In the year since he joined Ocu­lus VR, John Car­mack has been work­ing on GearVR, which uses the Sam­sung Galaxy Note 4 CPU, GPU and 5.7inch 2560x1440 OLED dis­play for VR. The ob­vi­ous ad­van­tage GearVR has over the PC-based Rift head­sets is porta­bil­ity; it doesn’t need to be teth­ered to a PC to run. That also lim­its its ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The den­sity of GearVR’s dis­play is an im­prove­ment over DK2, but it only re­freshes at 60Hz and lacks the cru­cial head track­ing Ocu­lus uses in DK2 and Cres­cent Bay. Sam­sung and Ocu­lus have col­lab­o­rated on soft­ware for Gear VR, which has an Xbox One-style dash­board and some sim­ple games and apps. The most en­gag­ing place you ‘inside’ 3D photo and video panora­mas. There’s no Cres­cent Bay-like pres­ence, but the apps make a good case for the power of vir­tual tourism. move­ment. The mo­ment you take a real, phys­i­cal step and feel that move­ment trans­lated into VR, you get pres­ence.

Ocu­lus used a bun­dle of minute-long demos to show off Cres­cent Bay’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties, the most pow­er­ful of which places you on the ledge of a sky­scraper over­look­ing a steam­punk-styled cityscape. Peek­ing over the edge or try­ing to step for­ward in­stantly trig­gers the same ver­tigo acro­pho­bics feel on rooftops.

Another, and by far the most charm­ing, ren­ders a tiny model town in front of you, with a minia­ture train chug­ging along a rail­way and a cute UFO wob­bling above its build­ings. Mov­ing your face close to the town feels like lord­ing over an adorable SimCity, while also pro­vid­ing a good demon­stra­tion of Cres­cent Bay’s po­si­tional audio. The noises of the city fade in and out and move around your head as you get closer and shift fo­cus from one part of the city to another.

Another demo places you inside a for­est ren­dered in sim­ple, pas­tel poly­gons with a crack­ling fire and a grazing deer a few feet away. Stand­ing still and ab­sorb­ing the am­bi­ent noise, which shifts re­al­is­ti­cally as you look around – or, even bet­ter, walk­ing through the three­d­i­men­sional space – is the clos­est tech­nol­ogy has come to repli­cat­ing the Star Trek holodeck, at least in a de­vice that almost any­one will be able to own.

‘When’ is the dif­fi­cult ques­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Mitchell, Ocu­lus VR cur­rently has no plans to sell Cres­cent Bay. De­vel­op­ers are only now re­ceiv­ing Rift DK2 units. Could Cres­cent Bay be­come a DK3 re­leased in 2015? Or is it an early ver­sion of the long-awaited con­sumer unit? If it is, it likely won’t ar­rive un­til late 2015 – Paul Bet­tner, de­vel­oper of VR plat­former Lucky’s Tale, says he plans to re­lease his game in the first half of 2015, be­fore the con­sumer head­set is avail­able. Bet­tner has com­mended Ocu­lus VR’s pur­suit of per­fec­tion, but it seems that the end of 2015 is the ear­li­est the con­sumer head­set will show up.

Even in pro­to­type form, Cres­cent Bay is the first Rift that seems ready for the masses. There are the sig­nif­i­cant tech­no­log­i­cal im­prove­ments, for starters. Faster and more ac­cu­rate po­si­tional track­ing and higher re­fresh rates min­imise the common causes of VR mo­tion sick­ness. “There are broad ranges of sen­si­tiv­i­ties [to re­fresh rate],” John Car­mack noted in his Ocu­lus Con­nect key­note. DK1’s 60Hz made almost ev­ery­one mo­tion sick. Cres­cent Bay’s 90Hz, how­ever, is fast enough to be im­per­cep­ti­ble to most users. Its ef­fect, a be­guil­ing sen­sa­tion of feel­ing truly present in a 3D en­vi­ron­ment, seems pow­er­ful enough to sell to any­one. But what will it take to turn Ocu­lus VR’s short demos into full ex­pe­ri­ences that re­ally sell the po­ten­tial of VR? As the company bar­rels ahead to­wards an even­tual con­sumer ver­sion, that task will fall to game de­vel­op­ers. Devs work­ing on games for DK2 have to con­tend with stereo­scopic ren­der­ing at 75Hz, which is far more de­mand­ing than run­ning a game at 1080p and 60fps. Cres­cent Bay runs at an even higher res­o­lu­tion and re­fresh rate. In his Ocu­lus Con­nect key­note, Ocu­lus VR chief sci­en­tist Michael Abrash noted that 90Hz VR re­quires “ef­fec­tively about six times the ren­der­ing rate of cur­rent games”. Demo units used In­tel i7 CPUs and Nvidia’s GTX 980 cards to hit 90Hz in rel­a­tively sim­ple demos.

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