Purchasing and getting an HTC VIVE is still pretty much equally hard as getting an Oculus Rift, though thankfully being a Kickstarter backer has secured an Oculus Rift earlier. So while still not having an HTC VIVE (also still not being sold to many countries around the world), I’ve had the chance to try the device and play a bit with it on a recent event where Nvidia was demonstrating their VR Funhouse demo on a GTX 1080 equipped system. After being able to play around and try some VR demos on the two devices I’m able to compare them better and to give you an idea on what you can expect and what are the differences at the moment…
The HTC VIVE is a bit bulkier and heavier VR headset compared to the Oculus Rift, but that does not seem to be a problem when using it. The VIVE headset does not come with headphones attached, so you will need to find a good pair that won’t interfere with the rest of the headset and will be comfortable. Even though the Rift comes with some sort of headphones attached, you’d probably want to detach them and still use a separate headset with it anyway. The only other major difference is the presence of a camera on the front of the HTC Vive, though I have yet to see it in action, in theory it could allow for some nice AR experiences or just to be able to switch to real world view without having to remove the headset.
The OLED displays inside both competing products does seem to be pretty much the same – 1200×1080 per eye with a 90 Hz refresh rate, pretty much the same type of lenses and you get about 110 degrees FOV. The end results is pretty much the same in terms of graphics quality and experience, and with the negative side effects minimized for both devices (it is not much harder to get dizzy using the VR headsets). So where is the major difference then? It is in the fact that the HTC Vive currently ships with controllers for each hand of the users while with the Oculus Rift you don’t get these yet and they are supposed to start shipping their touch controllers sometime by the end of the year.
The presence or the lack of hand controllers at this point in time pretty much defines major difference. For the moment the Oculus Rift provides more stationary VR experiences where you probably sit in your chair while using the device, while the HTC Vive is focusing on more interactive and “active” action where you move around. Of course when Oculus ships their touch controllers things will probably get similar for both devices, especially when developers see that there is not much point in making exclusive titles for one of the devices with the VR market still so small.
The HTC Vive does seem at this point a bit more bothersome to setup and it requires more free space around your computer, so that you will be able to move around freely without hitting obstacles. It comes with two sensors that are used to setup a “working perimeter” and track your movement in the real world and then translate this into virtual world movement. The Oculus Rift currently uses only one sensor, but the touch controllers will come with an additional sensor for better tracking, so setting up things will probably look the same for both with the hand controllers. The HTC Vive controllers do seem a bit large and not so comfortable, while the Oculus touch doe seem to be more compact and it could turn up a more convenient solution, but we’ll have to wait and see.
A bit about the Nvidia VR Funhouse demo that I’ve tried. It is a fun little demonstration of the level of interaction in the virtual world that you can achieve and it is Ok as a demonstration, but you probably will not be willing to replay it often. Not that you can since it is not yet publicly available, although it seems that Nvidia will be releasing it as a demo and in the form of a source code as well for developers. The VR Funhouse demo is quit heavy as it employs a lot of Nvidia technologies to make it look and feel as realistic as possible, maybe apart from the graphics that is a bit more cartoon-ish. Still the experience feels quite nice while you run through the various short games that you play inside the demo – hitting stuff, breaking stuff, shooting stuff, throwing stuff. It is easy and fun, though you might replay again some of the first games in order to get the hang of things initially. The only thing that felt a bit weird was the virtual world object placement relative to the hand controllers, in some of the games inside the VR Funhouse the positioning on top of the controllers made it feel a bit weird to get a good feel on where to throw the object exactly.
The other demo I’ve also tried, besides the VR Funhouse, was Tilt Btush by Google that lets you paint in 3D space. This was quite impressive when you get the hang of it, though the use of the two touch controllers for choosing tools and colors may need some getting used to. Since this demo also relies on the use of hand controllers it is only available on the HTC Vive, but it will most likely also support Oculus Rift once the touch controllers become available for it as well.
In short, there is a bit of a difference at the moment in what you can do with the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, but once the Rift gets its touch controllers available both should be pretty much on the same level. The visual quality and experience with the headset is pretty much on the same level, though still the resolution is a bit lower than it might be in order for the user not to be bothered by pixels and jaggy edges for example. For this to happen however we’ll need some more time, because the graphics processing power needs to catch up a bit more to be able to handle higher resolution displays with high framerates without problems. If you ask what should you get, the HTC VIVE or the Oculus Rift, my answer will probably be which one you are able to actually get first as these are still hard to get ad you need to wait before your order will be fulfilled. For the moment the HTC VIVE offers a more active and interactive approach to VR experiences, while the Oculus Rift is in a more passive choice, but that difference will probably not be present in a couple of months anyway. Price wise both should be pretty much the same when you add in the Oculus touch controllers in the calculation, so again buy the one that you can get your hands on faster…
I have finally received the consumer version of the Oculus Rift, a Kickstarter backer edition, a few days ago and it is time to share my first impressions from the device. It took a bit longer to get my hands on the device as Oculus is still not shipping directly to a lot of countries around the world, so I had it shipped to UK address and then delivered to me via a courier delivery company. The Oculus has been shipped from Netherlands, so I don’t see any kind of a problem for the device to be shipped to other EU countries…
In general the first impressions are very positive for the consumer version of the Oculus Rift, but let me get a bit into the details about what I liked and what I did not. Since this is not a development kit anymore, but a consumer version of the VR headset I’ll be a bit more critical this time.
