Video Perspective: Oculus Rift Development Kit Hands-on Preview

Manufacturer: Oculus

Our first thoughts and impressions

Since first hearing about the Kickstarter project that raised nearly 2.5 million dollars from over 9,500 contributors, I have eagerly been awaiting the arrival of my Oculus Rift development kit.  Not because I plan on quitting the hardware review business to start working on a new 3D, VR-ready gaming project but just because as a technology enthusiast I need to see the new, fun gadgets and what they might mean for the future of gaming.

I have read other user's accounts of their time with the Oculus Rift, including a great write up in a Q&A form Ben Kuchera over at Penny Arcade Report, but I needed my own hands-on time with the consumer-oriented VR (virtual reality) product.  Having tried it for very short periods of time at both Quakecon 2012 and CES 2013 (less than 5 minutes) I wanted to see how it performed and more importantly, how my body reacted to it.

I don't consider myself a person that gets motion sick.  Really, I don't.  I fly all the time, sit in the back of busses, ride roller coasters, watch 3D movies and play fast-paced PC games on large screens.  The only instances I tend to get any kind of unease with motion is on what I call "roundy-round" rides, the kind that simply go in circles over and over.  Think about something like this, The Scrambler, or the Teacups at Disney World.  How would I react to time with the Oculus Rift, this was my biggest fear... 

For now I don't want to get into the politics of the Rift, how John Carmack was initially a huge proponent of the project then backed off on how close we might be the higher-quality consumer version of the device.  We'll cover those aspects in a future story.  For now I only had time for some first impressions.

Watch the video above for a walk through of the development kit as well as some of the demos, as best can be demonstrated in a 2D plane! 

Continue on to the full story for some photos and my final FIRST impressions of the Oculus Rift!

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All of the contents come in a plastic case with handle for portability.

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The inside is packed with foam and the headset, control box, lenses and accessories.

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Looking at the front of the goggles, nothing has really changed since the demo we saw at CES in January.  The design doesn't quite match the original Kickstarter imagery but you are going to look like a dork wearing this no matter what style it had.  The unit is light though and the strap that goes over your head basically removes the weight and leaves a very balanced feel.

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Each side of the goggles has a dial to move the lenses closer to further from your eyes, depending on your face shape and if you are trying to wear glasses. 

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Here is what the inside of the goggles looks like - two separate lenses that each bring a 640x800 image to you and your peripheral vision.  The idea is to completely encompass your sight so that you truly feel immersed in the content and I have to say that was 100% the case in my usage.

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Connected to the headset is the control box, the device that takes the signal from your PC and splits it up.  There are DVI and HDMI inputs, though only one can be connected at a time.  A mini-USB port is required for communication from the Oculus Rift on-board sensors to be transmitted back to the game engine.  Also, the power connection here pushes power to the display inside the goggles.

The only drawback I see to this initial setup is that you are tethered to the PC and the length of the DVI/HDMI cable to this control box is going to be a limiting factor in some cases.  Maybe one day we'll have wireless options that can be completely free of latency and disconnect us from the PC. 

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There are controls for power, brightness and contrast on the top of the control box.

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Finally, other than the DVI/HDMI/USB cables included in the kit, there are replacement lenses for far-sighted and near-sighted users to try if they don't want to wear corrective lenses.  If you wear contacts though the pre-installed lenses meant for 20/20 vision will work just fine and that is what we went with in our initial testing.


So how did it all turn out?  The technology is still incredibly impressive and I was amazed at how easy the setup, installation and demos were to run.  The Tuscany demo provided by Oculus is very minimal but downloading the Unreal SDK and editing a single INI file resulted in several impressive demos like the ones we showed in our YouTube video above.  Head tracking works well, the latency *seems* to be pretty good to me, but this is really the only experience I have with recent VR products.

I will say that the low resolution is definitely a barrier for me.  Each eye is only seeing a 640x800 resolution in this version of the kit and that close up you can definitely see each pixel.  Even worse, this creates a screen door effect that is basically like looking through a window with a screen installed.  It's not great but you could get used to it if you had to; I am just hoping the higher resolution version of this kit is closer.

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Screen Door Effect at work - Image from

The bad news is that after just a few minutes of use I definitely felt the effects of motion sickness.  This was most apparent when I was playing the faster UT3-style map while trying to aim and move at the same time, often in different directions.  Ken noticed the same problem in his time with the Oculus Rift.  There are many theories on what might fix it including even lower latency head tracking and higher resolution images but nothing has been proven yet.  It was also suggested that I just stop being such a girl about it.

