Oculus Connect

I had the good fortune to be selected to attend Oculus Connect this past weekend, and it was truly an awesome experience. Listening to John Carmack and Michael Abrash speak on their experiences as developers/researchers was both informative and entertaining. I had only watched recordings of John’s talks at events like QuakeCon, but by seeing him in person (both on stage and just talking to people around the conference) I was able to truly appreciate his enthusiasm for VR.

I was also able to grab a demo with the Crescent Bay prototype just before I had to leave. I’ve been following the development of VR for a while, and having owned a DK1 and DK2 I doubted I would be surprised by any new iterations of the Rift (at least coming so soon after the Dk2). Trying Crescent Bay, however, was akin to putting on the DK1 the first time. While the DK1 showed me the potential for VR and a glimpse at what could be achieved, Crescent Bay was the first time I actually experienced the level of immersion (presence) VR enthusiasts say is the Holy Grail of virtual reality.

After showing up for my slotted demo time and waiting in line for a few minutes, I was eventually led into a room with several identical booths lining each side, reminding me of a large set of dressing rooms in a big department store. I was shown into one of the small rooms (about 6 x 6 or so) with a rather breathless attendant. She told me she had just tried the demo herself for the first time, so we talked a few second while I let her catch her breath. The room was fairly bare, with a small mat in the center with the rift against one wall and a small camera set up against the other. The attendant told me the mat was just so I could tell where I was, and then handed me the Rift and told me to adjust it to my face. She tightened a few straps and the demos soon began.

I think there were thirteen demos or so lasting about 30 seconds to 1 minute each, and since I’m not going to remember all of them here are some standouts in no particular order:

These are just a few of the demos I got to experience, but they were all incredible. Each one was buttery smooth, likely due to the 90hz refresh rate of the new display (which really made a big difference). There was no screen door effect to speak of, just a barely-noticeable film. I’m not sure if this was just the increased resolution, but I felt like there was some type of diffuser (although I could very well be wrong). 360 Degree head tracking worked great. I turned in every direction, and the only time I lost tracking was went I bent down under the camera to look closely at the tiny town demo. The actual HMD was much lighter than the Dk2, which helped with all of the frantic looking around I was doing (with no motion blur to speak of). The integrated audio also seemed well done (minus all the chatter going on outside the booth with excited developers). The only con I had was that a considerable amount of light seeped through from the bottom, but in my haste to put it on I doubt that I had it fitted as well as it could have been.

I think the demos really highlighted how VR is potentially so much more than just a tool for games. Yes, games in VR will be amazing, but so many of the demos were just experiences. Seeing massive dinosaurs, meeting a friendly alien, and being shrunken down to a microscopic size (one demo I didn’t mention) all show that VR is going to be a device that permeates many different fields. Academia, early education, and a myriad of other fields are all potential applications. I’m willing to bet that in the future, gaming will only be seen as the catalyst that launched VR into a huge variety of markets.

All in all the whole experience was excellent, and I feel fortunate to have been able to attend. I got to see some fantastic demos (from Oculus and indie devs alike) and listen to leaders in the field. Hopefully this time next year I’ll be able to attend again and discuss fresh experiences with CV1!

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