The Oculus Rift Kickstarter is due to start any day soon and the VR community couldn’t be more excited. The man behind the promising wide field-of-view head mounted display / VR headset, Palmer Luckey (AKA PalmerTech), has shared this photo of an early Oculus Rift prototype. Recall that this is a prototype of a non-consumer oriented device. Yes, it looks a bit rough around the edges; since the beginning of the project Luckey has made it clear that the first Oculus Rift is going to be a DIY kit and aimed at developers and VR enthusiasts. As long as it works half as well as the reports I’ve read, I’ll be happy regardless of what it looks like! Luckey stresses that this is not what the final device will look like. In addition to the impending Kickstarter for the Oculus Rift I’ve learned that an Oculus SDK (software development kit) is in the works which will assist game in adapting their games to this virtual reality head mounted display.
Luckey has been leaving updates about the Oculus Rift in a thread over at the MTBS3D forums dedicated to the HMD / VR headset.
Here’s a rundown of the latest:
First there’s the photo of the prototype (above). Apparently this one is featured in the Kickstarter video but is not the final product. The final device will have light blockers (likely made from foam) that will block out light and your surroundings from the sides, and I’m guessing the casing will rely on something other than tape to hold it together! Additionally Luckey’s been working on renders of the final device which will presumably be shared when the Kickstarter launches (I have it on good authority: soon!). Luckey says that the Kickstarter for the Oculus Rift will have the capacity to scale from 100 units to “tens of thousands”; great news for anyone considering purchasing one.
Oculus will have a booth at Quake Con (starts this Thursday the 2nd of August) where the Rift will be on display and likely able to be demoed. Presumably Luckey will be manning the booth. Expect performance and gameplay impressions from Quake Con attendees. John Carmack of Id (who helped get the ball rolling with the Oculus VR by demoing it at E3, among other things) will be giving a keynote presentation at Quake Con with info regarding the Oculus Rift and VR in general, expect lots of good technical details.
By all accounts the Oculus Rift is being positioned by Luckey as a developer and VR enthusiast device — not for general consumer use. From Luckey’s comments we know that an Oculus Rift 2.0 device is in the works and planned for 2013. This will be a ready-to-go out-of-the-box device aimed at consumers. Luckey is positioning the initial Oculus Rift to pave the way for the Oculus Rift 2.0. By ‘pave the way’ I mean garner support from developers and enthusiasts and see integration into games. Specifically Luckey says “the idea is to get this out there as soon as possible, and to have developers (Both established and indie) working on content and support for a consumer version down the road”, and, “it will take lots of time and expertise brainpower to get everything perfect, but that is exactly what the Rift can be used for: Getting things perfect for a consumer version.”
Oculus Rift SDK
Luckey says that the goal is to have an SDK (software development kit) which will help game developers integrate the Rift into their games. Using the Rift with a game is not as simple as plugging it in and using it like a monitor. In addition to rendering for 3D (double the frames), the game output needs to be warped to show a wide field of view. The optics in the Rift take this pre-warped image and bend it back so that it looks normal but gives a wide field of view. Here’s an example of the pre-warped output:
Furthermore, using the integrated headtracking is not as easy as emulating a mouse. The game needs to be able to account for horizontal and vertical roll of the head to create a convincing VR environment (and some might say even the pivot of the neck connected to the shoulders needs to be considered). Then there’s the need to shave off every bit of lag possible between the headtracking input and the output of the game. John Carmack has been adamant that reducing this lag is vital to a VR experience that feels natural.
The headtracker has to report to the computer that you have looked, let’s say, 30 degress to the left. Then the computer needs to create the frames to update the display and make you feel like you’ve turned in that direction. To do this the computer needs to process the AI, lighting, physics, sound, anti-aliasing, etc. to create each frame. If it takes 1 second to do this for each frame the illusion is completely broken because the movement of your head and the corresponding display movement is out of sync (this would probably make you dizzy). Reducing this time to milliseconds is vital. The faster it happens, the more natural the VR experience will feel.
The Oculus Rift SDK will likely help game designers reduce lag for natural headtracking, integrate with proper headtracking movement, and accomplish the proper pre-warping of the output.
Luckey on the SDK:
One of the goals for Oculus is to have an SDK that is easy to integrate, and once it is integrated, hardware flexible. The idea is that the hardware could report its specs when you plug it in (FOV, resolution, tracking, warping parameters, etc), and the Oculus integration would adjust the software to fit. That way, the hard part of all this would be on Oculus, not on developers.
As for support for games, Luckey has said that there are big names interested in the Oculus Rift. Sepcifically he’s mentioned Epic, Zenimax (Bethesda, Id), Valve, Crytek, and Unity. At this point we don’t know in what capacity these names will be involved with the project; we’ll likely get more details when the Kickstarter goes live. For the time being it seems that Valve may be interested in the device, possibly because John Carmack and Valve’s VR/AR researcher, Michael Abrash, are said to know one another and may be talking about opportunities involving the Oculus Rift. If Valve properly integrated Oculus Rift support into their Source Engine it would mean immediate support for some huge games like Team Fortress 2, Half-Life 2, Counter Strike, Day of Defeat, and more. I will happily admit that if the Oculus Rift Kickstarter achieves nothing more than a version of Half-Life 2 that supported the Rift, I’d be perfectly happy. To feel like you’re inside a game that already has such an engrossing world and narrative will be something to behold! Hell, maybe Half-Life 3 will support the Oculus Rift 2.0 in 2013 (just kidding, any good gamer knows that Half-Life 3 will never launch).
That’s the latest. Stay tuned for more, the Kickstarter is expected to launch very soon.