June 19th, 2017

Oculus Rift DK2 Impressions – Is VR the future of PC gaming?

For the past couple of years I’ve been rather cautious about the prospect of Virtual Reality (VR) after testing it a LOT back in the 90s. But back then the hardware was really quite poor compared to today’s standards, and the games were a lot less complex. With Facebook picking up Oculus for a bazillion dollars there has to be something amazing about it right?

This week the IncGamers Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2 (DK2) arrived and although the DK1 was OK, this prototype release is a step up both in features and resolution. The latter probably being the most important. Last time we looked at the Rift Tim was running into regular motion sickness and experimenting with games he probably would have rather not played, mostly due to feeling woozy. This time I threw my hat in the ring, mainly because I wanted to see if the new hardware was finally getting the stage where it was actually a fantastic gaming experience, but also to try and figure out whether VR is a going to be a truly viable option for today’s gamers.

oculus rift
A little box containing the future?

First of all: the setup of the DK2. With the new positional tracking camera there to follow your head’s movement, it means more cables and plugging stuff in. That’s a complete pet hate of mine because by desk is already covered in cables for other peripherals. Find enough space for all the wires, though, and it’s clear that the new positional tracking camera is a very welcome addition. The head has now become a body part that can actually be well tracked.

Why is this important? During the early years of consumer VR the head was tracked to an extent, but with the DK2 it tracks movement both forwards and backwards. If you lean forward or backwards that movement is tracked. This means you can lean in and even look around objects.

With improved displays and this new tracking it appears to alleviate the motion sickness factor. My previous experiences with VR have been hit and miss when it comes to sickness, but I have to say that the DK2 has solved my sickness issues. I have yet to start feeling sick, even after putting in some serious sessions this past week. Longer than is probably advised. Having said that, I have predominantly been playing games where the player is in a seated position. Alien: Isolation is the big exception, but even this managed to keep my stomach, if not my nerves, in one piece.

alien isolation
Alien: Isolation is horrific in the Rift

So, does the above mean that the Oculus Rift is almost consumer ready? No chance, is the answer to that. Despite what you may have read or seen in videos of people using it at shows, the Rift is not ready by a long shot. It’s improved, but I can’t help feeling it still has a long way to go. Not that Oculus themselves are saying it’s ready, but I think there’s a perception among players that it’s closer to a consumer version than it really is.

First of all there’s the really obvious problem of resolution, and although the DK2 is a huge step up from the DK1, it’s still not good enough. Now with a 960×1080 per-eye display, this is an improvement, but visually it’s still not sharp enough and text can be unreadable at times due to the OLED display. It’s more legible than the DK1 but not perfect by any means and it’s still not hitting the sweet spot.

The VFX-1 was actually comfortable
The VFX-1 was actually comfortable

These prototype Rifts have always looked clumsy and there’s still a lot of work to do on the design, especially when it comes to comfort. Trying on my old VFX-1 again this week reiterated the fact that it was actually comfortable to wear, with no pressure around the eyes. It was more like wearing a helmet. The design worked because the weight of the device was supported across the top of the whole head.

These early Rifts are anything but comfortable to wear, especially if you’ve had them on for more than about 20 minutes. With a top strap supporting the headset along the top of the head, and the two side straps to hold it on, it can feel like you head is a vice because they have to hold all the front weight of the main casing. There’s a lot of pressure applied to the face to keep it snug which becomes increasingly uncomfortable over time.

Wearers of glasses will also find it quite unpleasant. You can wear glasses with the Rift, but even with the side panels fully extended it’s a tight fit. This makes the whole device feel even more cumbersome. When the consumer version does eventually arrive I seriously hope that Oculus take those of us who wear glasses into account, because the design at the moment is not comfortable at all with a pair of specs on.

While Oculus is busy sorting out the hardware, the 0.4 Software Development Kit (SDK) is better than it’s predecessors. But it’s still hit and miss getting games to work.

Although there’s now a direct to Rift mode, most games I have tried that are not demos from the Oculus Share site require you to have the Rift run in Extended mode. This effectively makes the Rift an additional monitor. It took a good couple of hours getting the monitor/Rift setup right, because the PC now had three monitors to think about instead of the usual two. Launched programs would sometimes start on monitor two, which would then have to be changed to monitor one for the Rift. It was a right juggling act. Just when you think you have the combo right it goes horribly pear-shaped. I’m still not convinced it’s correct on my current set up, though it’s working for testing purposes at the moment.

