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Why Oculus is the Apple of VR
by Sebastien Kuntz on 04/08/14 05:46:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I’m just back from GDC/Seattle/IEEE VR where I have been able to test a lot of the the latest HMDs out there, particularly Oculus Rift DK2, Sony Morpheus and Valve’s prototype. Those were amazing and blew my mind. They are true VR systems in which I feel present.

I have also tested some of the other HMDs.

I find it really great that so many people jump in the VR wagon! Being able to build an HMD for cheap and having competition is a great thing. And a lot of those teams are close to having a VR system. They just lack a few critical elements to cross the barrier.

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VR is not just a display

The issue is that most newcomers focus only on the display part: the display panel, optics and how to mount that more or less comfortably on your head. Then they pick a head tracker and hope that this will be enough to create a compelling VR experience.

They compare their designs in terms of display technical specifications, mainly resolution and field of view.

But what about the overall end-to-end latency? This is one of the most critical aspect of VR and you never hear about it!

How will the user interact with the world? Having a rotation tracker is a good start, but a position tracker for the head and at least one hand will soon be critical. Interacting with a gamepad is quickly frustrating if you want to create interesting VR games/apps. (yes that is an issue even with the latest Oculus Rift DK2).

Smartphone-based HMDs

This is particularly an issue with mobile-based HMDs: the latency is too high, you only have a rotation tracker and there is no way to interact with the scene in an interesting way. Why would you leave such important things such as the display and the tracker to manufacturers for which VR is not the priority? Even the latest iPhone 5s or iPad mini retina don't have a good enough tracker+display latency. They give a nice 360 display for sure, light and easily transportable, with lots of useful applications. Sure, you feel immersed in a way: the display fills your vision.

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But do you feel present in this virtual world ?
Does your brain believe it is somewhere else, subconsciously ? (I set this as a requirement, and I know some of you don’t agree :) This will be argued in another post.)

Maybe in one year or two smartphones will have the required specifications, but not now.

Presence emerges from a lot of elements that have to be right at the same time: Low latency, wide FOV, resolution, low-persistence, interaction etc. They don’t have to be all absolutely perfect; for example Sony Morpheus’ tracking is a bit less stable/precise than Oculus DK2, but it is good enough.

But if only one of these elements is not good enough, presence breaks.

So far I only felt present in Oculus/Sony/Valve’s HMDs (and some other professional VR systems). If we could measure presence (and not just FOV or resolution), you would see a real difference in the quality of HMDs. Unfortunately we don’t know how to do that yet.

A shift in philosophy

I would suggest a shift in philosophy: if you want to be a true VR company, focus on the whole VR experience, not just the display part.

Use a fast tracker with prediction and make sure your motion-to-photon latency is as small as possible. This is more important than having a better resolution/field of view than your competitors. Make sure your demos run at the maximum fresh rate of your display and with a steady FPS! Make sure your distortion is as minimal as possible. Provide an interactive demo, give more interaction than just looking around.

You can feel present with a low-end HMD such as the Oculus Rift DK1 even though the resolution is very low and the display is blurry. What works is really the wide enough FOV, overall low latency and the good enough tracker.

You can fail at bringing presence even with a wide FOV, high resolution HMD, which a lot of people would say is technically immersive, if the overall latency is too high and if the tracker is not good/precise/stable enough.

In the meantime, your HMD is just nice stereoscopic 360° display, not a VR system.

Oculus vs Apple

Which leads me to my comparison of Oculus and Apple:

Apple controls the entire user experience tightly. They spend an enormous amount of resources to push tech a bit further than anyone else to provide a consistent and compelling user experience. There were "smart" phones before Apple came up with the iPhone, but the experience was terrible.

Spending time on improving the whole VR experience is crucial: presence is fragile, breaking it is really easy!

Oculus is one of the rare true VR company: they choose the display panels, the trackers, offer a software layer that improves the hardware capacities (prediction to reduce latency), offer guidelines to create compelling VR experiences, demonstrate good VR demos (I want to play Eve Valkyrie again!!!), discard low-quality apps and they even provide an amazing latency meter !!

They are not hiding the difficulties, they are embracing them. Maybe they have less features/lesser specs than potential competitors, but they provide the minimum so that VR actually works! Why would you want to have higher FOV/resolution, add eye tracking or AR cameras when you can’t provide a simple VR experience?

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To those thinking I’m too radical, let me tell you this:

I don’t have any monetary interest in the Oculus or any other HMD. My purpose is that VR succeeds.

If your HMD provides a good presence feeling, like Sony Morpheus or Valve’s prototype do for example, this is all for good!

I know your goal is also that VR lives long so you can make a living from it. This text is a plea to give you the strength to push further!

