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3D HMD Watch: Oculus Rift and Beyond

UPDATES:

  • Samsung working with Oculus on a HMD to use a Galaxy Note 4? (11 Aug 2014)
  • Samsung GearVR – Headset holder for a smartphone. (8 July 2014)
  • Control VR – Wearable arm/hand/finger “power glove” controller (Kickstarter – fully funded). To use with Oculus, etc. (2 July 2014)

The Oculus Rift 3D HMD (head-mounted display) has caused a tremendous amount of excitement since its Kickstarter launch on 1 August 2012. The Kickstarter campaign accumulated nearly 10 times the initial funding goal and the company raised $91 million by the time Facebook bought it on 25 March 2014 for a reported $2 billion. At that point Oculus had sold around 60K original Developer Kits (DK1) and had taken some 20K orders for the yet to be released DK2.

The excitement has been tempered a bit by the continuing mystery about when a consumer model would be released (with numerous promised improvements). It has always seemed imminent, but with the announcement of DK2, it would appear they are still not satisfied with it, and it seems a consumer release is not likely for at least another year. It’s especially unnerving because of the unclear intentions of Facebook in their purchase of the company. We need only look to the purchase of Cloud Party by Yahoo! to see that the public’s interest in an existing product is not necessarily the same as that of a big-player investment corporation. (The Cloud Party virtual world was closed, with Yahoo! apparently being interesting primarily in the company’s patents and creative personnel.)

I own a DK1 and have used it primarily for immersive experiences in Second Life (SL). There are a couple of viewers (i.e., the software used to view virtual worlds) for SL that support the Oculus Rift. The first viable one was the CtrlAltStudio viewer. This works very well, but it an alpha viewer with no pretensions about being anything more. (It also supports Kinect control, which I have not tried.) More recently, Linden Lab has released a “project viewer” (i.e., a viewer with specific experimental features not yet incorporated into the official viewer) with support for Oculus Rift. (The Oculus Project Viewer is not currently shown on the viewer download page, but is available at this link. I think the intent is that you request an invitation to their beta testing team. See here.) What sets this viewer apart is that it has controls within the view screen for doing most things you need to do in SL using a sort of floating mouse cursor.

The truth is, I don’t use the Oculus very often because, as is often reported by others, it makes me a bit nauseous. I expect this is due in part to latency and resolution issues. But the experience itself is really quite engaging. The feeling of being physically present in the virtual space is intense.

WHITHER, THEN, THE HEAD MOUNTED DISPLAY?

The anxiousness of consumers to experience the 3D immersion afforded by the Oculus Rift has spawned an astounding array of alternatives, from established companies like Sony, to do-it-yourself videos on YouTube. Among the more intriguing alternatives is the use of smart phones for HMDs. The iPhone current generation Retina display is significantly higher resolution than the Oculus DK2’s anticipated 1080 pixels, and most smart phones have gyroscopic motion detection. So the low-tech solutions are simply using various ways to strap a phone to your head in an appropriate position.

But there are other problems, as users of the Oculus Rift have learned. Among the primary issues are:

  • Its visual isolation means you can’t see your keyboard or mouse. This makes it difficult to communicate or operate controls in virtual spaces.
  • It is tethered to the computer via a cable, restricting the user’s motion.
  • Its view is not altered according to the user’s position, only the user’s head rotation. So standing or walking in real space has no effect.
  • It is basically useless for augmented reality (AR) applications because it has no forward-looking camera.
  • There is no audio component to it. The user needs either speakers or a separate headphone to hear spatial audio.

So I have been following the alternatives to Oculus for some time and have assembled a list of links to many of the more interesting ones.

DO IT YOURSELF HMDS:

FULL CONSUMER PRODUCTS

EXPERIMENTAL
OTHER INTERFACES
Originally posted 29/6/2014

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