My First Impressions with the Oculus Rift – A Boldy Realistic Review

There are many reviews online already for the Oculus Rift. You’ve probably read them all. I’ve read them all in the 3 month anticipation of my unit arriving. Upon slapping the thing on my head I realized that what I read or how I took the meaning in some of the articles wasn’t what I saw. I want to take a few moments to make some things clear. Before I do I want to post my anti-discouragement disclaimer. The rift is ridiculously awesome and it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before in your entire life, BUT there’s some issues with it… Probably issues you’ve heard about, but I feel most people have played them down. It’s all about setting realistic expectations for those of you still waiting on your Rift or about to buy one.

First off, I tested this with a friend and compared notes. To both of our surprise, unlike everyone else online who was blown away by this thing at first sight, we actually thought it sucked. It doesn’t suck but that’s legitimately what our reaction was. We didn’t throw it on, and got transported to a new place, we threw it on and said this thing is terrible, we aren’t buying the magician’s trick. I think this is important to point out because other people online describe it as a chasing the dragon scenario, where the first time was amazing, and subsequent times they never quite got that sense of awe. We find it to be the complete opposite, that the more we’ve used it the more awe we are in. Hey this is a good thing, with drug addicts, the high they get can never be beat by the first time they tried it, so they’re in a constant chase to get back on the dragon. If the high I experience in VR gets better every time as my body gets used to it, that’s a bargain. AND maybe someone will write a game where I can actually get on a dragon.

I just mentioned body, lets cut to the chase, I think the whole reason we had the above mentioned experience is because of our mind’s lack of conditioning to the trickery of VR. The more we got used to the false sensory data, and our mind being like “nah I’m not buying it bud something’s up”, we could finally let go and have our mind embrace the experience.

So, let’s talk about what sucks with the rift, and why it was disrupting our mind’s ability to enjoy what it was seeing.

Resolution. Make no mistake if anything, the often talked about low resolution of this screen, is understated. You have no idea. The resolution is completely garbage. You and I both know that the production unit will have a high res screen, Ok so I’m not ignorant. I am however trying to give a review that contrasts how I read the others online. It’s very bad. The good news it after a few hours in you don’t really care anymore. When things are up close or at a medium distance they look fine anyway. The issue is with things at a far distance, and small, take text for example. They become literally smaller than one pixel, so it’s just a dot on the screen, and with head tracking being what it is, this dot on the screen jumps/jitters between neighboring pixels. Basically like aliasing on edges, but very apparently.

The screen door effect. Pointed out in many articles and even by Oculus themselves, the current resolution screen and probably the future resolution of the screen to some extent suffers from what people are calling a screen door effect. This is where you can actually see the blank space between LCD pixels. Kind of a big deal, ultimately something you get used to, but for me ruined the first few hours of the experience because my eyes were able to distinctly converge between the image and the pixels. Equate this to an example, in your car, it’s raining, you can either converge on the raindrops on the windshield or you can converge on the car in front of you. Anyway as Palmer stated, simply going higher res doesn’t solve this issue, they need a screen with the narrowest gap between pixels.

Frame rate.. Palmer isn’t lying you need 60 frames, constant, with vsync. Go buy a new CPU and GPU or don’t bother buying a rift. I bought a new PC the next day after trying this unit on my friend’s rig. Less than 60 frames gives you a headache and makes you feel sick. Also it isn’t all about framerate. The sensors for head tracking is over USB, usb is CPU constrained. I only had a poor little core 2 duo e6600. Even with some demos giving me 60FPS, my CPU was pegged and this was screwing up the head tracking, once again leading to sickness. P.S. I don’t usually get motion sick like ever, but when your eyes say you’re spinning, but your equilibrium says you’re sitting still.. it just happens.

To me the only thing that made me sick was rotating left or right. So, walk forward = fine, back = fine, strafe =fine, roll head = fine. Turn left or right = fine, move left or right using say the joystick = sick. Makes sense because basically what you’re seeing is the same effect as if you were to spin around on a chair for a few minutes and stop, the world keeps moving but your equilibrium suggests your not, so you get sick. The other thing that made me sick, related to the paragraph before this one, IF you don’t get 60 frames, IF headtracking doesn’t update with your movements and the world lags behind as a result, you feel sick.

Last comment on the sickness, 5 days in an even though this still is an issue sometimes, its clearly something that doesn’t effect me too easily now. I’ve been pushing the envelope a bit.

Let’s talk about FOV for a second. All the reviews online suggest that you put the headset on and you’re just there. Only one review I saw seemed to point out what I’m about to say. It’s more like you’re looking down a pair of binoculars. The FOV is 110 degrees. Each eye in the real world has about 90-something horizontal. An effective fov of 180 according to wikipedia. 110 degrees really isnt that much. So, to be clear, the RIFT IS AWESOME, but yes you look like you’re looking down a viewer of some sort. Other reviews tend to make it sound like the screen takes up your entire center view and some of your peripheral. I found that it barely took up my peripheral vision, meaning I wasn’t moving my eyes around to look at the edges, like I thought I might be doing.

Also the light from the screen reflects a bit around the edge of the lenses giving a halo effect around your periphs. I hope this can be addressed for the production version using some method to dampen the reflectiveness around the lens border. The reason why this sucks is even though the FOV is 70 degrees less than your entire view, if the edges went from LCD straight to darkness I think it would be easier to be immersed. With the halo effect it’s pretty obvious where the screen ends and the nothingness begins.

Pixel switching I think could be improved. When looking left to right for example it’s a little blurry. Nothing much else to say here.

HMD shake is what I will call this next issue. Because the unit isn’t tightly glued to your eyes, the unit shakes a bit when you move, thus the world can shake a bit, breaks immersion a bit. I don’t know what can be done here. If you tighten the unit around your face it becomes pretty uncomfortable. Speaking of which I found the unit to be pretty uncomfortable. I’m kind of a wimp like that though. If I have a sock bunched up wrong in my shoe, it drives me crazy for example.

The last thing that broke immersion to me was the air vents. There are vents around the edges that make sure the unit doesn’t fog up. Great idea, totally necessary. BUT light gets through and kills it a bit. So, play with the lights off.

I know this review sounds negative, I just wanted to give an honest and blunt review to combat some of the more forgiving reviews out there. I love this damn thing!

In closing a few tips for your first time. First off don’t play any of these demos on a monitor first. I regret playing the tuscany demo and riftcoaster. I have a strong hunch that is what ruined my expectations of visual quality. Even at 1280×800 on my computer monitor, these demos look pretty good still, they don’t look anywhere near as crisp when blown up to scale. Just don’t do it.

Number two, screw the tuscany and coster demos, go straight to Titans of Space. https://developer.oculusvr.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=42&t=1544. You’ll be glad you lost your VR virginity to a princess instead of a street walker. This is a jaw dropping demo, those others can’t even compete with this thing. I don’t know why the Oculus guys demo those on the road, they should be going with Titans out of the box. Also, don’t watch this on a monitor first either, even the developer of Titans says that on his page. 🙂

Final thought, if you have the money to burn, can be disappointed in some little things in exchange for cool new toy, and can’t wait til 2014/2015, buy the dev kit. Also if you buy the dev kit, go watch some tutorials on unity development, go download the unity SDK which is free, go make something, it’s not that difficult. I haven’t made a video game since highschool 10+ years ago, I spent 6 or so hours watching tutorials on youtube and reading, and pumped out a fairly complete game in a week and am working on a second.

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