Third di­men­sion


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

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