My Oculus Thoughts (at least as they stand today)

I attended a VR event sponsored by Oculus VR (www.oculusvr.com) on Nov. 2, in Cambridge MA. The goal of the “Meet Up” was to talk about the Oculus Rift, and what it could mean to the future of VR. When I first saw the call for the event, I decided that there was no mention of the past of VR, and that this was very much needed, so as to put the Rift in some kind of perspective, and (hopefully) reduce some of the hype that is surrounding this very respectful future product. So, I offered to give a talk. It was a very well run event at the Microsoft NERD Center, right next to MIT, with about 1,000 attendees, 10 (or so) Rift demos by local indie game companies, a demo of the newest 1080p Rift, and about 10 people from Oculus, including Palmer Luckey.

After everything, there are some things that are nagging me about the Rift, and the prospects for its success. I tried to spell some of these things out in my talk, and was able to chat with Palmer somewhat about them, but I feel like they are still open problems. So here they are in no particular order, out perhaps in the more-pressing things are first.

  1. The fact that the Rift is so immersive (blocking out all of the real world) present problems for lone gamers in terms of being able to access things in the real world around them. For example, it is very hard to put your fingers on the WASD keys and mouse. Using a game controller helps this, but with the additional interest around using the Rift with other “new” interface devices, such as the Razer Hydra, the only way to see things is to take off the Rift. Previous HMDs (such as the Glasstron, VFX1, and z800, had a way to flip-up the display to see the real world. I think Oculus VR needs to come up with a solution to this.
  2. Cybersickness is still a big problem with the Rift, and though they are working hard to reduce latency, it has been shown for MANY years that users adapt to prolonged sessions in HMDs. My worry is that gamers are going to spend LOTS of time inside, then come out and drive, walk down stairs, etc., and that there will be accidents. Back in the day (circa 1997), whenever we did human subjects testing with HMDs, we had to include in our IRB plans how much time we would be keeping subjects in the lab before discharging them to their own recognizance. Is anyone talking about this in the area of widespread use of consumer HMDs?
  3. I’m also a little skeptical about what will happen when the “Wow!” factor of the Rift wears off. The release of both the Wii Remote and Kinect were met with equal amounts of discussion about how each would fundamentally change the way people game. The more common result has been that instead of, for example, players continuing to stand up and swing their WiiMotes like real tennis racquets to play Wii Tennis, they instead sat on the couch and flicked their wrists, or worse yet, stopped playing these “realistic interaction” games altogether. Will players (again) find the drawbacks of total immersion outweighing the benefits?

Having said all this, as a VR researcher I can’t deny my ELATION for the impact a low-cost, lightweight, high-resolution, wide-field-of-view, low-latency will have on my own VR research. I will definitely be buying several of them, as I did with the z800. I only hope I can get my hands on the number I need, as this will clearly be a HOT item.

Palmer’s raw enthusiasm is so infectious that it is hard NOT to get on the Rift bandwagon, and I was an original supporter of the Rift kickstarter campaign. Having seen SO many low-cost HMD makers and models come and go (which was a big part of my talk), I wonder if the Rift will be able to make it. I hope so.

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The crowd waiting for Palmer’s Keynote.

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An attendee trying the 1080p Rift.