My experience with the Oculus Rift

I’ve been interested in virtual reality ever since I heard the announcement for the Oculus Rift. I held off on the purchase until now because I didn’t feel like there was enough content to justify the $600–$700 dollar price. When there was a black Friday sale for $350, I decided it was time. Here’s what I think after spending a couple weeks with it.

Firstly, VR is not yet perfected. The big remaining problem is the resolution. Keep in mind that I’m a graphics whore, but there is a fairly noticeable “screen door effect”, which just means that you can see the pixels in the the embedded LCD screens. This is mainly observable when you use applications that give you virtual desktops. Games do a good job of making you forget this. I think we really need a new generation of GFX cards to help us get past this — even now your PC has to be pretty beefy to push the existing resolution of the Rift/Vive.

The other stuff is spot-on. Tracking of the Rift and the 2 motion controllers has been pretty flawless for me and I’m only using the 2 cameras that came with it (you can buy a 3rd to go behind you for full 360 tracking). So what are the experiences like?

Virtual desktop experiences are great except for the limiting factor of the resolution. You can hang out on a balcony overlooking at city, the surface of Mars, or floating in the Andromeda galaxy while viewing your Windows desktops at any size or distance. Particularly cool is the ability to sit in a virtual theatre of your own and play what you like on the big screen. One of the apps even allows you to do this with other VR users. You see their avatars and their heads and hands move as they do with lips that animate when they speak (the Rift has a built-in mic). This gives a surprisingly good sense of presence.

Video is a bit of a mixed bag. It takes a while to even figure out what the formats are. You can find 3d or 2d, and each of those in flat, 180, or 360 degrees. A lot of video is 2d but in a 360 format so you can look around you but I find that pretty boring. It’s the 3d content that I find compelling. You can watch normal 3d movies in a virtual theatre and it’s pretty similar to the experience in the real theatre (although you can see the lower pixel count). The really cool thing is 3d video in 180 or 360 degrees, where you can actually look around and see depth.

Games are one of the best applications. I’ve been playing Robo Recall which is a free pack-in with the Rift. Basically you are “recalling” (killing) a ton of robots. The game really makes great use of VR: You are really standing in a virtual space. Aiming your gun is like in real life where you line up iron sights for accuracy. You can reach down and grab new guns from your holsters. Movement is accomplished through a teleportation scheme, and if you pop behind a robot you can reach out, grab it, and tear it apart. Time is dilated for you in the game so you can see bullets headed your way — ducking and dodging works exactly like in the real world. It really provides for an incredible feeling of being in another world and shooting stuff. It might be the closest you can come to really doing it.

Here’s my bottom line: If you want VR to be perfect, you’re in for a wait of a year or more and probably a good cash outlay for a PC and HMD (head mounted display). Right now, though, I think the experience is amazing enough to be worth $400 (the non-sale price) if your PC can push it.