field of view: It offers a 110-degree horizontal field of view. This allows the users to see a bit of screen in their peripheral vision.
- Lenses: For most Virtual Reality HMDs, Fresnel lenses are utilized to bend light properly from the displays. The Oculus Rift uses a more hybrid (contoured) version of Fresnel lenses which allows a higher density of pixels in the focal area. This reduces screen door effect but allows a bit of light booming in high contrast experiences.
While the HTC Vive has very similar display specifications, slight differences exist in the lenses used. With the HTC Vive, you get a slightly wider field of view but the Rift has a better view of bright objects.
POSITION TRACKING; CONSTELLATION
One of the grand differences between PC powered VR and mobile VR is the ability for PC powered VR to deliver positional tracking. Positional tracking is the amazing feature of VR HMDs to track the user’s position in space giving way to a really immersive experience where you can walk around, duck obstacles and look closer at objects. The Oculus Rift gives positional tracking using the Constellation Tracking System with two sensors. Constellation Tracking is different from Lighthouse Tracking (tracking system used by the HTC Vive) as it’s an outside-in tracking system which employs optical sensors that detect the IR LED markers on the devices to be tracked (the Headset and controllers). Originally, with the two sensors given by Oculus, the user doesn’t have full room-scale tracking. The user generally stands or sits in one location while using the Rift. Recently though, the Oculus Rift now supports full room-scale VR with the purchase of an extra sensor. This is a significant improvement for the Rift as room-scale tracking takes your VR experience to the next level.
CONTROLS; INTERACTIONS IN VR
Asides from external control peripherals like the Leap Motion controller which brings complete hand tracking, the Oculus Rift comes with two Oculus Touch controllers; one for each hand. The Oculus Touch controllers feature multiple triggers and buttons that also have touch sensors. Depending on whether your fingers are on a particular button or trigger, it can simulate the human hand in different forms; for example if it is clenched as a fist, pointing forward, fingers outstretched etc. Having your hands in VR is very important as hands are the most intuitive way to interact with a virtual environment. With the Oculus Touch controllers and it’s positional tracking and hand gesture simulation, users get the next best thing to actual full hand tracking.
From a simple glance at any VR HMD, it can be seen that they’re not very fashionable. Donning a virtual reality headset is still almost the equivalent of strapping a brick to your face. Well, Oculus put in considerable effort into making that brick as sleek and light as possible. The Oculus Rift weighs about 470g albeit being quite durable. This can feel almost weightless when you initially use the headset but is felt more after long use. The headset also has nifty velcro straps to ensure correct positioning of the R hiift on the user’s head as this is key to getting the best view of the reality. There are dense foams on both the front of the headset and the straps to deliver a comfortable experience. At both sides of the headset, elegant ear pads extend for good 3D audio which is essential for a great VR experience. These ear pads can be rotated to fit snugly on the user’s ears and can even be flipped open to give the user a quick avenue to real-world sound. The entire positioning of the headset and headphones is very customisable and easy. The Oculus Rift headset also has just one long (10ft) slightly thick cable at the back that tethers you to the PC in use. This cable would not necessarily be noticed if the VR experience is a sitted one but if it’s room scale, it can get a bit annoying.
When it comes to the experience of setting up the Rift, installing virtual reality goodness and generally maneuvering the VR space, I give the Rift a good thumbs up. The set-up process is seamless and the instructions are very informative. The whole procedure feels very nice within VR and the first VR experience that meets the user after setting up is a pleasant looking experience called First Contact where you get to test out all the different controls the Rift has to offer with the help of a Wall.E robot look-alike that wants to be your friend. To purchase or install other virtual reality content, the Rift has a platform called Oculus Home which is an elegant environment where all your virtual reality needs can be satiated. All in all, the onboarding process and follow-on Rift experiences are pretty neat.
What is a virtual reality headset without the content to display? A box. Well when it comes to virtual reality content, the Oculus Rift is not lacking in any way. Asides from the free 7 titles you get when you set-up the Rift with Touch controllers, there are over 450 different virtual reality experiences on the Oculus Home; and way over a 100 are free. They also have some impressive exclusives like Robo Recall, Echo Arena, Esper: The Collection, Chronos, Medium, Quill and many more. Oculus has also recently made it pretty easy to play Oculus games gotten from SteamVR without having to go through the former hassle of changing your settings on your desktop to allow games from unknown sources.
If you want to experience amazingly immersive virtual reality, you definitely won’t be going wrong by purchasing the Oculus Rift. With its recent price drop, for just $399 (and a capable PC) you can explore moons, kill aliens, sculpt, fly and so much more in the comfort of your room. With the Touch controllers, you can even do more intricate things like job simulations, play basketball and other hand-related experiences intuitively.