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Virtual Reality with the Oculus Rift DKII
How does one even begin to describe the new technologies involved with Virtual Reality? It isn't as simple as describing the video you see when you put the goggles on. Of course everyone's perception is going to be different, but the overall immersion is dependant on a few factors. I got to test out the Oculus Rift Developement Kit 2 in Montreal's "Phi Center" as part of an augmented storytelling exhibit. The exhibit has multiple technological demonstrations for new concepts such as e-books with smell(Smell-o-vision!), movement based light shows, real time animal tracking and mapping as well as an interesting video manipulation interface developed by Google. Each item had unique stories being told and enhanced with technology.
As a tech enthusiast, I have been following the advancements of virtual reality for quite a while now. While the unit I was using was only a development kit, I could see the multitude of possibilities available to such a platform. I personally found a few immersion breaking issues, particularly the low resolution. While Apple is touting their 'Retina' dispays with approximately 326 pixels per inch, other industry giants are pushing the limits of display technology. The Oculus DK2 has a resolution of 960x1080 per eye, which is still far from ideal for head mounted displays. This is because the screens are so close and take up a larger area of your vision. Of course there is a heck of a lot of mumbo jumbo techno wizardry that goes on with the actual rendering of the image as well as with the actual lenses. For example, in order to achieve a full field of view, the Oculus renders an off-screen buffer which has a higher resolution than the actual display. Software then takes that into account (along with the lens distortion). As an aspiring software engineer, the math and programming involved with the Oculus is extraodinarily complex. It even involves a process known as time-warp, although that is just fancy wording for lowering movement latency.
The particular demo that I was previewing was quite odd in content, but did an excellent job of portraying the functionalities and limitations of the device. It started off with a majestic mountain view in 360 degrees, with the viewer positioned in the middle of a lake. After a few flocks of birds fly around showcasing the field of view, a train comes into sight heading straight for you before exploding into a tunnel of swirling ribbons. From there it gets slightly more abstract, taking you into what at first looks like space, but slowly resolves into a giant unborn baby. I can't say the content was entirely appealing to me, but it fit the theme of the exhibit.
Oculus Rift is but one of many head mounted displays which will be coming in the near future, though it was perhaps the first to gain the publics eye and interest. As virtual reality becomes more ubiquitous in the consumer market, I expect there to be huge strides in many tech fields, particularly displays and optics. Having just finished reading Neil Gaiman's "Snow Crash", a novel in which there is an entire world created in VR, similar to "Second Life" only in 3D, I can't help but be excited for the social implications this new tech will have. Sitting here with three large monitors seems awfully outdated and redundant with the Rift so close.
According to Oculus, the Rift is slated to be released sometime in Q2 of 2016, although their competitor HTC/Valve have a similar product named "Vive" which is rumoured to be released before 2016. As much of a fan of this tech as I am, I believe it will behoove me to wait patiently while the bugs and kinks are worked out.