Today I took a moment to install and try out the game changing Oculus Rift. With education in the Built Environment disciplines spending much of its endeavour in the practice of designing potential spaces – being able to experience them seems like a no-brainer. At the moment we primarily do this in our heads from stills, some get us to video and others use Game Engines like CryEngine to deliver a real-time experience. Still fewer take that real-time idea to a 3D screen and the leap to Virtual Reality has always been a very big one.

The glasses I have used of late were like watching a 3D TV, a screen in the distance and not delivering the full field of view and elegant head tracking. Well, enter the Oculus Rift that ballooned on Kickstarter and the Dev Kits are now available.

The Faculty (Built Environment UNSW) has a few already and it was a pretty simple setup and install of the base functionality. The hardware itself is very slick and feels quite high-grade for a dev unit. once you get used to how close the lenses are meant to be to your eyes it is immediately impressive how vast the display is to our eyes. Bringing up the Oculus World Demo (Tuscan inspired mini level) we get the full effect, looking around by moving our head is very natural and being able to look up through the trees or over a balcony railing is just so immersive. Once you find your mouse and the movement keys you are off and exploring using a combo of movement and looking about in a way that it seems silly we haven’t had this before now.

The experience of being in a world and really feeling like you are in it with the VR headset is impressive. Add to this moving through that environment while our actual bodies don’t move means we have to deal with motion sickness – zipping up and down those stairs and even just general movement was enough to make me queezy. This is a hard thing to eliminate as the logic will always be there, we ‘see’ movement but our body doesn’t ‘feel’ it. With a conventional screen the illusion isn’t all encompassing – now it is. [detailed look at this issue]

The dev unit isnt without fault of course. The current 1280×800 screen res means those pixels are definitely visible and does make for a blocky experience in many ways. The production versions are meant to be higher res, but perhaps the larger issue is the gap between pixels is quite apparent creating a quite marked grid across our vision. If future versions could make those gaps vanish then even if our res doesnt go up that much the effect will be more transparent to us as we run around.
It might be handy to have the lens distance adjustable with a nob rather than needing a coin…

All up – the Oculus Rift is a remarkable thing and just so approachable and beneficial for the exploration of design concepts in the built environment disciplines. More news as I get to explore this tech further…