Sunday, May 17, 2015

Post CV1 Details and Thoughts on VR Industry

There has been a lot going through my mind these past couple of days, and I've still yet to really organize myself entirely well on what I think. My mood has shifted drastically from disappointed, to optimistic, to angry, to depressed, to remorseful, to skeptical, to indifferent, with one item hovering overhead throughout most of it: a sense of being lost. Allow me to go over the news that's been the source of this turmoil and let you all in what my head's trying to decide in the process.

Two days ago now, on Friday, May 15th, 2015, Oculus announced the recommended PC specs to drive the Oculus Rift CV1 (consumer version 1). The specifications were essentially a high end gaming PC, consisting of an Intel i7 4590 processor, 8 gigabytes of RAM, an NVIDIA GTX 970, and Windows as the OS. To me, the specs aren't even all that surprising, and actually sounded kind of nice since I was planning on upgrading to an Intel i7 4590 with my current PC along with an SSD, RAM, and PSU change anyway. The GPU was a bit heavy, but I intend to get either a 980ti or whatever NVIDIA's next graphics offering is going to be later anyway so I felt okay for the time being. So far, this isn't anything worth really writing about. No, this came in the middle of the article when Oculus dropped what these specs were supposed to be driving: a dual panel 2160x1200 (1080x1200 per eye) 90hz system. This left me, and what is seeming to be most of the VR community, stunned, so's not to say utterly horror stricken. To understand what's so bad about this at a glance, let's examine things a bit more deeply.

These specs on first impression, sound somewhat inferior to the mobile graphics that we offered by last year's and this year's Gear VR mobile experiences from a resolution standpoint alone. At 2160 x 1200 (2592000 pixels), we're only getting a 12.5% boost over the second developers kit 1080p (2073600 pixels) and worst yet, would be at less than 66% of the Gear VR's resolution (1440x2560, 3686400pixels). While the refresh rate would be 50% greater at 90hz over 60hz, the fact that the resolution would be below 1440p was almost too hard to swallow for those of us that have been following Oculus for the past few years now. I can still remember the days where we were debating if the Rift would have a 4k or 1440p screen, with 1440p being the low mark. To make matters worse for the CV1, it's numbers sounded basically like the HTC ReVive's, but with the height and width resolutions switched around. Being that the Rift would be releasing after the ReVive, that doesn't give much in the way of confidence. The refresh rate of 90hz has been known for a while now since Oculus and Valve have reported that as being important for achieving the main goal of presence, so no surprises there. All in all, going on the specs provided on the page alone, Oculus and Valve have both dropped the ball and left us hardcore VR enthusiasts out in the dry, but that's only if we look at the specs head on. Virtual Reality HMDs have a lot more factors at play than that.

After the announcement, Palmer Luckey replied to some of the backlash on his Twitter by directing us towards the specs we can't quite gauge adequately via just a word or two on a blog post; the pixel fill on the display, the persistence, the global update screens. These are factors that influence the quality drastically that we unfortunately won't be able to judge without trying them out. In addition, we've gotten no word on the FOV, which could be more or less than that of the DK1 or DK2. The greater the horizontal viewing angle the better I'd say considering that I've been more than satisfied with the vertical viewing angle of my DK2.

So all in all, what's got me down in the dumps if there's a good few improvements lined up outside of resolution? Mainly, the lack of real progress in the industry. I was hoping that the influx of major companies might mean that VR was going to get much more in the way of dedicated hardware, input solutions prepared and more software support. So far, it seems like the CV1 coming out in 2016 is going to end up being a mildly upgraded Crescent Bay prototype like how the DK2 was to the Crystal Cove. If you had to ask me whether or not I'm leaning on the ends of the Rift or ReVive, I'd say I'm leaning more ReVive now. By dropping the only a few specs of their headset sneakily in the middle of a post mainly focused on the required PC specs, I feel that Oculus is communicating a lack of confidence in their product. which when compared to Valve, which had a major blow out and outright stated the ReVive WILL be released in 2015, I'm much more inclined to look at Valve's offerings. It's unfortunate that their dev units aren't more open to the public, but I'd imagine that it'd be tricky to sync a large scale dev kit release out when their consumer version is so close to release anyway. At this stage, the only factors that would really make a difference at this stage between picking between the two are software support, release date, and price. Question is, would even these items matter all that much in the greater scheme of things?

I remember how I was back in early 2014, full of great excitement, vigor and anticipation for the rapidly growing field of VR. When the DK2 was announced, I immediately jumped on the pre-order button and set myself up to get one as soon as possible since I didn't want to miss out on the VR ground floor while it was steamrolling forward towards prosperity.  A year and a few months later, and I'm left a bit regretful that I allowed myself to get caught up in the hype and mistakenly project what was at hand so greatly. At this point, I don't expect VR to hit anywhere near the level I'd been hoping for (full body control, high clarity image) until the early 2020s where SAO was guessing without some kind of major miracle. In some ways, that sucks because it means there will be a lot more waiting, on the other hand, it also means that I get more time to try and work on a means of contributing to this industry to get in on things while they're still early. How exactly I'll do this remains to be seen. My touch solution should be done in a matter of weeks. If that works, I suppose we can cross that, proprioception and balance off the list of senses needing to be immersed. In the end though, I'm just trying to figure out what I'm going to do with all the extra time I just got...

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