Featured Writer Phillip Jackson lifts the veil on Virtual Reality.
We have all heard about it. We have all dreamed about it. And believe it or not, we can have true virtual reality right now!
Well, maybe not 100% true VR, but pretty darn close. There are two projects that I would like to cover or introduce everyone to, depending on your state of geekdom and the amount of time on your hands. The first project is one that I think everyone has heard of: Oculus Rift. Barring all the Kickstarter drama surrounding this project and its founder, it is amazing. The other project is one that only a few of you may have heard of: Cyberith. This is a Kickstarter project headed up by an Austrian team and takes the Oculus VR experience even further.
This project has had its fair share of controversy. But we are not going to stir that pot – it’s over. We are here instead to talk about what the project is, what improvements and/or advancements the team has made, and where they are going from here.
What is Oculus Rift
The simplest way to describe the Oculus Rift? It’s a headset that covers each eye with an independent lens through which you see your screen. This allows for a fully immersive state, placing you inside the game or other environment.
The latest version, Developer Kit 2 (DK2), was launched in March 2014. This product is currently still in Beta and meant more for development and testing. This allows for early access to hardware for game developers who are building games for VR environments. Although the hardware does look cool, it is not polished in any way and there are some bugs. Again… Beta. These sorts of things can and should be expected.
How it works
Each eye is exposed to a HD 1080p experience running at 960×1080 pixels per eye. The refresh rate can run 75Hz, 72Hz, and 60Hz. You have a 100 degree field of view, which is down from DK1 and is due to using a larger lens in the current version. The DK2 sports more accurate “Positional Tracking”. This is accomplished by roughly 30 inferred LEDs around the inside of the mask’s cover shining outward. After being placed in front of you, an inferred camera, which is included in the kit, is used to watch these LEDs for movement. Hence, you move your head and your viewpoint in the game moves with you with “submillimeter accuracy”. The DK2 also sports a new technology called “Low Persistence OLED Display”. The “Low Persistence” part of the name helps remove any and all motion blur when objects pass by you or when you look from side to side. This is accomplished by showing a frame for a few milliseconds, then fading to black, followed by fading in the next frame. This all happens at close to 60fps, so there’s some serious stuff going on here. But the fading in and out between frames does remove pretty much all motion blur, giving the user an ultrasmooth gaming experience. On the display is the OLED part of the program. OLEDs deliver superb video and picture, but there is still room for improvement. Many have reported that some text is hard to read, and there is an issue with color separation on the outer areas of your field of view. There are also some concerns about the lens being easy to scratch, so be careful.
Alongside the hardware, you also get a software development kit (SDK) that has three of the major gaming engines integrated right in: Unreal Development Kit, Unreal Engine 4, and Unity 4. This makes getting started with VR game development just a little easier. At the time of this writing, the SDK is at version 0.4.0 Beta. Again, note the word Beta! This SDK will also aid you in getting your existing games up and running with the Rift as well.
Getting Your Hands on One
For $350, you can get your hands on one of these and have the time of your life. You can search YouTube and find tons of video demonstrations from the project and developers alike. The best I have seen thus far is by the people at Tested, where they play Elite Dangerous Beta for about twenty minutes. Great stuff!
Taking a quote from their website, “we want to bring virtual reality into people’s homes by producing next-level virtual reality gear.” And that they do, my friend! The Cyberith Virtualizer is amazing. Just check out out their KickStarter page or their home page for loads of demos and info.
What is Cyberith Virtualizer?
The Virtualizer combines the Oculus Rift (or Sony Morpheus) and an omni-directional type of locomotion device, which allows you to control your characters by walking or running in place. You jump, your character jumps. You want to run down the hallway and turn that corner to the right? You take off in a sprint and make that sharp turn to the right! One of the first demos I saw of this product was of the founder and lead developer playing Skyrim using an Oculus Rift and an early prototype of the Virtualizer. Being a big Skyrim fan myself, I often wondered what it would be like if I had to do all of the walking and running that I did in the actual game (not to mention how much healthier I might be right now). It would take the challenge of running stark naked across Solstheim with only a rusty iron dagger to a whole new level of “Heck ya! Give me some of that!”. Or maybe that’s just me. Moving on…
How it works
How the Virtualizer works is pretty simple. It’s basically a group of sensors that detect motion in one way or another. You map the sensors to triggers in your game set-up, and away you go. But there’s even more! It can also use the Wii nunchucks and gun to further enhance your playing experience. You can use the nunchucks for shooting a bow, swinging a sword, or double-handed power attacks. With the gun you can get into a crouched position and peer around a tree, pop a few rounds off all sneaky-like, then run for your next cover target. You can also use a simple controller if you want. The choice is yours.
At the time of this writing, the project has not come out of its Kickstarter status, and the SDK is part of what is actually being funded. But when it is released into Beta, you will be able to better map things like one-to-one motion. Also, the SDK should make it easier to get more games working with the Virtualizer. Whether it will be open sourced or not is yet to be seen.
Getting Your Hands on One
Check out the Kickstarter page that I have linked above. From there, you can choose a package with your donation. To get your hands on a Virtualizer, you will need to back the project to the tune of at least $699. That might seem a little steep to some people, but I thought it would have been even more expensive so it seems like a really good deal to me.
Looking forward, these two projects give us a part of the future that we can get our hands on now, and that future looks good to me and also sounds like a lot of fun. And these projects just scratch the surface of what’s out there.
As I mentioned earlier, the Sony Morpheus is a real contender. Some reviews even place it on the same level as the Rift, but that will have to be determined at a later date. And let’s not overlook the fact that VR gear can be used for far more than just gaming. Think of all the educational and medical possibilities. Some of these avenues are already being explored, so who really knows how far this technology will take us.
What VR projects are you currently watching, and why? Where do you see this technology in five or ten years? Let us know what you think!
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