Monday, February 22, 2016

Reasons not to pre-order an Oculus Rift

Joel Hruska, one of my favorite tech commentators, wrote an article on why you shouldn't order a Vive which is something of a follow-up to his earlier article on why you shouldn't pre-order an Oculus Rift. There are many good reasons to avoid pre-ordering, but the ones he gave were bad. But there are good reasons to avoid it:
  1. The Early Adopter premium. The official story is that even the $600+ price on Rift is subsidized. Maybe, but it's basically made up of smartphone components and low-cost HMDs should be rolling out in a couple years just as we saw with smartphones.

    Is the build of materials for Rift really over $600? The Samsung Galaxy S6 has a BOM totalling $290. Throw in another $85 panel and the cost is still under $400. I don't see a way, even with custom lenses, that the other parts make up $200. Then again, the recently announced Vive is $800+ although the Vive also comes with wireless tracking and custom controllers.
  2. Lots of tinkering required. At launch there will be many VR experiences that will work out of the box. After all, there have been years of development on the DK1 and DK2 which make it a proven platform. However, VR support in current games is going to be uneven.

    For instance, Oculus had support for Unreal Engine 3 and then dropped it. So the chance VR will come to Killing Floor 2, a game I've been playing lately, is slim. It's possible to use VR with many games but in a mode that basically simulates a 360 degree monitor, i.e., no depth perception. It's still neat, but in a TrackIR plus multiple monitors way.
  3. Steep hardware requirements. This depends on application, of course. Minecraft for Windows 10 should be a great experience on the recommended hardware. But being able to maintain a 90fps minimum is more important since lower framerates can lead to motion sickness.

    There is no system in the world that can run ARK: Survival Evolved at 2160x1200 @ 90fps minimum at moderate quality settings. So even though the title has nominal VR support, it will be at settings that make the game look primitive.

    2160x1200 is even somewhat of a lowball figure as Rift renders in even higher resolution to account for necessary distortion calculations. A Valve developer figures 378 Million pixels/sec is the required rate ~ analogous to 1920x1080 @ 182fps minimum. This is absolutely doable on the Rift recommended minimum specs in somewhat older titles but difficult with newer ones. That said, VR is a prime candidate for SLI setups and 1920x1080 @ 91fps is much more attainable with today's graphics cards.

    The situation only gets better if we downgrade our expectations to the DK2's 75Hz refresh rate.
  4. Insufficient headset specs. Maybe 90fps is enough to eliminate motion sickness for most, but I can imagine that might not be enough for some people. This isn't new. Back when CRTs were the typical monitor technology 60Hz, caused headaches for some. I remember feeling motion sickness when I played Wolfenstein 3D and Doom for the first time.

    Even though my first experience with DK1 was positive, there were many things I wished it had. Resolution and field of view will have plenty of room for improvement over the coming years but even when they are high enough, a lack of haptic feedback and things like eye focusing on objects will prevent full immersion.

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