How Oculus VR’s new headset, Crescent Bay, is shaping unreality
The Oculus Rift DK2 headset – an enormous, game-changing improvement over Oculus VR’s first development kit from 2012 – is in the process of reaching developers and consumers, but it’s already outdated.
Cosying your eyeballs up against the optics of the Oculus Rift DK2 headset can be like strapping on Keanu Reeves’ headmounted display in 1995 cyberpunk flick Johnny Mnemonic. It’s virtual reality, all right, but it’s VR through the lens of lowbudget ’90s CGI. In comparison, Oculus VR’s new prototype headset, Crescent Bay, shown off at the Oculus Connect event in Los Angeles, is more like becoming Keanu Reeves in The Matrix.
At Connect, the VR company’s first developer event, CEO Brendan Iribe talked about “presence” in VR: that sensation of reality that the virtual still can’t quite match. Presence isn’t about photorealistic graphics, but rather tricking the senses and making them buy into the headset’s array of pixels. “Presence” may have seemed like a marketing buzzword during the new era of VR development, but using a Crescent Bay unit brings its importance into focus.
The new prototype is significantly lighter than previous Rifts, with a simplified strap system that tightens over the top of the head with a strip of velcro. A pair of vintage-Walkman-style earphones descends flimsily from the sides of the prototype, but they remove the awkward which-do-I-put-on-first dance of Rift and headphones. More importantly, the earphones signal a new focus for Oculus on positional audio, a key ingredient in achieving presence in VR. Oculus has licensed RealSpace 3D’s audio technology, a library that allows
Oculus VR unwraps version three of its Rift headset, but still isn’t ready to talk about a final consumer model
game developers to program positional sound data for Rift applications. The biggest changes to Oculus Rift are inside. The display now runs at 90Hz, ramped up from the DK2 unit’s 75Hz. It’s also a higher-resolution display, its pixel density improved enormously over DK2’s 1920x1080 array (which, split between two sections, makes for a resolution of 960x1080 per eye).
The original Oculus Rift development kit offers an even lower 720p resolution, and suffers greatly from a ‘screen-door’ effect thanks to the black grid separating each pixel in the low-density array. Using DK2, by comparison, is like staring through a much finer mesh, and in Crescent Bay the grid is nearly invisible. Though Oculus VR has not confirmed its precise resolution, the new display seems better even than the 2560x1440 display of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4, the phone powering Oculus’s mobile project, GearVR. Part of that clarity, says Oculus VP of product Nate Mitchell, is down to the improved optics that sit between eyeball and display. He won’t disclose the exact resolution, but Crescent Bay may be using a 2560x1440 display, with some clever engineering in the lenses minimising the screen-door effect.
Mitchell is keen to talk about the “experience” of Crescent Bay rather than its specific components. Again, it sounds like it may be marketing spin, until you actually put on the headset and experience the combination of the clearer optics, denser display, positional audio, and 360-degree head tracking, which is the last major addition to Crescent Bay. LEDs on the front, sides and rear strap of the headset allow a positional tracking camera to follow your every head
John Carmack, Brendan Iribe and Michael Abrash gave keynotes at Connect, Oculus VR’s dev conference