January has been an incredible month for virtual reality. Between the debut of the Crystal Cove prototype, numerous awards at CES, Valve’s VR demo, the inspiring Steam Dev Days presentations, and an amazing reception at the Sundance Film Festival, it’s becoming clear to the world that virtual reality is on the horizon, and it’s going to change everything.
The Crystal Cove Prototype
Starting with CES, we revealed a new Oculus Rift feature prototype, codenamed “Crystal Cove”. Crystal Cove is the most immersive and comfortable hardware that we’ve shown to date, and demonstrates two key features that we’ll be including consumer Rift: positional tracking and low persistence.
The result is a powerful sense of presence -- the magic of being completely convinced that you’re actually someplace else.
We’ve said before that precise, low-latency positional tracking is a requirement for great VR since the virtual world can be accurately synced to the player’s real world movements. Crystal Cove introduces a new 6-degrees-of-freedom positional tracking system, resulting in a much more comfortable and immersive experience.
It also opens up completely new opportunities for gameplay that would be impossible without position data (eg. peeking around corners or out windows, examining an object from multiple angles, and dodging bullets a la ‘The Matrix’).
Crystal Cove’s positional tracking system is optically-based, with an external camera tracking LEDs on the the headset. By referencing the LEDs on the headset against a virtual model of the headset, it can determine the Rift's location in physical space. The system was designed by the Oculus team, with a custom vision pipeline that we’ll continue to optimize and build on.
Crystal Cove also incorporates “low persistence” display technology, which we see as another major breakthrough for VR.
Low persistence delivers the most comfortable and natural experience yet by eliminating motion blur and judder, which also increases the visual stability of the scene. It doesn’t sound very flashy on paper, but it makes a huge impact on immersion that can only be appreciated once you see it firsthand.
By driving a modified OLED display at a high refresh rate and only illuminating the pixels on the screen for a tiny fraction of each frame length, low-persistence eliminates the outdated display data that your eyes would normally see between frames.
If you’re interested to learn more about the technical and physiological details that make low persistence so key, Michael Abrash at Valve has a great blog post explaining the technique in more detail: http://blogs.valvesoftware.com/abrash/down-the-vr-rabbit-hole-fixing-judder/
We’d like to throw a special thank-you to Valve for their collaboration and support in developing the tech behind Crystal Cove.
UE4 Strategy VR and EVE: Valkyrie
We showcased two demos on Crystal Cove: Unreal Engine 4 Strategy VR and EVE: Valkyrie, both optimized for positional tracking and low persistence.
UE4 Strategy VR is a tower-defense game, where players take on the Lava Lord in a match-up that pits waves of dwarves against their arrow, cannon, and flame towers. The demo is perfect for showcasing positional tracking, where players can actually lean over and into the board to get a better look at the scene, or peek around a wall to look at oncoming attackers.
A huge thank you to the amazing team at Epic Games, particularly Nick Whiting, Alan Willard, and Nick Donaldson, who designed, built, and optimized the demo from top to bottom for CES!
The EVE: Valkyrie demo was built on an early build of the game that was originally shown at Gamescom. Valkyrie continues to be one of the hands-down, best Rift experiences, and we’d like to thank the entire team at CCP for making such a great game. We’re looking forward to Valkyrie’s bright future!
Highlights from CES
It's truly hard to capture the excitement and momentum around Oculus at CES, but Crystal Cove was a huge hit at the show, taking home more than 10 awards, including Best in Show from Engadget (the official awards for CES), the Verge, and Wired.
Winning Best in Show marks a huge victory for VR, especially being selected from thousands of incredible products at the biggest consumer electronics show in the world.
Photo courtesy of Engadget.
A few of the press highlights from the week:
"I Wore the New Oculus Rift and I Never Want to Look at Real Life Again" - Gizmodo
"Mere Words Can't Do Justice To How Awesome The New Oculus Rift Gaming Headset Is — And I Don't Even Like Video Games" - Business Insider
Steam Dev Days
After CES, we headed to Steam Dev Days in Seattle, where thousands of the industry’s best game developers gathered to discuss the future of Steam and VR.
Palmer gave a talk, providing his top suggestions for aspiring VR game developers in 25-short minutes. All of the talks were recorded, and Valve has said they’ll share them in the next few weeks, so stay tuned for the video in a future update.
Michael Abrash also gave a powerful talk on the future of virtual reality that you can read here:
The inspiring start to his talk:
"Compelling consumer-priced VR hardware is coming, probably within two years.
It’s for real this time – we’ve built prototypes, and it’s pretty incredible.
Our technology should work for consumer products.
VR will be best and will evolve most rapidly on the PC.
Steam will support it well.
And we think it’s possible that it could transform the entire entertainment industry."
- Michael Abrash
We couldn’t agree more.
Valve also shared their VR tech demo with developers at the show. We’ve tried it, and it really is one of the best VR experiences in the world. As Palmer mentioned during his talk, their demo sets the bar for virtual reality “presence”, and we intend to deliver that quality of experience to the world with the consumer Rift.
Building the Future
If you're interested in being part of that future, building and shipping the world’s best consumer VR platform, we're always looking for the brightest engineers in:
...and just about everything else too.
There’s a lot more exciting advancements ahead for VR in 2014. Thanks again for your support -- We're just getting started, and none of this would be possible without you.
We’ll see you in the Rift!
-- The Oculus Team