Virtual is Reality!

Hi Everyone!

It’s been such a long time since I wrote anything for my blog, but the truth is there’s been nothing interesting enough to write about until today…

I’ve been looking at the various Virtual Reality products for a little while, I was particularly interested in the Oculus Rift as I play a lot of racing Games on my Computer.  I am also a fan of First Person Shooters so I was keen to see what all the fuss was about around these new VR devices.

Unable to wait for the consumer products I opted for an Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2, the consumer product is due in Q1 2016, you can read more about the company here: https://www.oculus.com/en-us/dk2/

My DK2 arrived yesterday, I bought it used from eBay as apparently it’s difficult to buy directly from Oculus unless you are a developer/company.  Prices can be quite high on eBay but I was lucky enough to get mine about 1/3 off the going rate.

 

dk2-product

 

The package includes the headset, positional tracker, two sets of lenses, power adapter in case you need to hang USB devices off the headset and cables to connect the headset and tracker to your PC.  You need two USB ports and a HDMI port on your PC although you can use a DVI-HDMI converter if you only have a spare DVI port.  I recommend as fast a system as you can afford since VR is very system intensive.

I currently run dual graphics cards and 3 monitors as I play games in 2D Surround currently, I have a spare HDMI port on the second graphics card so I was all set.

Below how I was playing racing games before VR:

 

As mentioned you need a powerful PC to get the most out of VR as it renders the image twice and you need to achieve over 75fps to enjoy smooth tracking and gameplay.   My System specs are AMD FX-8350, 8gb Ram and 2 GTX660’s in SLI.  I’ve found this setup a little weak for some VR stuff, I will comment more on that later, but I have a second PC running an i5 and GTX970 which will be more suitable, however that PC is running Windows 10 which isn’t officially supported yet.

So for the Rift right now, I have my setup connected as follows:

GPU 1

DVI – Monitor 1

HDMI – Monitor 2

GPU 2

DVI – Monitor 3

HDMI – DK2

Using the NVidia control panel I can switch between 3 screens in 2D surround in SLI (3 screens make up one large resolution) or I can have 3 independent screens (SLI off) plus the Rift and finally, my preferred for using the Rift ‘Max 3D Performance’ which combines the two GPU’s outputting to only 1 card, this defaults to GPU 2 which is useful as the Rift is connected here!  This means I have my center screen and rift connected and ready to go.

Setting up was pretty straight forward, a case of installing the drivers and when I first connected the DK2 turned on I set it to extend mode (in your screen resolution settings) and set it as the monitor to the left, 1080p Portrait.  Next I ran the Oculus Utility and set myself a profile, this is very important as incorrect settings can make use uncomfortable.  I then tested the built in Demo which is just a Desk in front of you but if gives you an immediate preview of what to expect from VR.

 

Screenshot-2014-10-23-13.01.35

 

My friend Justin (http://justinvaughan4.wix.com/justinsamigastuff) has been trying out the Oculus Rift DK1 and told me that he could not explain what it’s like to use the VR and I would have to try for myself, and he is totally correct.  I have seen Video’s and many images like the above but nothing really gives you an insight of what it’s like to be totally immersed in the 3D scene.

The first piece software I loaded up was a game from the 90’s, Duke Nukem 3D!  What I experienced was totally unexpected, it really felt like I was standing there on the rooftop as Duke said those famous words…

 

93172-Duke_Nukem_3D_(1996)(3D_Realms)-6

 

If you have a fast PC you can use the high resolution texture pack but I was keen to try it as it was back in the day and I really did not expect it to be so amazing, apart from the 2D characters the 3D completely surrounds you.

The next piece of software I wanted to try was Assetto Corsa, my favorite racing game as you saw me playing above, so I was very exited to try this.  However this is where the the concept can fall down as some software is tricky to use with the Rift due to the 2D menu’s being impossible to read in VR and Assetto Corsa requires that you have your Rift set as the main Monitor so you are forced to try closing one eye to navigate menu’s or a better solution is to use broadcasting software such as OBS to mirror the Rift screen so that you can setup your game and then once you hit ‘start’ don the headset for gameplay!

The following screen grabs will give you an idea of what it’s like working with OBS, it’s also really useful to give spectators a glimpse of what is going on inside the headset.

screen1_1024

screen2_1024

I noticed that this can cause a bit of a drop in FPS so if you need a performance boost just stop the preview during sessions.

Driving around Monaco in an open cockpit race car was amazing, riding the curbs and glancing the barriers felt extremely real and I was looking into the corners, watching my front inside wheel hit the apex.  All of course after I spent a good 20 minutes just looking around the car!  It’s fantastic how the details jump out at you, inside road cars you almost want to reach out and touch the dash or controls, I was sitting in an Alfa Romeo GTA and almost reached down to wind the window open!

To give an idea of performance requirements, on Assetto Corsa to get a smooth and consistent frame rate of 75fps I had to lower all the details to minimum, I badly want to try this on my GTX970!  Don’t worry even with the most basic of settings the 3D world is so immersive that you really don’t notice the missing details however I am tempted to just chop in the two 660’s and grab a GTX980 as my other PC being connected to the lounge TV isn’t the most appropriate setup for VR, especially racing games where you want to be seated with a wheel and pedals.

So I’ve probably made it all sound a bit easy?  I want to give a few truths as it took me a good few hours to get my head around everything, especially using the broadcast software to help me with the menu’s.  I’m sure however they will find solutions to these issues for the consumer releases, they will have to as I couldn’t imagine the average xBoxOne user coping well with and they will have to work on performance if the consoles are going to be able to cope, I found when the frames dropped I got motion sickness very quickly, this was especially apparent when I tried FPS’ such as Half Life 2.

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I must add here whilst I’m on the topic of HL2 that this game is absolutely fantastic in VR, if you have a Rift you must try it! Steam makes using the VR a little easier as you can run Steam in VR and go to your games directly from VR without removing the headset, it’s great for games like Half Life 2 and Project Cars which support the Rift natively, the only small issue is the menu’s can still be a little tricky to navigate, even though they display correctly on the headset it feels unnatural.  I found for Project Cars at least it was easier to use my Game Pad to navigate the menu system and then switch to the wheel for racing.

So would I recommend the Oculus Rift?  Absolutely, I’m totally blown away by it.  It will certainly be interesting to see how the other VR options come along and unless you are like me and impatient you will probably be best advised to wait for the consumer products to be released as I’m sure thing will move forward a lot in the next 6 months.

I’m sold on VR, I’m heading back into the virtual world now, but I will leave you with a couple of applications and demos that you should try and some links, the first of those is Virtual Desktop.  This is very neat and a great experience:

http://www.vrdesktop.net/

Open Broadcast Software:

https://obsproject.com/

Software download portals:

https://share.oculus.com/

http://www.riftenabled.com/admin/apps/

I highly recommend Discovering space:

https://share.oculus.com/app/discovering-space

DukeVR:

http://www.malcolm-s.net/dukevr/

Thanks for reading =D