During a keynote at Oculus Connect, Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe unveiled a headset they believe approaches the holy grail of virtual reality, presence. That is, it delivers an experience that your brain accepts as an alternate reality. This means motion sickness is much reduced or eliminated and the user is utterly immersed in the virtual world. Crescent Bay is its name and Executive Editor Ben Lang just went hands-on with the new feature prototype.
It feels like we only jut got our hands on the DK2 and out comes Oculus with the Cresent Bay prototype. The company is working at breakneck pace at improving virtual reality, and it is clear that they are dead set on not releasing it until it’s ready for the world.
I just stepped out of the demo room for the new Oculus Rift Crescent Bay prototype and I was thoroughly impressed. Oculus isn’t saying anything about specs right now and they wouldn’t let us take any pictures, but that hardly matters because it’s all about the experience. If Oculus does their job right, no one will ask about the resolution, no one will ask about the framerate—people will simply don the headset and be transported. Oculus is steadily working toward that elusive goal of ‘invisible technology’.
Oculus is steadily working toward that elusive goal of ‘invisible technology’.
But this is Road to VR and we’re definitely going to talk about those important details. Though Oculus isn’t sharing specs for now, my best guess is that we’re looking at a resolution of 1440p or possibly higher. Compared to my experience with Gear VR, it looks higher than 1440p, but it could have been a difference of more anti-aliasing. Regardless, it looked incredibly impressive, with the ‘screen door effect’ so reduced that I was focused wholly on the scenes in front of me. From Oculus’ rhetoric when revealing the Rift Crescent Bay, I would guess they are running at 90Hz right now, but I can’t be certain.
With LEDs now on the back of the headstrap, 360 degree tracking is not only functional, but impressively seamless. When turning completely around I noticed just one hiccup in the tracking, but in the rest of my 10 minute experience, there was no issue with turning completely around.
For the demo, Oculus brought me into a room and had me stand on a rubber mat that was about 5×5 feet. The lenses on Crescent Bay are no longer a perfect circle, they’re now asymmetrical. The unit is impressively light, despite the addition of the headphones, and also quite comfortable (probably due to the reduction of pressure on the nose). The field of view of the lenses was wider than that of the DK2 to my eyes, even without any adjustment to reduce the lens-eye distance, I felt like there was room to bring the lenses even closer, which may have further increased the field of view. What followed was 10 minutes of incredibly low latency in-house demos from Oculus’ content team followed by Showdown, the new UE4 demo from Epic.
The first scene I was placed into was the inside of a highly detailed spaceship of some sort. One thing that caught my eye immediately was a curly dangling wire, like that of an old phone cord, hanging from the ceiling. It stuck out for two reasons: first was the sense of 3D and the way it stood out from what was behind. Second was the detail of the wire and how sharp its edges were. This was a fairly small cord, and to see it rendered that sharply at such a distance was quite impressive.
One of the stand-out demos put me in front of an alien on some sort of Moon-like world. The alien was looking at me and speaking in an unfamiliar tongue. When I moved my head, its gaze followed me. Its big and detailed eyes, combined with reaction to me as I moved, imbued it with a sense of living that was really cool. Spaceships flew over head and drew my gaze behind me, leading me to look at some incredibly detailed scenery. The resolution was such that the detail in the lunar dust stood out with immense beauty, especially when I kneeled down to check out a rock in front of me. The rock had that spongy texture to it, like volcanic rock, with some large holes in it that went a few inches deep. The sense of depth in those holes and the convincing tracking made this otherwise mundane rock truly come to life in front of me. This was a moment of presence; I wanted to reach out and touch it. A world of gameplay ideas popped into my head about what information could be conveyed just from the detail in this rock alone… but then I was whisked away to another scene.
The resolution was such that the detail in the lunar dust stood out with immense beauty, especially when I kneeled down to check out a rock in front of me.
Another moment of presence, the one that stood out for me most in my 10 minutes with the unit, was from a demo showing a miniature town that was made of papercraft. I leaned in to see tiny cars and trains moving around this town. It was cute. But the thing that blew me away was when I started to get in even closer to look at the detail of the paper material. I started to get so close that my vision was blurring, I think because the virtual cameras representing each of my eyes weren’t made to get that close to virtual objects. So I closed one eye and kept getting closer. The paper texture was of such quality, and the screen such high resolution, that as I got within inches of a little paper doorway, I thought I was looking at real paper. This blew me away… my brain was telling me that this was a real paper model, inches from my face. I wanted to stay there are be with that paper model, alas, I faded to another scene.
This was followed by a dimly lit museum corridor with a T-rex coming around the corner and slowly but menacingly approaching me. The model was very detailed and well animated, which really sold it. It wasn’t scary per se, but when it got close and roared right at me, I was definitely teetering on the edge of feeling like I was near a living creature. Why take kids to museums when they can travel back to the era of dinosaurs? VR in education is going to be huge.
This demo didn’t give me a feeling of presence—of truly being there—but it was fucking cool.
The 10 minute session was capped off with Showdown, made by Epic Games in UE4, which put me in the middle of a city street with a slow motion action scene unfolding around me. Futuristic-looking troops were running alongside me firing their weapons. Rockets were flowing by with detailed trails of fire and smoke. The soldiers were firing at a huge robot that looked to be composed of alien technology. Debris flew by my face as bullets struck the ground. The whole time I’m flying slowly forward through the scene toward the robot. As I get nearer, a rocket blasts a car to my left and sends it flying over my head. Eventually the robot leans in and growls at my face (or whatever the robot equivalent of a growl is). This demo didn’t give me a feeling of presence—of truly being there—but it was fucking cool. And I think that’s the first time I’ve written that word on this site. I can’t wait to see experiences like this turned into rich narratives.
One other note from my time with the headset is that I noticed a bit of ‘swimmy’ warping toward the periphery of my vision when moving my head back and forth. My best guess is that there’s still improvements to be made in the pre-distortion, especially given the new lens shape. This was a minor detail, and I’m confident that Oculus will fix it in due time.
If you notice, as I have only after writing all of this down, I spoke much of the experiences and little of the technology… that’s because it all worked nearly perfectly. I was transported to these places; I wasn’t distracted by resolution or tracking or screen door or frame rate, I was busy looking at the virtual worlds around me which (occasionally) felt real at a deep level.
I’ll leave you with that for now. Unfortunately it isn’t clear if Oculus plans to release a DK3 based on Crescent Bay, or if it’s only an internal stepping stone to the first consumer unit (CV1). We’ll let you know as we learn more.