VR is something I have wanted since a point in time that falls outside of the current century, yet it has taken me a while to get hold of it. People talk about the high entry price as a barrier for VR. In my case I needed a new house and a garage conversion to make space for what is akin to walking around blindfolded and flailing my arms without hurting my family. The price of entry has been exceptionally high for me but about a month ago I finally got there.
The delay gave me many months to absorb reviews, comparisons, and (most critically) user feedback on Vive, Rift, and PSVR. The Vive community were particularly persuasive in their assertion that roomscale VR (ie the ability to walk around within the confines of your playspace to explore the virtual worlds in the most intuitive way) takes VR to the next level, but with promises of the Rift matching that capability as well as various other qualities in it’s favour, I chose the Rift. Let me be clear here, this article is not a comparison piece between the available headsets. The vast bulk of my firsthand experience is with my Rift, so the Rift is the basis of this piece.
For those that care, the Rift is well packaged. I don’t care at all and that packaging is in the bin now, so that is as far as I will talk about packaging. Setup was also a cinch, with step-by-step instructions guiding through the hardware setup and headset adjustments. It took all of about 10 minutes before I was experiencing the Oculus Dreamdeck demos that conclude the setup. Dreamdeck announces itself as “a standing experience”, with no interaction at all. It gives a nice introduction to the audiovisual capabilities of the device, as well as the incredible capacity it has to transfer you into another world.
So strong is the urge to explore that I actually tried to lean in past an alien chum just to see if I could
However, it also very quickly affirmed the notion that interacting with and walking around these VR worlds is a hugely critical piece of the puzzle that the Rift was missing. So strong is the urge to explore that I actually tried to lean in past an alien chum just to see if I could, only stopping when I felt the soft embrace of a desk on my face.
My biggest concern on all 3 high-end headsets was the display, and that was one of the biggest factors that drove me towards the Rift. I’ll break this one down a bit to address the commonly perceived issues from my own experience. It is important to note that your mileage may vary as feedback on these headsets suggests people perceive things very differently, and not in a philosophical “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” sense, but a very literal “beauty depends on the eyes of the beholder”.
- Resolution – It isn’t brilliant. Certainly not sufficient to display the detailing of a human face on a person 10 yards away. The best VR experiences have more stylised art, and the resolution honestly has not deterred my enjoyment of any games. It does however hinder live action footage, which isn’t particularly enjoyable for me.
- Screen Door Effect – Minor, but it is there. The screen door effect is caused by the gap in light between each pixel of the display, revealing the individual glowing pixels. The gaps are tiny, but the screen is so close to your eyes that you can make it out. The effect seems to be a lot more pronounced on certain colours, but even at it’s worst it isn’t really distracting unless you go looking for it.
- Motion – I’m lumping refresh rate, persistence, and pixel response into this one. The Rift nails it here, it keeps up with my eyes just fine even if I spin fast enough to hurt myself.
- Field of View – Good enough. One day we will have headsets with a perfect field of view and at that point the Rift may feel antiquated, but right now it simply isn’t an issue.
- Sweet Spot – The Rift definitely has a sweetspot where everything achieves the highest point of clarity, but where it excels is that everything outside of the sweet spot still looks pretty good. Good enough that you can look around a scene with your eyes rather than your neck.
- God Rays – Absolutely the biggest weakness on the Rift display. In scenes of high contrast, bright spots glare across the lenses in a way that truly hurts the image. It is most noticeable on loading screens where you may see the white Oculus logo floating against a black background (hint to Oculus: change that), but it does also manifest in some darker games and experiences. Some people don’t see them, some people can work around them. I find I can reduce them a bit by pressing the Rift a little closer to my face so I will look into thinner padding, but when it comes down to it the problem isn’t hampering my enjoyment enough to break the deal.
I wasn’t planning to include Audio as a heading, but it forced itself into my thinking so it is worthy. I have heard glowing reviews of the headphones included with the Rift, claiming the quality is on a par with higher end cans. I don’t actually agree that the headphones are anything special, yet the audio on the Rift is truly impressive. The quality is in the spacial audio processing, rather than the raw capabilities of the headphones.
