Thoughts on the Oculus Rift

Updated from a version first appearing Dec 3, 2013

Driving down complexity, a/k/a passing the grandma test.

I received my Rift in early July 2013, a few days before the wife and kids left for Nova Scotia for a month. Their departure meant I was able to spend a lot of time with the device in a short amount of time without feeling guilty about ignoring family duties. I logged many hours in Lunar Lander, Tuscany+Hydra, Qbeh, and whatever else I could download. Life wasn’t too stressful at that point, so I put myself into somewhat stressful games like Lunar Lander as an escape.

Then I accepted a job at LinkedIn and began the process of moving our family from Florida to California. Stress was at an all-time high, free time was few and far between, and Rift went into a box for a few months.

Life in a new state at a new job wasn’t any less stressful, but at least I was able to pull the Rift out of storage and play periodically. This time, however, I favored relaxing games over Half Life 2 and Lunar Lander. I’d sit back and explore the solar system in Titans of Space. Or I’d play a rampaging elephant in Dumpy. Or I’d climb up to the second floor of my Tuscan mansion, don the headphones, and soak in the sights and sounds while standing on my virtual balcony. Games like Half Life 2 are a fantastic escape, but so is Tuscany, in a different way.

I blinked awake at 1am one night (as I often do) and my brain started spinning. I pondered the psychiatric applications of a Rift. Could it be prescribed to help someone with a mental illness, such as schizophrenia or depression? What would the software applications look like that aid with various afflictions? How long would someone need to be in the Rift before seeing results? Would the experience be mainly visual, or would audio play an important part? And so on.

From there, I considered what it would take to make the Rift widely accessible. For mass adoption, it has to 1) provide a compelling visual experience, 2) be simple to set up initially, 3) make it simple to configure for each player’s vision and IPD, and 4) make it simple to choose and launch applications. Right now it’s an intimidating collection of cords, lenses, and utilities. I’m not faulting Oculus here; after all, what I have is clearly advertised as a development kit.

It basically boils down to whether or not the Rift could pass the “grandma test”. There are a lot of moving parts to the grandma test. I believe the following would need to occur for the average grandma (or parent, for that matter) to use a Rift:

  • A cooperative operating system; plug it in, it’s recognized as a virtual reality device, and off you go
  • High resolution display. Pixels should disappear and text should be clearly readable.
  • Headset that automatically scans and adjusts lenses for vision correction (20/20, near-sighted, far-sighted), or has a dead simple calibration process
  • Headset that automatically scans and adapts to different IPD’s, or has a dead simple calibration process
  • Simple Rift connections (though USB and HDMI are pretty fool-proof)
  • Simple application discovery
  • Simple application launching
  • Simple application updating
  • Less jarring transition from desktop to Rift and back

With the introduction of Sony Morpheus, HTC Vive, and what will hopefully soon be countless others, it’s a little passé to use Rift to mean VR HMD, but you know what I mean.

What am I missing? Please comment here or at @vr_bhart.

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