The VR headset from HTC was released yesterday, at a 799 USD, not too far from it's competitor, Oculus Rift, and really seems to give the Rift some heat.
It has two very important elements lacking from other headsets: 1) Room sensors that track your movement around the room and 2) Hand controllers so you can interact and really move in the environment you're "in"
Between these two, you get "room scale VR" meaning, in case your mind was still functional and not blown to pieces after looking around a new world, you can actually move around (note: you need lots of space) this new world and interact with objects and things without pressing a pesky button to represent your hands and feet like on the cheap sets (all I can access or afford right now, no shame).
Here's a concrete example, or at least as concrete as it gets in VR. You're in a world, and there's a cute dog. You want to play with it, so you can grab a ball or stick and throw it. The dog goes after it. Happiness ensues. (View Valve video below)
All of this craziness doesn't come easily. Just like the Rift, you'll need to drop some serious cash, both for hardware and for space in your home. Recommended: PC w/ Intel Core i545-90 or AMD FX 8350 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 to get the 90 second refresh rate just like the rift. Others I've seen listed are Alienware X51 gaming PC with an Nvidia GTX 970 graphics card (1200 USD worth of plastic and semiconductors and metals)
Honestly, I'm a regular person and at the time of this writing, I have little idea what I typed in terms of computing requirements, but those things sound expensive enough for me to not buy.
According to an ign review, you'll also need a 6x12 feet space, so anyone that lives in a studio or one bedroom in Asia can just... make friends with someone that has a house. Not to worry, you can still play some games with more fulfillment than the Rift, as long as you can move your arms around comfortably.
Assuming you have all this down, you'll need to mount the senors on the wall (permanent) or keep them on stands. These are to track your head and hands. They're only 3 inch cubes so not so much of a hassle. Once you've found them a home on opposite corners of your space, you need to plug them in. Then you need to connect the two with the cable provided. To make a long story short, there's a total of five cables, three of which need to be plugged into the wall at all times. Rift has none.
-Hand controllers that actually feel like your hands in your virtual world
-Pass thru camera lets you get a glimpse into the real world when needed
-Chaperone system to alert you if you're going to collide with anything in real life
-Very high quality viewing and interactive experience
-Can do lots other sets can't
-1.2 pounds, kind of front heavy
-Frequent adjustment off the headset because it fits weird
-Lacks built in headphones (unlike Rift)
-Crazy amount of cables and power requirements and setup. A three cable bundle to your PC is a constant obstacle in your adventures
Valve's Review (hard to watch without getting jealous)
HTC Vibe Site
So much has been going on in the last few days in the VR world, it's been overwhelming. A few days ago, (3/26/16), the very first Oculus Rift was shipped, at the high but not horrifying price of 599 USD.
Immediately, those lucky enough to get their hands on a set were sharing their thoughts. From hardcore gaming community to tech writers, what seemed to be the general consensus is: the headset is awesome, it looks great, you are very much transported to another world, but for now it's only advisable for those early adopters in the gaming world. Everyone, however, agrees it's the beginning of a game changer. I've summarized my findings below.
Some issues with this version:
-Associated hardware is very costly. Will set you back another few thousand USD
-Issues of motion sickness with the headset on haven't fully been resolved
-Even at barely a pound in weight, it leaves marks on your face if worn too long, like ski goggles, maybe not such a big deal
-Isn't "room scale" meaning you're expected to be seated or standing and not move more than a few feet (don't walk around, you'll get injured like me)
-Peripheral vision is limited
-No hand controllers yet. Still interacting with games the same, old fashioned way, even if the experience is different.
-Game installation seems to be annoying and complicated
But the good parts:
-Images are very clear. You can adjust the distance between your eyes to match what yours actually are. If set up correctly, the image is incredibly clear. This is called the interpupilary distance (IPD) and effects your focus on images
-Looking around is smooth sailing. 90-frames-per-second refresh rate is very smooth and you don't get any kind of visual lag that you do with lesser equipment (which is the case with a lot of mobile VR right now)
-Great accessories. Comes with 3D Audio earphones and a controller that seem to do their jobs well
-Doesn't obstruct your mouth so you can eat and drink without taking it off (serious plus for serious gamers or entertainment consumers, though I'm not sure how you'd see what you're eating, until they figure out how to incorporate human sustenance into the view field
For more details and reviews:
Dan Stapleton, IGN
Adi Robertson, The Verge
Geoffrey Fowler, WSJ
On launch games
Oculus as a company has played a huge part of the accelerated widespread acceptance of VR. I have to admit I'm part of this group. VR has been here for a long time, but Facebook's 2014 acquisition of the Kickstarter funded company was an integral part of validating the space. Imagine like you were just doing you, and then one day Leo DiCaprio wants to hang out with you, without any change, you're suddenly more cool and accepted. Same principle of social proofing applies. Everyone loves Facebook, right, even if you don't, you still use it or at the very least know about it. Mark Z know this is the future. He's often said the mind is the next frontier.