I am not an audiophile by any means but I typically go between a reasonably high-end 7.1 speaker system for the wide sound stage and subtle quality of sound, or surround sound headset to pick out individual sounds and positioning. The Rift takes personal headset audio to another level, because unlike traditional headset audio the positional sound is all delivered relative to your real head position, shifting very naturally with subtle movements of your head. The deeper workings of human hearing take over from there, and it makes for an incredibly convincing audio stage, even with mediocre quality headphones.
Comfort (See Nausea Below)
I have had no issues wearing this for any length of time. It is simple to adjust, easy to put on, and doesn’t press or warm my head in any noticeable way. The only exception is the occasional minor ache on one side of the bridge of my nose, but that is the result of numerous breaks and some current bruising (not related to the soft embrace of my desk).
The Touch controllers released last week, and what can I say? Vive owners were absolutely right. They fit the missing piece of the puzzle, and enable VR on another level. Setup of the Touch controllers is once again simple and well-guided, and much like the base setup it concludes with a demo experience. This time around it is interactive, and I tell you now I could not stop smiling as I poked the robot, threw cans at the robot, threw bouncy balls at the robot, took a disc from the robot and hit him with it, used the disc to bat things at the robot, whipped the robot, shot the robot, let off rockets at the robot, threw musical instruments at the robot, and generally explored the interactions and physics just to see what I could do. Mostly to the robot.
Outside of that demo I have been shooting zombies, picking up all sorts of stationary and litter, gutting the king of VR, and experiencing the genuine delights of Valve’s The Lab. I can only say that they are fantastic. The only gotcha is that if you plan to explore the Steam catalogue of roomscale games, the 3rd sensor is well worth the investment to ensure everything tracks regardless of what the game tasks you to do.
The Touch controllers are suitably robust too. within 10 minutes of owning them I slammed them together in an attempt to squash a butterfly, and I’ve already swiped them against the wall and placed them neatly on a table that didn’t exist. We’re still getting along just fine.
Some people say VR lacks content. I would challenge that as complete fallacy. Among the 1000+ bits of content listed on Steam VR it is fair to say that a lot of it is experimental junk, and there are a lot of short one-time experiences, but I really haven’t come close to exhausting the good stuff. Insomniac have 3 exclusives that shine for Oculus alongside “real” games like Chronos, Superhot, and Damaged Core. Steam is open for business as well with Raw Data, Vanishing Realms, Arizona Sunshine, Redout, Serious Sam, and frankly a whole wealth of games that I simply haven’t had a chance to sample yet. Even if none of those existed, I think I’d be quite content to spend the rest of my days trying to beat the damned “novice” yellow robot on Paddle Up. Oh how I hate and love that guy. Where are my cans and guns when I really need them?
I literally took the headset off to lay down, and didn’t want to get up for about 2 hours
Already there is enough VR content available that I doubt I will ever get the opportunity to catch up on all the games I want to play, and considering how long VR has been available and the very limited audience consuming these games, that is quite astounding. Given the opportunity, I will write up some full reviews of some of them just as soon as I have time to come up for air.
I am very familiar with motion sickness. If I so much as read a text message on a train my body will reject what is happening and attempt to pound my head into submission. So it was with great trepidation that I jumped into VR, anticipating a rough and arduous journey to conquer my one and only weakness. To be honest, that journey still awaits me. I have found absolutely no ill-effects at all in playing well optimised roomscale based games or “comfortable” rated sitdown experiences, and those are where I have spent most of my time. However, I did have a blast around a track on Redout with a sub-optimal framerate in the mix, and my 3.5minutes of play there completely did me in. I literally took the headset off to lay down, and didn’t want to get up for about 2 hours. I will face up to that one another time, maybe starting off with something slightly more gentle than a Wipeout clone. In the meantime there is no shortage of games that are totally comfortable.
I will keep this simple: For at least 20 years games have been my favourite medium for entertainment, followed by films and TV. Virtual Reality tops that list now.