More Tools for Great VR
The last few weeks have been incredibly busy at Oculus HQ while we put the finishing touches on the entire platform: the Rift development kit, the Oculus SDK, and the Developer Center. As we close in on the much anticipated launch, things really couldn’t be more exciting.
There’s plenty of good news to share, so let’s dive right in.
Latency - VR’s Nemesis
This past Friday, John Carmack, legendary technical director at id Software, published an excellent write-up detailing the challenges around latency, particularly for virtual reality systems. You can read the full post here.
Minimizing latency is crucial to immersive VR. We’ve touched on this topic in previous updates (see: “Building a Sensor for Low Latency VR”).
A quick recap: for the Rift, we define latency as the time between the movement of the player’s head and the display updating with the image for the new head orientation. The more we can minimize latency in Oculus-ready games, the more immersive and comfortable the experience will be for players.
Nikolay and Palmer doing a practical review of sensor algorithms.
Early on in the Rift’s development, we frequently measured latency using the high-speed camera technique Carmack describes. High speed cameras can provide very accurate measurements, but the major downside is the time-consuming nature of the process. Carefully moving and setting up the camera system each time we want a measurement isn’t practical for an entire engineering team.
After a few weeks, it became clear that we needed an easier way to quantitatively measure the latency of Oculus-ready games, plus track and analyze those measurements. That way, we’d immediately know whether a hardware or software change was moving us in the right direction.
The Oculus Latency Tester is Born
We decided it made sense to build a new latency measurement tool that would:
- Be quick and easy.
- Provide accurate and precise latency measurements for the Rift (simulating actual use).
After a handful of prototype and design iterations, we are proud to present: the Oculus Latency Tester!
Design concepts and functional prototypes of the Oculus Latency Tester.
How it Works
The goal was to build something incredibly easy for engineers to use that still provided very precise measurements. We came up with a design where the Latency Tester is inserted into the left eyecup slot of the development kit (after the actual eyecup has been removed). A small button on the top of the device is used to trigger the measurement.
Nirav working on the schematics for the Latency Tester.
When the button is pressed, the device sends a message out over USB. This message is received by the SDK, which directs the game engine to composite a colored square on the current frame. A color sensor in the Latency Tester, positioned just above the screen, constantly samples the area where the square will be displayed, waiting for it to be drawn.
The color sensor under a microscope.
As the colored square scans onto the LCD, this sensor watches for the light level to pass a visual threshold. When that threshold is reached, the Latency Tester reports the total elapsed time back to the computer (and for the production version, on its own 7-segment display), providing an accurate measurement of latency.
Functional prototypes of the Oculus Latency Tester.
We designed the system so that it can also be started by sending the Latency Tester a message from software (rather than a button press). This means more flexibility in how we measure latency from the game engine to photons. For example: we can measure the latency from the last point in software that camera orientation and position are updated before rendering with just a few lines of code.
A prototype Latency Tester with the development kit.
We’ve been using the Latency Tester internally for a few weeks, and it’s helped us measure and reduce latency in all our demos. We think it’s a fantastic tool for Oculus developers looking to get the best possible experience from their virtual reality games. And because we’re enjoying it so much, we decided it's worth sharing.
Design concepts for the Latency Tester.
As a result, we’re manufacturing a limited run of Oculus Latency Testers, which will be available to order on our website. We’ve also made the Latency Tester software framework an official part of the SDK. We don’t have a firm ship date yet (we’re still investigating manufacturing), but the price will be under $100.
If you’re interested, you can reserve your spot in line right now by signing up at http://www.oculusvr.com/pre-order/latency-tester/. Reserving a spot in line also helps us gauge how many we should be making!
The Development Kit Shipping Schedule
A short and sweet update on the shipping schedule: we still expect to start shipping development kits in mid-March.
We’ll make a Kickstarter announcement as soon as boxes start leaving the warehouse. The goal is to have the first batch of kits in people’s hands before the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco March 25-29.
The shirts and posters are being finalized now and will ship out soon. Sorry for the delay!
The Top-Secret Oculus Partner Preview
A few of you may have heard the rumors, but last week we launched the Oculus Partner Preview. The preview is a beta test of the core systems: packaging, inbound/outbound shipping, tracking, customs, the Rift development kit, the Oculus SDK, and the Oculus Developer Center.
Brant unboxing the first shipment of pilot run units.
The participants are a healthy mix of veteran AAA and indie game developers who’ve agreed to help us improve the Oculus developer experience by digging in early using the pilot run units with an preview build of the SDK. They’re also close friends of Oculus, which makes them perfect victims for testing the early tech.
All this means a much smoother experience when you dive in with your own development kit. Special thanks to those unnamed developers out there helping us with the preview!
We’re dropping by SXSW Interactive for an exciting panel discussion with a few of the industry’s leading game designers. The topic? Virtual reality and the future of the games industry.
Virtual Reality: The Holy Grail of Gaming
Friday, March 8 @ 6:00pm (Palmer Events Center)
Virtual reality has the potential to change the way we change games forever. We’ll chat with Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus, Paul Bettner, CEO of Verse HQ, Chris Roberts, creator of Wing Commander, and Cliff Bleszinski, industry veteran, about whether virtual reality is finally ready for prime-time, why developers should be excited, and what gamers should look forward to.
If you’re already attending SXSW Interactive, make sure to swing by, check out the panel, say Hello!
Oculus in the New York Times
Nick Wingfield from the New York Times recently came by the office to see a demo and meet the team. We had a great conversation about Oculus, the Rift, Kickstarter, and the future of VR.
Lo and behold-- on Monday, February 18th, the piece ended up on the front of the New York Times Business Day section! You can read the full article here.
It’s pretty incredible to be reading about Oculus in the New York Times when we completed the Kickstarter campaign just six short months ago. Thank you again for making all of this possible!
The Team Continues to Grow!
The team has been expanding rapidly as we ramp up on the research, design, and engineering for the consumer Rift. We just broke the 20-employee mark and we’re still growing! Here are a few new positions we’re looking to fill:
Nirav, Steve, and Mike working on sensor algorithms.
You can check out all the latest job postings at https://www.oculusvr.com/careers. If you think you’d be a good fit or you know someone who might be, please let us know!
Thank you again for all the support. We’ll see you in the game!
-- Palmer and the Oculus team