Testing the 'huge breakthrough' in new Oculus Rift VR prototype

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Testing the 'huge breakthrough' in new Oculus Rift VR prototype
The newest internal prototype of the Oculus Rift, codenamed Crystal Cove, adds positional tracking, low persistence and an OLED screen, iterating on the 1080p HD developer model out in the wild. Positional tracking is a straightforward addition that players have been looking out for, and the Oculus achieves this with an external camera that faces the player and watches a series of LEDs on the front of the headset. With positional tracking, players are able to lean down and read text or get a closer look at objects in front of them.

Low persistence is a trickier beast to tackle, but it basically means the Oculus Rift has erased motion blur, allowing the player to move his head and keep his eyes fixed on one point, as humans do in reality. The Crystal Cove prototype reduces latency to 30 milliseconds from 60 milliseconds in the HD dev kit, though Oculus VR's goal for a consumer product is 16 to 20 milliseconds.

"You want to be able to stay focused on something," Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe said during a hands-on demo at CES. "If there's text in the world and you're looking at it, you want to be able to move while you stare at that text. Your head is always moving. So it actually ends up being really key – it's a breakthrough. This is a huge breakthrough."

The Oculus Rift team works with Valve to solve some of the headset's technical issues, and the low persistence solution spawned in part from Valve R&D man Michael Abrash. Abrash previously co-created Quake at id Software with John Carmack, who is Chief Technology Officer at Oculus VR."Abrash wrote about it recently in his blog," Iribe said. "It's something Valve has spent a lot of time researching, along with us, and they were certainly very instrumental in helping us reach this point of having a low persistence experience. And we just love those guys."

I played through two demos with the Crystal Cove prototype strapped to my face, and the difference between high persistence and low persistence gameplay was astounding. In high persistence mode, I shook my head back and forth in the cockpit of a spaceship, and watched the neon screens and dials around me blur to obscurity. With low persistence engaged, the world snapped into sharper contrast and when I shook my head, I was still able to read the text projected in front of me.

Also, playing a game with Oculus Rift is still awesome.

The Crystal Cove build is strictly a prototype for now, not yet a dev kit model. Oculus VR has shipped more than 45,000 of its original dev kits and has more than 50,000 developers populating its forums. Thousands of developers are actively working with the Oculus Rift to create immersive games and apps, Developer Relations Director Aaron Dean Davies said. This includes Oculus VR and Carmack himself.

"You have to make a game while you're making the tech," Iribe said. "It's been id's philosophy in the past and it's been John Carmack's philosophy. You gotta eat your own dog food and develop internal content also, at least highly polished technical demos that allow us to try these new features .... When we catch on to a nugget that seems like something that should become a full experience, we may end up doing it ourselves, we may end up putting it out and working with a third party studio that does it.

"We have a long list of what John will be announcing in the future."

Iribe said there should be an influx of software developers beginning work at Oculus VR over the next six to 12 months, in a push to get the "smartest 200 people in the game industry."

"I wouldn't be surprised if we did more and more internal development," Iribe said.
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