Seriously though, this is a major problem not just for me but for VR enthusiasts.  How much of the population with have these same problems and how many will be completely comfortable using the Rift?  I think as more and more of the kits from the Kickstarter ship we'll get a better picture. 

Personally, I am going to continue working with the Rift in hopes of being able to overcome the effect by brute force.  Don't worry, I'll keep the garbage can nearby just in case.

May 1, 2013 | 01:25 PM - Posted by Jon Clarke (not verified)

Interesting article! I will be curious to see whether I experience similar motion sickness when my dev kit arrives. Looking forward to seeing more coverage on the Rift!

May 1, 2013 | 01:36 PM - Posted by grommet

Nice- I really want this technology to work out. I would suggest that you try the Rift version of Mirror's edge, but I don't think that would end well for you if the UT demo makes you nauseous.

May 1, 2013 | 01:50 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Yeah, I'm thinking that would be even worse for me.  :)

May 2, 2013 | 08:22 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Try the rollercoaster.

May 1, 2013 | 03:14 PM - Posted by bystander (not verified)

I find I get nauseated playing games with poor latency if using a mouse to control the view. I assume it has a lot to do with the realism of what you see and how connected you feel to it, so it acts like motion sickness (Your body expects one motion by what you see, but your body is doing something else). The Oculus Rift has me worried on this front, as it is even more real looking.

I also did a test earlier this week to simulate some of the conditions of it with my 3D Vision setup by putting the monitor right in my face, so my whole view is taken up by the screen. I found it extremely immersive, but also found it caused me to get nauseated with the screen so close. I wonder if the Oculus Rift would as the same effect with the lenses right there. I have found a little compromise isn't so bad, and still keeps more more immersed than before.

May 1, 2013 | 02:46 PM - Posted by brisa117

Assuming they get the resolution up on the Rift, are we expecting any problems utilizing crossfire/SLI or does the PC just see it as a 3D monitor? What system did you use for you initial tests?

May 2, 2013 | 02:06 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

We used a GTX 680.  There should be no problems with SLI/CrossFire beyond normal issues.

May 1, 2013 | 02:47 PM - Posted by DangerCray (not verified)

I know without a doubt I'll get motion sickness from this device, but I am sure I'll be buying it anyways as long as I get good resolution on both eyes. I'd also want to have the ability to only control the head of my character and leave my mouse to just the torso or weapon, a control scheme similar to MechWarrior where you can look around while aiming elsewhere, though that has to do more with the game than this device.

May 1, 2013 | 02:59 PM - Posted by Rooker (not verified)

DICE got their hands on one as well. Battlefield 4 on the ocolus rift ? Maybe ?..

May 1, 2013 | 09:22 PM - Posted by Nilbog

They posted something saying they were looking for an intern to implement it into Frostbite

May 1, 2013 | 03:44 PM - Posted by bystander (not verified)

For those who want to see a little bit of what the 3D looks like, you actually can by making your eyes go crosseyed enough to see the two images as one. I find if I set back 2-3 feet from my monitor, then look at the tip of my nose, I can slowly relax my eyes until the two images for a single complete 3D image in the middle. Then you just have to keep focus like that, and you can experience the 3D effect, as if you are a little bit further away from the scene.

May 1, 2013 | 03:50 PM - Posted by bystander (not verified)

Sorry for the typos. "I can slowly relax my eyes until the two images form a single complete 3D image in the middle."

To further make it a better 3D image, you can take your hands and block out the peripheral vision a bit, by placing them on the outside of your eyes (adjust in or outward to fine too the experience).

May 1, 2013 | 04:50 PM - Posted by w_km (not verified)

This is the nauseating 3D effect. We naturally sense 3D without doing this. This just demonstrates the challenges/failings of 3D technology and the difficulty of actually reproducing human vision, even with dedicated tech hardware and software.

May 1, 2013 | 04:57 PM - Posted by bystander (not verified)

The trick I gave, lets you actually experience it to a lesser degree. 3D Vision, much like the Oculus Rift, brings a full binocular experience (the side by side cross-eyed trick does too, only it is like you are viewing it from a long ways away). It is far more immersive than 2D is. I wouldn't use it for competition, but I definitely prefer it any other time.

