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A Conversation with Oculus VR Founder Palmer Luckey

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A Conversation with Oculus VR Founder Palmer Luckey

September 3, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

I got the sense from the talk that you feel very strongly that vsync needs to be there, and that frame rates need to be as high as possible, and that frame rates are more important than complexity of geometry.

PL: That is absolutely true. I think that it's really important in VR to keep in mind that sometimes you do have to sacrifice fidelity for framerate. Because you do want to have vsync, because if you don't have vsync then you have tears in the world. So you'll actually have objects that appear like they're being sheared apart or that they're actually shifted relative to each other. And that takes you out of the game very quickly, as that's constantly happening as you look around. So you do need vsync. 

It's worth mentioning that a lot of the hate out there for vsync -- like a lot of people go, "Oh, you should turn it off, because it adds latency in games," [but] when vsync is done correctly, it doesn't necessarily add a ton of latency, or a perceptible amount of latency, in VR. But there are also a lot of games that do a very poor job of vsync. There are even a lot of games where you want to turn vsync off in their control panel and then force it using the Nvidia or AMD control panel because it does a better job through there.

Good vsync -- yes, you really need to do it, or the whole world appears like it's tearing. And you really need at least 60 frames a second. Right now we're saying 60 because that's what our hardware is capable of running, but if we had a display that could run at 90 frames a second, it makes a huge difference. Enough where you're going to want to run at 90 frames a second as often as you can.

You already went from 800p to 1080p for the dev kits. How far do you want to push upgrades and improve the tech?

PL: 8k per eye. [laughs] I mean, that's just a number where you could roughly, approximately stop seeing pixels at the current field of view. Realistically, we're not targeting any specific resolution as "this is the right resolution" because until we get to that 8k by 8k or higher resolution, we just want it to be as high as possible. We're at 1080p in the prototypes that we're showing, but we'd like to push it even beyond that.

What most surprised me about playing it was the FOV, actually. Yes, I could see the pixels, but that was maybe less unrealistic, because I'm used to pixels. But the FOV stopping was a bit odd.

PL: The HD prototypes that we're showing do have a lower field of view than the dev kit, because we're using the same optics that we used for the dev kit in these prototypes. We just swapped out a panel, we didn't change the optics, or the ergonomics, or anything else.

The field of view for the consumer version, we do plan on increasing. And not just the field of view, but also the clarity of the optics and their sensitivity to adjustment, so that people can have a much more clear view across their entire field of view, rather than having it blurred in the edges.

For me, in some way -- and I'm sure you've done much more research, and this is just me saying this -- but the one thing I'd expect to create a sense of reality is peripheral vision, and feeling it wrap around you.

PL: I totally agree. It's a lot of different trade-offs. Optically, as you go past 100 degrees, there are a lot of limits of optics you run into, and it can't just be solved with clever design. They're just the hard limits of refractive optics, and it's very hard to get around those. You can greatly increase the size -- like, if you double the size of the panel, then you can get a little further, but you're not doubling the field of view for doubling the size of the panel. It's diminishing returns. You end up with a huge headset with a slightly improved field of view. There are a few tricks that I am trying that I think that are going to be able to pump the field of view up beyond even where we are right now.

One of the issues with going at a larger field of view -- we're already at a fairly low resolution in terms of pixels per degree -- most of our vision is focused out here [gestures to the sides of his field of view in real life]. Let's say that you wanted to up the field of view to 200 degrees. Not are you cutting the resolution in half, it's actually even worse than that, because you have resolution here that's cut in half, but you're also throwing away all that resolution into the edges where you can't, unfortunately, utilize most of it most of the time. So it's a set of tradeoffs. How much field of view do you have, and what kind of pixels per degree compromise are you trying to make? But, like I said, I have a few tricks.

You're making hardware, which is obviously a lot more challenging, in a certain sense, than making software -- at least in the sense that you do have to finish it, send it off to a factory to have it manufactured and put into boxes, probably in Asia.

PL: And it takes a lot of time to do all of that. So software, you can update till the day you release, and then the day after that. You can't do that with hardware.

These days, you can actually do deals for manufacturing that are a lot more agile than what was possible even five years ago. But how is that working for you?

PL: It's working well. It's just one of the realities of hardware, that you have to lock months in advance so that you can start manufacturing the hardware, shipping it over, getting it in boxes, and potentially getting it on shelves. It just takes a very long time and it is much harder than software in that way.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

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Peter Eisenmann
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I just hope they don't make too many compromises to keep this at a low cost.
Don't give it lower resolution or laggy sensors just so you can keep it under 300,-. This is for hardcore gamers anyway. Give it the best components possible, as long as it stays under 1000 dollars, you will find your audience. Don't underestimate the factor that people will use it to make their friends jealous. Make it blow people away, and demand what it's worth. VR is something extraordinary, don't sell it for less than an ordinary IPhone.

Merc Hoffner
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I hope you were being ironic or sarcastic, because that sounds an awful lot like the semi-elitist strategy of every failing HMD manufacturer in history.