VR people have been careless and arrogant 20 years ago and let VR disappear. We have only one chance at convincing people that VR is here and now. If you disappoint them with bad VR experiences, you are digging your own grave.

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David Navarro
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Seems like an apt comparison, regarding the vertical integration and tight software/hardware coupling. With a field as immature as VR, a good experience is a lot more important than standards or openness. That can (and probably will) happen later, if it takes off.

Greg Scheel
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Look, there is no way I am going to strap facebook, to my face.

Not happening.

Oculus is dead, just get over it and move on.

Mihai Cosma
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You are a shortsighted, arrogant and easily misled ethereal fool that doesn't understand the world it inhabits.

Henri Aalto
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Are you referring to Facebook or Greg here :)

If the former, I wholeheartedly agree -- I don't like Facebook either, I'd rather keep my skeletons in the closet.

"Who's the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?"

Marvin Papin
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or the fool who's not trying to change anything and just say you're false without any arguments :)

Still we do not know anything about the OVR/FB relation, nothing should statue yet. But yes, i'm frightened but will let the benefit of the doubt.


Do you have a smartphone ?
I think yes, and if it's the case, either you put against your ear,
- MS
- Google
- Apple
and I sincerely do not think that's better to just have an HMD in front of your eyes. And it's not Facebook tech inside. even if the money to build it comes from here. But still you don't know what will happen, you should measure your thoughts

Michael Thornberg
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@Mihai Cosma:
Or perhaps he understands Facebook a lot better than you. Just because you try to use lousy rhetoric in an attempt to minimize him doesn't make his opinion any less valid. Facebook is well known to track everything (they even openly admit to it) and their entire business is built on it. More so than Google even. If you don't know or understand this, then he is not the one being a fool here. Oculus isn't dead, to him maybe, but that is another issue. But it is still his valid opinion.

Greg Scheel
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My assessment is based on a cold hearted reading of the market response, my personal feelings are not relevant.

At least two polls have very negative responses, and the feed on reddit was frightening to say the least. Palmer Lucky sounded desperate and naive, at least to me. From a PR perspective, the sellout to Facebook is an unmitigated disaster.

Losing about half your support, still rather early in development, cannot be seen as 'good'. VR tech is coming, and no one will have a lock on it, because it is all based on off the shelf components, and the patents filed 20 years ago are about to expire, or have expired.

What Oculus had going for it was being the 'it' thing, much like ipod. There were many music players, but ipod was 'it', so much so that devices that were clearly not ipods would still be referred to as such. That enthusiasm was what put Oculus ahead of all potential competitors, and now, that enthusiasm is gone. "He's dead, Jim."

Marvin Papin
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22000 votes by early voters (and so a specific part, mainly devs and news followers gamers). Not extremely revelant. Statistics...

If you take the graph... that's obvious that people who vote here are the ones who are obfuscated... irrevelant.

Now I do not approve that acquisition but that not mean that you will put FB in front of your eyes. You're melting 2 different things. And while most people fear about what FB can do (me too) , nobody knows what do they plan. And I do not see how they can impose data acquisition or their social stuffs.

If it's all about Data acquisition, that's all about what they will do from that. For long, videogame development uses data acquisition to sensibly change the experience.

And you do not argue. except when you speak about "it's like ipod". This is not really true since there is really a tech behind. Other VR new "intruders" will not bring same quality so easily.

And except Morpheus and Infiniteye, i did not see any other able to bring that quality. And both quoted are a bit below yet.

One other thing, I didn't spoke about, the readers of gamepolitics are also a specific part of game industrie and gamers.

While it's true that most think it's awfull, when they put the Oculus Rift in front of their eyes, compared to other basic stuff, they recognize how they have a certain advantage. And if people do no produce VR games, it will take years and years to bring it back. And that would be a big opportunity missed in an era of crisis for game devs. And if they do, there will be always a big interest for porting the game through all VR headset...

I DO NOT say it's a good thing they bought it. It's even an horrible thing. But please argue and take both sides of the consequences before basing yourself on weird statistics.

Greg Scheel
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The empirical evidence is quite clear, the Facebook sellout is a PR disaster. This is an observation, backed up by anecdotal evidence, and two polls with somewhat different results, from two different audiences.

As for Facebook and their plans, we are gamers are we not? Yomi skills should tell you what Facebook is up to, they are well known by now.

As for the VR market as a whole, if it does take off, and the numbers are there, then there will be competition; just take a look at the smartphone market. There are at least half a dozen companies that have the experience and money to do VR, should they see a value in it.

Marvin Papin
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What are the company with VR experience you're talking about ?

Ok it's a PR disaster. But they already did bad things before. And even if Zuckerberg wanted to secure his money, this doesn't means that expending their whole market stuff is obligatory a disaster since that event. Now, I donnot see how they can blow out gamers (but they probably have an idea, or they will only take the advantage of the given visibility).