Oculus was founded in 2012 by Palmer Luckey and Brendan Iribe in Irvine, CA. It was acquired by Facebook in 2014 for 2 billion USD.
More on Oculus
My brother got this birthday present that he couldn't figure out so I decided I would tinker with it. I've worked in tech in the past in non-technical positions but anyone not in tech in SV will assume that you are great with computers or anything related, and throw hardware problems with you as if you're a doctor and they handed you a stethoscope, with eyes that say, "do something, fix it now."
This present was Cardboard, as pictured above. (www.imcardboard.com). As you can see from the photos, the packaging is pretty, but not friendly to anyone that isn't familiar with VR. I consider myself a fairly intelligent person and had some challenges figuring it out, so did my brother, who was better in school, so even better at following instructions than me.
First Impressions: Looks
Initial impressions: wtf is this? Looks super cool, but wtf is this? I must investigate.
Let's analyze the instructions:
There are three basic steps. Super easy to follow because they are physical actions with the headset. The only instruction beyond that is to Scan your QR Code. There's a QR code on the side. I was like, ok, I will download a QR reader. Downloaded.
I try to scan it. It comes up blank. Hmmm what now? I'll go to the website.
Website tries to sell me more stuff. No salvation of any kind. Proceed to inspect packaging further, thinking, this shouldn't be that hard!
There's a symbol on the back that says "Compatible with Google Cardboard." I thought to myself, ok, so it works with it, but that doesn't mean I need it right? Whatever, I'll just download it anyway. So I downloaded Google Cardboard App from the iOs App Store, insert the phone in the headset as instructed, and was on my way to the awesome demo that Google put together.
What the Real Instructions Should Have Read:
How to Use the DSCVR Cardboard:
Step 1: Download Google Cardboard or any of the VR Apps listed on our Website (list some apps on the homepage of your site)
Step 2-4: Current steps 1-3 on the box
Step 5: Hold up the viewfinder and make sure the images are in focus. Enjoy!
Experience: How Was It?
It was amazing. I felt like I saw a new color. I felt like I saw the future. I felt like I was in the Matrix. I felt like I was 9 and it was 1997 and I was running out of websites to go to but wanted to go to more.
That's what started the love. I truly believe VR and AR are the future.
The demo was simple, you can choose from a tutorial, explorer, exhibit, urban hike, kaleidoscope, and arctic journey. The best way I can describe it is that you hold up these glasses and look around and everything is exactly as it would appear as if you were there.
Let's say we took an Urban Hike in Paris. Look to your left, some guard rails and tourists. Look up, it's the Effiel Tower, look to your right, trees, pavement and a walking path. Look behind you? Some people cuddling on a blanket (not really, but if they wanted to make it more real, then yes).
Or what if we were in the Artic? A bird pops up. You wanna know more about the bird. Why wonder when you can find out?! Move your eyesight next to the bird, press the button on the googles and violia! Instant info.
The point is, all the things we yearn for, to discover, to be, to learn, to experience, to feel, etc etc are possible. It's early. The graphics are okay.
But the point is, in the future, we don't have to wait. The future is now. Time is the only thing we can't get back; make the most of it.
Possible / Actual Cons: Kind of a pain to hold up, but you shouldn't be on there for long, which btw, I was informed after I was using it long enough to get a headache, that you're NOT SUPPOSED TO USE IT MORE THAN 15 MINUTES. Yes, that key info was also omitted from the packaging.
Investment: The price is right. I saw it's 2 USD to 30 USD! Can get up and running in minutes.
Yes, it's a nice entry level headset that got my interest piqued! Would happily give it to friend to try out.
VR & AR are for everyone.