Either way they don't need to adjust, because every user has already described a vastly superior experience even while they've been delivering it via virtually off-the-shelf and relatively inexpensive components. You don't need expensive components to deliver excellent or even revolutionary products if you've got innovative engineering on your side.

If you want to start a product revolution, you can't exclude the masses. Or am I missing something?

Peter Eisenmann
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No sarcasm here. Would you consider an Ipad 3 or a Samsung Galaxy 4 semi-elitist? They're mass products. Have you checked lately what you pay for them?
Sorry, but who cares about the masses in this case. Do you honestly believe a VR system, no matter how cheap, has any chance to become mainstream? That John and Jane Smith hook themselves up to a silly helmet in the evening to play some shooter, with a great chance they get a headache, motion sickness, or dry eyes? (All of those symptons will be worse with cheaper components, by the way)

Every user, even the ones describing a "vastly superior experience" you mentioned, will confirm you that the resolution probably should be higher than it is now. Also, how long did these people play? A few minutes max? If I get a VR system, I want to be amazed for months, and not for a single day, only to immediately abandon it for more convenient IO systems (e.g., a TV and controller). For this, even 300 bucks would be too much money.

Jarod Smiley
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How many people are even paying up front what these smartphones cost though? And, there isn't exactly a dozen hot items every year. Even if you get people to fork over $500-$800 for a devices, it's likely to be only a few brands that will sell a huge number of units.

They certainly need to think about cost with way around it. I just hope Sony's tweets meant something and they announce a partnership or support soon.

Peter Eisenmann
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The Ipad is usually sold at full price, in great numbers.

How many VR devices do you think there will be each year? :)
I'd hope there is no need to update my VR helmet every two years like people do with their tablets. So, use the best components there are. If they are available for 300 dollars, fine! But it sounds like the end price is one of their most important goals, which I doubt is the right strategy for a device like this.

Merc Hoffner
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Agree to disagree then? But I will say this: I want one at $300 (or less!). At $400 and up, I don't.

Lance Thornblad
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I'm with Mr. Hoffner. As an enthusiast, I might be willing to pay an iPad price, but only if there's iPad quality content. As a developer, I realize that I can't justify making software for something that has only sold to a few dozen of my "enthusiast" friends because the price was too high.

It takes a low-cost product to give the entire concept wings.

Anthony Torres
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Alright, I just signed up to attempt an explanation as to why your way of thinking has some serious flaws.

First off, let's do away with analogies, because they're not going to do any good. Making a comparison between Smartphones/tablets and VR headsets makes absolutely no sense. People are willing to spend as much as they do, because they're products that are used in every day life. They've become universal tools, and for that, people are willing to pay. There's a justification there. The companies behind them are also tried and true, which cannot be said for Oculus VR.

Second, this is not, and should not, be made for an exclusive group of tech enthusiasts. That method has been tried and tested to fail numerous times. It will not work here. You need to understand that the future of VR tech is unknown. You need to get it in the hands of the many, not the few. You need that, because you need developers to take interest in your product. No one is going to put in real development money for a product that caters to a relatively small fan base.

One hand washes the other here. Oculus needs content in order to attract consumers. Developers need consumers in order to justify creating content. You are entirely over-estimating the power of "making people jealous". I don't think that you fully understand the amount of companies that have gone under, because the people in charge have your exact same mentality.

When virtual reality begins to become reality, then we will begin to see higher-end units. Until then, we need to keep in mind that this is in its infancy. I'm sorry if this offends you at all, but it boggles my mind how people can carry this mentality. I mean, I'm just... very glad that the people in charge don't agree with you, because the future of VR would then be very bleak. Also, it does come off a bit elitist. Keeping up with the Joneses, and all.

Sjors Jansen
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Great interview!

Mobiles connected to Rifts.
Fantastic :) But I'm not sure if I would feel the need to go outside with a Rift though..

I wish console manufacturers would see it as a tv, not as a competing piece of hardware. Customers would want their consoles to support displaying on their Rift and may even expect it to right?

The integrated cpu idea seems great, but also ups the cost of the hardware. It would be competing on a whole different level. As a consumer I'd just want this as a display device I can hook up to anything.

Maybe, if Oculus were to include a cpu, you could be presented with a 3d interface world by hooking the Rift up to a local laundromat, info desk or coffee machine or anything with a usb port you may find in a local supermarket. This could bring a bunch of opportunities for b2b deals by making software for those sorts of clients. But that sounds really boring.

Maybe Oculus can make money by charging for advanced developer support in the long run? Consulting stuff? Would be a shame imho...
Or something like wii play?
Rift pack-in deal with overpriced cereal?

How about a recording device as well? Or a chat program that allows for (potentially) 2 5$ webcams to create a 3d feed for a Rift on the other end? Would probably prove popular but might run into bandwidth issues.

Also, for any developers around Berlin wanting to do something with a Rift, there's one at the monthly berlin minijam.