Oculus Rift: First Impressions


I had the pleasure of trying out the Oculus Rift for the first time last night at IGDA-TC. I spent about 3-5 minutes in the so-called Tuscany Demo of 90 year old grandmother tries the Rift fame. The experience was significant enough that I felt like I should record some thoughts on it for myself, and I figured I might as well share them. I also found the experience very inspirational. I've written up some of the ideas and directions that sprung to mind in a separate post, Oculus Rift: First Inspirations.

I was actually sitting in a chair at a bar when I put the Rift on. My big glasses got in the way a little bit, and made what I'm otherwise convinced would be a remarkably light and comfortable headset put some pressure on my face. This is easily fixed with contacts, smaller glasses, or cheap plastic lens inserts that pre-bend the light for my correction. Anyway, a new world instantly came into focus. The 3d effect was instantaneous and completely transparent to the experience, and the immersion was total. Your entire field of view is filled with the environment. It's not like watching a 3d movie at all. It's like being inside a 3d game, but with better 3d. The head tracking was for my purposes flawless. I immediately and quite naturally found myself turning my head to look around this new world I was in. I looked straight down... no feet! I guess for some people it is quite unsettling to be missing their body. For me, it just made me aware again that I was sitting in a chair looking at a simulation. It broke the illusion for a split second.

The display isn't very high resolution, but this is a dev version and the consumer version will be better. You can see the pixels, well really the lines between the pixels, which is sometimes called the screen door effect. My awareness of the pixels and this grid would come and go as I looked around and moved around the environment. It was pretty easy to forget it was there, but I definitely look forward to much higher resolutions in the future.

It was very hard not to lose yourself in the experience. I kept forgetting myself and where I was. I wouldn't quite say that this other place I found myself in felt real, but I also wouldn't say that it felt not real. And I felt like I wasn't exactly sitting in a chair in a bar anymore.

It was an intensely private and personal experience at times. I was seeing something with my own eyes. I know that sounds silly. I always see everything with my own eyes. I don't quite have the words for it. When I'm watching a TV, I know that somebody else is looking on and seeing the same thing. When I'm walking along a lake, looking at a nice sunset in the real world, I turn my head to look at my companion and see their face and their eyes, but I can't be sure what it is they are really seeing. They aren't seeing the same exact sunset framed for us both by the TV. They are having their own personal experience and perception of that actual sunset. The Rift experience is like that. So much so that it was disturbing when others standing around me reacted to what I was looking at or where I was going. They weren't standing there next to me in Tuscany, so how could they know what I'm seeing? If they can see through my eyes, can they hear my thoughts? That honestly went through my mind. It felt like a bit of an invasion that others could see through my eyes.

As I said, it was easy to forget myself in the experience. I was not wearing headphones, but the bar noise still seemed to disappear at times. It was very weird for my ears to be getting 3d audio from the bar environment while my eyes got 3d visuals from Tuscany. It created a somewhat out of body experience, like one of the two places wasn't real, or I wasn't really there, but I wasn't sure which. At one point I decided to wave a hand in front of my face, figuring it would be fun to not see my arm in the virtual environment. My real arm knocked into the Rift's cabling hanging in the space in front of me, which was one of the more uniquely bizarre experiences I've ever had, and it had me laughing awkwardly in equal parts discomfort and joy. My hand explored the cable in front of me, that wasn't really there in my Tuscan world. Touching a computer cable, something I've done thousands of times, was amazing again. How weird is that?

Later, when I was entering the rustic building in this Tuscan landscape, I instinctively reached out to touch a potted plant I was about to accidentally run into. Oh yeah, it's not really there. I'm only in a simulation. That was pretty great, too. Taking the Oculus Rift off again and emerging back into the real world was another unique experience. It's something I encourage you to experience for yourself.

The Rift isn't perfect. The resolution isn't great. It had really great tracking for head rotation, but it doesn't have tracking out-of-the-box for body movement, so if you lean your view doesn't change. There are other devices that you can combine with the Rift to get a more complete experience, and I'd really like to try that. The biggest make or break for the Rift is actually going to be content. Poorly designed environments and movement can quickly lead to making the user either uncomfortable or significantly ill. Serious motion sickness. That said, it can only get better, and it is already remarkable as a dev kit with raw potential. I would say if there's one thing that will prevent an entire revolution of immersive display technology it will be that the interesting and compelling content makes the vast majority of people motion sick. If we can find a way past that, the Oculus and its future competitors are going to be a very big deal.

Check out my follow up post where I talk about some of my aspirations and inspirations from this experience: Oculus Rift: First Inspirations.