Marvin Papin
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Oculus, Morpheus, ... The only other competitor I see is Infiniteye but they are quite discrete yet. But they largely can make it. On another side, I never believed in phones HMD stuff.

About controls, the problem will be the price. And too much people stick to the idea of "more than hands". I think razer hydra is enough and a complete 'Stem' from sixsenses is a bit "too much". But there are wayS to make gameplay with :
- A "true" VR HMD
- Two "one hand" controller", with on each :
-- accurate motion control recognition
-- a joystick
-- a logic trigger ... to activate
-- an analogic trigger ... to hold (then you can activate the object without needing 2nd hand)

I also think that's the minimum for a really cool immersive experience.
That's why I have doubt about Sony's politic about introducing PS move with its only 1 trigger and low accuracy motion control.

Finally, Omni (the walking accessory) is a way too much for me and too much constraining.

Edit : Another thing i forgot, is kinect. even if it's not as responsive as the Oculus rift or actual motion control systems, the full body recognition could be cool and 'a bit troll on' finally usefull 'troll off', wait and see about what MS has in its crates.

Mike Griffin
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Actually the Move is rather accurate and well suited to VR, but yes it could benefit from a slight re-configuration.

Marvin Papin
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Quite accurate but far from razer hydra from all press. Tracking a sphere from a ps eye is, well, limited.

But they are trying to resell it. unfortunately, I do not expect any re-config soon.

Expecting much from stem system but I think they'll soon figure out that it's to much expensive and that they'll need to lower the price before being eaten by competitors.

Mike Griffin
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Across this transitional phase and VR flirtations with the living room, it may eventually yield a "hyper positional" room - something akin to intelligently installing a proper 7.1 sound system. In VR's case, we would see cameras or capture units professionally wired and installed front, back, to both sides -- even the ceiling -- in this "immersion room".

Capturing the player's skeletal position from numerous angles, assisted by accessories.

That's happening in the future. In the renaissance era of VR: A time of lightweight, flawlessly wireless VR HMDs with superb tracking/optics/audio and long battery life; the era of affordable and powerful quasi-camera AR - VR motion capture kits; an era when people start to hurt themselves in standing up games with incredibly comprehensive motion capture and realistic actions.

Eventually the padded waist-high VR people walls won't be safe enough for action experiences, and you'll be hanging from the ceiling strapped in to a VR harness atop a 360 treadmill: tracking legs, arms and hands - as you run, kick and punch like a player possessed. The fitness industry even jumps in.

The future of VR (and it's accompanying devices) could be bonkers. It's gathering enough momentum now to run for a solid decade of well-funded progression, so we're going to see rapid iteration on the core tech, peripherals, and motion capture.

Interesting decisions will be made re: VR's 'sit down games' and 'stand up games'.

Marvin Papin
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right. But a razer hydra thing + ORift is enough for me ;)

Tarique Naseem
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"VR people have been careless and arrogant 20 years ago and let VR disappear."

This statement just rang a bell with me. Indeed, we did let VR fall from it's pedestal, due to arrogance within the organisation(s); Not from the devs, designers, etc, but from other stakeholders who adapted too slowly to the changing landscape, no matter how much we shouted! In the end, it was too little, too late...

Anyway, absolutely agree with you on the whole latency, and 3DOF/6DOF tracking issues. Too much emphasis is on the visuals, and not enough on the aspects that are arguably more important. The eye can be quite forgiving if you get the interaction, tracking & sound working in unison to create a more immersive experience.

Karna Krishnan
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Thanks @Marvin for the Omni mention.

I never knew something like this existed and thinking about a movement frame I was trying to visualize something along the lines of a pneumatically controlled rig like the one used in the Pacific Rim movie. Wouldn't presence be affected every time you move forward in the omni and you realize your mid-riff is constrained? What do you guys think? Has anyone tried it out?

Marvin Papin
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not yet, and not really interested. but that's probably a bit like a pad. After hours and hours you're a bit more immersed, and finally it comes more natural.

But you made me thing about hydraulic stuff.
And something like this could be cool :

Moreover with all those radar installed in France, that could be a cool alternative to get driving sensations :). And there are not the limit you were speaking about. But there are still little roads (:°) ;)

Karl E
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Good to see the controller question brought up straightforward. This is actually the way that Oculus is *not* like Apple. Apple cares about the entire user experience. Oculus is simply neglecting the controller issue.

They need to create a controller standard quickly. Nothing special, 6DOF for each hand captured by the same camera that captures the headset movements, plus an analog stick and some buttons.

And please include it in the DK2 without cost as a make up gift for that facebook acquisition thing.