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Oculus Rift Not A Game Changer (probably)

OK, I’ve tried the Rift developer kit device. Cool factor is very high. Possibly too high. I got the thing to use in Second Life, which does not yet officially support it, but plans to in the very near future. In the meantime there is an independent developer version that minimally supports the device, (CtrlAltStudio Viewer). It’s a bit clunky. but definitely worth a try, and eons better than trying to compile a test viewer yourself.

In the SL Oculus Rift Users group, the general feeling is generally very positive, but there have been numerous reports of motion sickness, with which I can personally concur. There does seem to be some inevitable tweakage required of video settings to render maximum resolution and reduce latency, both of which contribute to the dizzy-making motion. When I first managed to get it working, it was actually better than I have tried since. This is in part due to my video card, which is a top of the line ASUS that I normally use with 3 monitors. It has 2 DVI connectors as well as HDMI and DisplayPort. I disconnected one monitor on the DisplayPort connector and ran it with an adapter cable to the Rift’s DVI connector, which should have worked, but did not. And I have since been unable to get my 3rd monitor back online. No idea what the issue was, but could be a problem in the monitor itself or the DP connection.

In any case, I did get the Rift working on the second DVI connector. I have to say, trying to use the Rift in a normal screen view, either as a normal monitor or in SL, is nearly impossible. I had to start the viewer in the primary screen to log on and so on, and then drag it over to the secondary, using the keyboard shortcut to toggle between “normal” (i.e., nearly unusable) and 3D Rift view. Thank goodness Win7 allows me to drag a window to the top of the screen and it automatically maximizes. I also wear glasses. I’m farsighted, so the standard issue lenses in the Rift work fine for me. (It comes with 2 set of corrective lenses for nearsighted users.) But I was having to take off the viewer in order to see the screen in normal mode, which meant switching to my glasses.

A later test actually used the DisplayPort connector to the Rift DVI, but I was still unable to run 3 monitors as before. I had to configure the Rift as the secondary and disable what I was using. grrr this link… (No blaming Oculus for this, mind you. Just saying. Users without multi-display graphics cards are going to have real issues with this.) For whatever reason, the DP connector was noticeably lower resolution and laggier than the DVI. Again, I presume it’s an issue on my end, but anyone experiencing the Rift for the first time with performance like that is not going to be happy.

Assuming the best of all possible worlds… The experience itself is both awesome and weird. The Rift assumes a 3D world in which¬† you physically turn your head to see left and right and up-down, somewhat like SL’s mouselook. But in SL, you are normally in a 3rd person and you always move in the direction you’re facing. In other words, the world basically moves so it’s facing whatever direction you are facing. With Rift (and this is most obvious with the included demo environment), no matter what direction you’re facing, the UP directional key moves you north, RIGHT moves you east and so forth. If you want to be facing the direction you want to move in, you have to physically turn your head (at least) to that direction. If you are walking on the street, this is natural, but if you are seated at a computer (especially tethered to it with a wired keyboard), turning your body to turn your character’s orientation is not only inconvenient, but contributes to the vertigo. If you have any noticeable lag at all, it’s just not fun.

But.. despite the problems, there is a truly astounding sense of being physically in the space. Whey you walk up to someone, their head is at eye level with yours and you can look at them as you would as though they were physically next to you. There is no way to explain the feeling without experiencing it. Will it change completely and forever the way we work and play in 3D virtual worlds? I don’t think so. At least not for a while. There needs to be a visual control interface (especially for people who are not touch typists). It needs to be easier to hook up and use.

The consumer model to be released is expected to have significantly better resolution and overall performance characteristics at a similar or better price. Als0, SL’s Rift viewer should be much more fully developed than the CtrlAltStudio viewer is. For most users, I strongly recommend waiting for the consumer model of the Rift and at least a Release Candidate SL viewer before investing time and money in the technology. I do hope it lives up to its potential. But I don’t see it happening a dramatically as some early adopters might like.

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