May 2, 2013 | 08:28 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Btw pictures for cross eyed viewing images are inverted, the right side is on the left and the left side on the right. That isn't the case for the rift.

May 2, 2013 | 09:50 AM - Posted by bystander (not verified)

It may simply be a matter of the output sent to the screen reverses them. I know any time I have 3D Vision turned off in a game that supports native 3D with it on in game, the side by side images shown are shown in a way the cross eyed trick works. It might just be the standard in how to show side by side images when 3D is off, and with the right hardware, it is inverted when turned on.

May 2, 2013 | 10:11 AM - Posted by bystander (not verified)

Or maybe it is inverted. I can't tell what it normally looks like unless there is writing on the walls.

May 1, 2013 | 04:14 PM - Posted by Randomoneh

"The idea is to >>>completely<<< encompass your sight..."

No, that's never been the idea, at least not with the Rift.

May 1, 2013 | 05:10 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I had a chance to spend some time in a B-1 simulator when I was in the Air Force. Between the simulator cockpit being mounted on hydralics and not being able to see the larger room and the feeling of pitch and yaw combined with the moving view from all the screens in place of the windows, it was easy to get a bit sick when you weren't flying the plane very well (i.e. crashing or spinning out of control.)

I can easily see your vision seeing motion all around you in the Occulus Rift conflicting with your body's knowledge that you are sitting still. That will take some time to adjust to. Maybe they should put in a panic switch that will shut off or freeze the screens until you stabilize.

I see lots of people falling out of the chairs with these things.

May 1, 2013 | 08:17 PM - Posted by Luthair (not verified)

I wonder if field of view adjustments might help personally I can't play valve games thanks to their vomit inducing fov but have no issues with other first person games.

May 1, 2013 | 09:16 PM - Posted by Nilbog

This looks really awesome! Thanks for doing the vid showing how it looks. Of course we can't see the same experience but it is still very interesting to see.

So just FYI in UDK you can enable DX11 and High graphics Settings. Obviously it won't really help with the resolution issues, but at least you could have some higher quality game assets. You might not even notice a difference

File > Switch Renderer > DirectX 11

View > Detail Mode > High

May 2, 2013 | 02:07 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Nice, thanks for the tip!

May 2, 2013 | 08:33 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I have a rift and eased my way into it.. started with some of the "walking around a room" dems. The more advanced demos like the UDK fly through and First Law (space flight sim) came a bit later. Starting with minimal time (5 min of so) then build up from that helped.. Some things still get to me like in First Law just spinning the ship left or right. If you are expecting an HD/Holodeck experience then you will be disappointed. This has been the best $300 I've spent in while and can't wait to see the next rev.

P.S. Make sure you get the eye distance right. Nothing freaks your brain out like having your eyes look in different directions :)

May 2, 2013 | 10:08 AM - Posted by freespace303 (not verified)

Insanity!!! I love it. I thought you were able to look around while your mouse controls your gun? Like you could look left and right, but your gun would keep pointing straight until you turned the mouse.

May 2, 2013 | 02:46 PM - Posted by Poci

Higher rez and Ill buy it.

May 3, 2013 | 12:10 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Regarding motion sickness, I would like to see a setup where horizontal mouse movement would adjust your direction without adjusting your view with a visual cue such as your weapon pointing the direction that your mouse points. Running forward would then move you in that direction. The down side would be that you would have to move your head to adjust your view to the new direction and the headset cable could end up becoming tangled. A wireless headset, and input devices on a swiveling chair might be ideal but I guess that has its own limitations.

May 3, 2013 | 12:53 PM - Posted by praack

ah so sad- blind as a bat and get motion sick easy....

will be interesting to watch this though and see how it develops- it will to -just unsure on the extent.

one question- this has already been through the milspec arena? or did it bypass that area for some reason?

May 20, 2013 | 06:20 PM - Posted by Davron (not verified)

I believe a lot of this is the actual control schemes that feel foreign to your body. Try this and tell me if it makes you sick even faster. Sit in a wheeled office chair and instead of just turning your head and moving forward, turn your body leaving your head mostly immobile. Do it slowly. Part of the trick is the jump in pixels between the ability to show you a difference which gives you a discrete angle changes that can be displayed. The rest I can't completely explain. A friend and I are working on interfaces that try to give the interaction more feedback, but we haven't been successful yet in reducing what I and another friend but not the one I'm working with get near instantly in some situations.

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