In light of all that, I think it’s safe to say that there’s a lot of work to be done to make the Rift plug and play. Luckily, there are keen programmers chipping in to make life easier. The utility VR Game Manager was a godsend. It removed most, if not all, the problems of getting games set up and launched quickly. It really does save time and every Rift game player should be using this. I’ll talk about that a little more in my next article, which looks more directly at the games.

vr manager
VR Game Manager makes things a little easier

The question I know players want answered is whether VR constitutes the future direction of gaming. I’ve always loved the idea of VR but have been let down by the tech behind it, and that’s currently still a problem. Time-wise, it looks to be some way off from being an exciting prospect. What is great about VR titles that actually make the most of the current tech is the sense of depth and perspective that you just don’t get with a monitor. This is definitely a huge plus for the concept, and the technology.

However, there are still so many hurdles to overcome and I’m still not fully convinced that all gamers will even be able to adapt to VR. The jury is out as to what percentage of gamers using VR would be affected by motion sickness problems, but it’s a serious issue that needs to be considered. DK2 has made a valiant attempt to address the vom-factor. Developers are going to have to help out too, by looking at how they can tackle the problem when creating VR versions of their games.

We’re now 15 years on from when the first PC consumer VR headsets arrived, and progress has been very slow. I like what I am seeing with the Rift but anyone wanting to join the VR hype train should wait quite a while before jumping in.

In my next DK2 piece I’ll be looking at some of the games that are making the best of the current hardware. A select few have managed to achieve relatively impressive results.

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  • Paul Younger

    Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

    • lazerbeak

      well its improving thats good.cheers for the update Paul….im guessing were talking years before its ready?, the big test will be price… too high and not enough people will buy it, and developers won’t be interested in make games compatible (is this needed?) but I really don’t think I want to fully immersed in the evil within , I can even imagine playing “Alien: Isolation ”

      What would be cool would be being able to visit remote places and actually see what’s going on in real time.

      It shame computers are still not up to totally real time realistic renditions of humans IMHO it could be used to meet people virtually using avatars

      Maybe the social aspect is more interesting in the gaming? im not sure I want to immersed in games, I like to know what’s going on around me in real life when I play games even if its only peripherally,

      And I don’t see me ever wanting to wear a headset for more than half an hour

      • Paul Younger

        Half an hour is about max I would have to say.

        Native support is much better i have found so developers do need to think about adding this. Fortunately Oculus has provided some dev tools to make that possible.

    • Jason Barker

      i have a DK2 and i love it,.. its comfy to wear i can wear it for extended periods of time, i guessd thats just a personal thing, but im useing it and when i emerge back in to the real world i realise that several hours have gone by. only once have a felt a little bit ikky dureing the Matrix vr in the jump program but that was simply due to some messed up settings.
      yes its a while off before the consumer version and thats why i baught this because i couldent wait. and i am not dissapointed at all. its MINDBLOWING.
      if i can play a game in the rift over my eyefinity set up i will. its a dream come true

      • lazerbeak

        interesting what sort of things do you do with it play games which ones?

        • Jason Barker

          you can see the kind of programes here:
          https://www.theriftarcade.com/dk2/

          there is a larger selection of programs on the oculus developer section of the website though.
          there is more than just games
          Expiriences are popular such as:
          space EVA outside the ISS
          The Matrix (expirience scenes from the film AS neo so freeking cool)
          meditation programs
          Rolor coster programs.

          and quite a few outhers, one you can epirience without VR is Senza Peso from Kite & Lightning which is a nice ride through limbo to an ochistra piece.

          there are VR theaters so you can watch 360 degree films with the rift, those are cool.

          and of course games are epic
          Alien Isolation, and Time Rifters are realy good, cant wait for Star Citizen to get DK2. games such as The aslylum are realy realy scary. its awsome

    • Perry Cucinotta

      I wish there’s more games for the DK2 its incredible. I dont think we’re years off from it at all, maybe 1 or 2 at the most. Its gonna have rough edges for a while but the more its adapted/used the better it will be. We have to start somewhere.
      I had very little motion sickness but it would happen occasionally, but now I have got my ‘VR Legs’ and never get it. The brain adapts.

    • ZeePee

      Enjoyed reading that, but I will point out that terms of when it will be consumer ready, I think you’re missing the fact that the hardware you’re using, the DK2, is nearly a year old now.

      They’ve had more advanced prototypes even before the DK2 was released. So you have to take into account that what you’re using is outdated by quite a bit now.

      Their latest prototype, Crescent Bay, is more or less what you need to try before you make that judgement. It is 1440p, so twice the resolution, with the screen-door effect almost completely gone. It’s around half the weight of the DK2, so far more comfortable, it has full 360 degree positional tracking, and the latency is incredibly low, much lower than dev kit 2, to the point where it’s possible to achieve a strong sense of presence, on a level that is impossible to achieve with the DK2.

      So I wouldn’t use the DK2 to judge whether they’re close to consumer ready, as only the latest prototype should be used to judge that. If DK2 was the most advanced prototype they had at this point, then yes I would probably add an extra year to that waiting time.

      I think at this point it’s safe to say that we could easily see a late 2015 release.