Posted on January 7, 2013, Devin Connors Oculus Rift at CES: Bigger Screen, Lower Latency
Editor’s note: This post was edited to correct a couple of typos. All info should be correct now.
Two of the biggest PC gaming hardware stories coming out of 2012 – confirmed or otherwise – were Valve’s Steambox and the Oculus Rift VR headset. Where the Steambox only exists in the ether, the Oculus Rift is a real, prototyped product that will be in the hands of developers within the next few months.
The developer kits, which Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey said should be shipping in March, have a bigger seven inch display (above image is of the seven inch model), compared to earlier models which use a five inch panel. There is some added size and weight – it’s about 30g heavier than the five inch model – but it’s still light enough to be comfortable on the face. I got some “face time” with one of the newer five inch panel prototypes.
While the headband and other physical features are different from the headsets shown off at E3 and Quakecon, this latest five inch prototype has the same 1280×800 display (which breaks down to 640×800 per eye. The optics seem to be the same as well, but the sensor package has been upgraded. Older models used an off-the-shelf 250 Hz Hillcrest sensor, while the unit strapped to my face is a custom part running up to 1,000 Hz. This sensor package includes an accelerometer, gyroscope, and a magnetometer, the first two of which you’ll find in any smartphone on the market today. This sensor array tracks your head movement, and the latency between the sensor and your PC is an impressive 2ms. The new sensor has definitely improved the tilt and turn functions in the Rift, compared to the unit I tried at Quakecon. It also helped that I was playing demos in the Unity and Unreal 3 engines; as much as I enjoy Doom 3, the outdoor environments in todays demos did a better job of showing off the Rift’s capabilities.
Sensor-to-PC latency is remarkably low, but there is plenty of lag to be had elsewhere in the device. The “perceived latency” (latency seen by the human eye) in the Unity engine demo I tried is about 40ms, with actual latency closer to 60-70ms. Much of this latency is in the panel, where it’s still slow-goings when it comes to pixel color changes. That’s to be expected on a prototype, however, and the Oculus team at CES is very optimistic about the future. Says Palmer, “[Display latency] is the biggest chunk of our total latency right now, so it’s the easiest place to see gains.” Latnecy will also be reduced through software tweaking, which includes better predictive head tracking. A better quality panel will also help in that area, as well as reduce the still very obvious motion blurring. Palmer and Nate Mitchell, the VP of Product at Oculus, weren’t willing to talk specifics about their current panel suppliers, but “pairing with a major [panel] manufacturer would be great.” Could we see an Oculus Rift with “Samsung Inside”? I wouldn’t be surprised.
The gameplay experience is fantastic, even on a prototype. Turning your head in Unreal Tournament to snap off a rocket or two at an incoming bot, all while leaving movement controls on the gamepad untouched, still leaves me floored. It’s like every crappy VR scene from every 90′s sci-fi flick, except this time it looks good and your movements are properly executed. I can’t wait to see the final product paired with 2013′s FPS lineup. Once the HUD issues are sorted out (I was playing with no HUD or crosshair), the Rift will in prime position to replace your gaming monitor of choice.
Game Front was on-site at CES 2013 (January 8-11), covering all the latest gaming gadgets. Check out all of our CES 2013 news, previews and features.