One of the most annoying things before you even start is the very slow software download, taking too much time for just 800 MB download, though the software warns you it could take quite some time to setup. It would’ve been much easier to be able to download the full software package prior to starting to setup the Oculus Rift and having to wait. When the download completes it is also quite slow to install, even on a high-end PC with a fast SSD drive. When everything is downloaded and installed the setup is relatively quick and easy to finish, and then the long wait starts again as soon as you start downloading some VR experiences and games from the Oculus Store.
A bit something about the Oculus Remote, it is shipped with a lithium coin cell battery like the ones on your motherboard, you may need to stack on these as they are not designed to be recharged, would’ve been better to put a micro-USB and a small rechargeable LiPo battery inside. Not sure how long will it last since you don’t need lightning speed response and you will not be using it in games much, but the CR2032 batteries are with low capacity. The controller comes with convenient to use design and clever button configuration, though the plus and minus volume buttons could’ve been larger or with different design as they are not very convenient to be used.
The Oculus Touch controllers are not yet available and do not get shipped with the Rift, instead you get a Microsoft Xbox One wireless controller with a PC USB adapter. This is a nice addition since the use of a keyboard and mouse is not easy with the headset on, The Xbox controller is probably one of the best gamepads out there for gaming. Though I’m not very happy with the way Microsoft designed the power for the controller, you get to use regular AA batteries or rechargeable ones, but you cannot recharge them in the controller via USB connection. Microsoft wants to sell you an extra rechargeable lithium battery pack, not a problem for Oculus, but this simply means more batteries and more annoyances if you miss to replace depleted batteries on time.
It is a funny thing that you get more documentation for the Xbox controller than for the Oculus itself, all the info for getting started and inside the box there is a sticker that points you to an URL, though some small and short quick guide would’ve been nice addition. In the package you get two Oculus logo stickers, just rotate them and you get two plain zeroes, if you stick them somewhere in the right direction nobody will probably guess what they mean. It is not like Apple stickers or Razer ones you get with their products, Oculus should think about the logo stickers design a bit more.
When you start setting up thing you will need three USB ports, two USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0 for the Xbox controller receiver, then a third USB 3.0 port will be required for the Oculus Touch controllers when they are released, so now you might finally be glad that your motherboard has a plenty of USB connectors available. The USB and HDMI cables you need to connect everything are long to provide you with enough room to get around if you need to move more in a virtual reality experience or a game, though you will need to make sure there are no other obstacles around you.
Now, for the headset, it is light and convenient, easy to adjust to different heads and faces. I don’t like the headphones that are a part of the headset that much, though they should be detachable (have not tried to remove them yet). The headphones do not cover the ear completely and thus do not provide much of noise isolation to help you get more immersed in the virtual reality world, and the sound quality might not be that good from such a small speakers used. As for the light blocking of the headset, everything works pretty well apart from the opening at the bottom of the nose where I see some light, a little extra cushioning at that point could’ve easily provided a solution to this problem and I suspect that many other users may have some light getting inside from there and the darkness is needed for better immersion especially if it is not dark in the environment you are using the headset.
The consumer Rift has no interchangeable lenses, but it works quite well for people with small diopter that need to wear prescription glasses like me for example. I’ve managed to put the headset with prescription glasses as well getting a bit clearer picture, but the glasses I’m wearing are pretty compact, so with larger glasses you might have trouble putting on the Oculus. The headset is apparently not designed for people wearing prescription glasses to wear the glasses inside, so people with larger diopter may need to consider going for contact lenses in order to use the Oculus Rift.
The image quality is definitely better than that of the DK2, but I can still notice pixels, so a larger resolution will be required for a later version as GPUs get more powerful and capable of handling the extra pixels without trouble. The resolution is not as problematic as with the dev kits however and you can quickly stop noticing this as an issue as you get into the experience, and experience wise the immersion is now at really very convincing level already. The annoying color aberrations seen on the dev kits are now pretty much a thing of the past, so definitely a huge improvement here. The best improvement however seems to be related to the lack of dizziness or nausea feeling after some use playing a game, something that has happened to me a few times with the dev kits even after getting used to them after playing for a while. With the consumer Rift I’m yet to experience such issues even after I have just started using the device and playing a game briefly, so it should be much easier on normal first time stereoscopic 3D and VR users as well. Though with Eve: Valkyre rotating the ship around for a bit can still cause you a bit of dizziness, but then again in a real space ship doing the same thing you’d probably experience the same thing anyway.
In terms of hardware requirements, the Oculus Rift requires a powerful PC with a high-end GPU, the recommended specs say GTX 970 or Radeon 290 or a higher-end GPU. Using a GTX 980 Ti is more than enough for the moment and for that resolution, but still if you are looking for an upgrade for VR you might consider getting a GTX 1070 for example, it should be more than enough on the long run. On the software side, there are still not many VR Games and VR Experiences available, though the ones online in the Oculus Store are pretty good ones as I’ve already tried half of them. Still yet to try running a software that is supposed to support Oculus Rift, but is not yet officially certified, but is in the list of things to do. The total number of “official” Oculus Rift apps is still relatively small and not many top game titles to keep you occupied for long, but hopefully more and more new content will become available soon.
The Oculus Experiences Store however is lacking something very important and that is 3D screenshots and videos that show what you can really expect if you get a VR application or a game, especially if it is something expensive before actually spending any money on it. Low resolution 2D screenshots and 2D trailer videos are simply no good here, they can still be available for people exploring that do not own Oculus Rift, but inside the Oculus Rift you should be able to preview sample media form an app, game or an experience in stereoscopic 3D mode, so you can better get an idea on what to expect from it before having to purchase it. This is a “must have” feature especially when you want to sell something to the 3D/VR crowd as we are people that want to get a good VR experience and we are ready to pay well for it, but we want to know that we are paying for something that is well worth it before actually spending the money without getting disappointed afterwards.
Today Nvidia has officially released the 1.0 version of two powerful VR software development kits (SDKs) – the Nvidia GameWorks VR and Nvidia DesignWorks VR that are targeted at headset, game, and application VR developers in order for this relatively new category of display devices to offer better performance and user experience. Delivering good VR games and experiences is a complex challenge, especially since immersive VR can require multiple times the graphics processing power compared to traditional 3D apps and games you not only need a good GPU in terms of performance, but also one that is optimized for VR. With these SDKs developers on Nvidia hardware should now have the tools to create amazing VR experiences, increase performance, reduce latency, improve hardware compatibility and accelerate 360-degree video broadcasts. Both SDKs deliver a comprehensive set of APIs and libraries for headset and app developers, including the new Multi-Res Shading Technology. Available publicly for the first time, Multi-Res Shading is an innovative rendering technique that increases performance by as much as 50 percent while maintaining image quality. Also the 1.0 SDK releases also add support for the new Windows 10 operating system.
For game and application developers, the GameWorks VR SDK includes:
– Multi-Res Shading — an innovative rendering technique for VR in which each part of an image is rendered at a resolution that best matches the pixel density of the warped image required by the headset. It uses the NVIDIA Maxwell chip architecture’s multi-projection capability to render multiple-scaled viewports in a single pass, delivering substantial performance improvements.
– VR SLI — provides increased performance for VR applications where multiple GPUs can be assigned a specific eye to dramatically accelerate stereo rendering.
– Context Priority — provides control over GPU scheduling to support advanced VR features such as asynchronous time warp, which cuts latency and quickly adjusts images as gamers move their heads, without the need to re-render a new frame.
– Direct Mode — treats VR headsets as head-mounted displays accessible only to VR applications, rather than a typical Windows monitor, providing better plug and play support and compatibility for VR headsets.
– Front Buffer Rendering — enables the GPU to render directly to the front buffer to reduce latency.
For developers of professional VR applications in markets such as manufacturing, media and entertainment, oil and gas, and medical imaging, NVIDIA DesignWorks VR builds on the core GameWorks VR SDK with the addition of powerful tools, such as:
– Warp and Blend — new APIs that provide application-independent geometry corrections and intensity adjustments across entire desktops to create seamless VR CAVE environments, without introducing any latency.
– Synchronization — techniques to prevent tearing and image misalignment while creating one large desktop that is driven from multiple GPUs or clusters. Various technologies like Frame Lock, Stereo Lock, Swap Groups and Swap Barriers are available to help developers design seamless and expansive VR CAVE and cluster environments.
– GPU Affinity — provides dramatic performance improvements by managing the placement of graphics and rendering workloads across multiple GPUs.
– Direct for Video — enabling VR and augmented reality environments such as head-mounted displays, CAVES/immersive displays and cluster solutions.
AMD has also been more active on VR support lately with the recent announcement of their AMD LiquidVR Technology for Developers. One of the key technology goals of LiquidVR is to reduce unwanted processing latency (reduce motion-to-photon latency) and deliver a consistent frame rate. AMD recently released the Alpha version of its LiquidVR SDK to select technology partners. The LiquidVR SDK is a platform designed to simplify and optimize VR development.
The four major features of LiquidVR SDK include:
– Asynchronous Shaders: more efficient GPU resource management.
– Affinity Multi-GPU: faster multi-GPU performance.
– Latest Data Latch: reduced motion-to-photon latency.
– Direct-To-Display: seamless plug and play experience.
Now the big question that remains is how soon users are going to have their hands on the new VR headset hardware such as the consumer version of the Oculus Rift that should be released sometime in the Q1 2016 or the alternatives such as HTC VIVE and others that might be coming with their own hardware. The developer hardware that has been available with most notable wider availability of the two generations of dev kits of the Oculus Rift has sparked the interest and demand for VR headset in many users that simply cannot wait to get their hands on the hardware and experience the promised great VR experiences as well as play great games in a new more realistic way.