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The Road To VR 61

Posted by samzenpus
from the more-real-than-real dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Stack Overflow co-founder Jeff Atwood has posted about how much progress we've made toward commercially viable virtual reality gaming — and how far we have to go. The Oculus Rift headset is technologically brilliant compared to anything we'd have before, but Atwood says there are still a number of problems to solve. Quoting: 'It's a big commitment to strap a giant, heavy device on your face with 3+ cables to your PC. You don't just casually fire up a VR experience. ... Demos are great, but there aren't many games in the Steam Store that support VR today, and the ones that do support VR can feel like artificially tacked on novelty experiences. I did try Surgeon Simulator 2013 which was satisfyingly hilarious. ... VR is a surprisingly anti-social hobby, even by gamer standards, which are, uh low. Let me tell you, nothing is quite as boring as watching another person sit down, strap on a headset, and have an extended VR "experience". I'm stifling a yawn just thinking about it. ... Wearing a good VR headset makes you suddenly realize how many other systems you need to add to the mix to get a truly great VR experience: headphones and awesome positional audio, some way of tracking your hand positions, perhaps an omnidirectional treadmill, and as we see with the Crystal Cove prototype, an external Kinect style camera to track your head position at absolute minimum.' Atwood also links to Michael Abrash's VR blog, which is satisfyingly technical for those interested in the hardware and software problems of VR."
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The Road To VR

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  • by satuon (1822492) on Sunday February 16, 2014 @02:54PM (#46260735)

    What would you consider virtual reality? A direct neural interface that simulates all senses like in the Matrix, or just putting some headset that shows a high-res screen before each eye, plus headphones?

    • by Bite The Pillow (3087109) on Sunday February 16, 2014 @03:41PM (#46261007)

      Don't be intentionally obtuse. In the middle. Real enough to be called reality but virtual enough that it is not direct nerve stimulation. The stuff like lawnmower man that has been promised for 20 years. Everyone knows the definition.

      I would be quite happy with 3d video and audio, and head tracking, and all the other crap superfluous. Quite happy without the social side, as I don't expect people to watch me. Treadmill would get very tiring unless you really want to run towards and away from zombies or machine gunners for hours. Wii sports is tiring enough and you don't actually go anywhere, so extrapolate.

      Vr is basically here when 1080 hits, but it's not the vr everyone is looking for. I would bet the full, true vr will make a big splash like laser tag and die quickly, with a long tail.

      If the 1080 oculus hits, it will be just good enough to capture marketshare, if they just stop promising the next generation for a while. Few will buy into an obsolete technology, so announce it is mature and has developer backing, or it will not arrive until it is overly mature.

      I remember mall demos with 30 people in headsets throwing dodgeball or something, and it was decent then. Put it on today's internet and today's processors, and you just need a compelling environment. Call of duty VR is just laser tag without walking, and flight sim VR is just what every sim player ever wanted. And it will be good enough.

      Skyrim in true VR would be awesome, but tiring with all the walking and fighting. Nearly unplayable. Any FPS would be too taxing. Sneakers might work. Any unrealistic game like super monkey ball is unfit for true VR. You need entire New genres for true VR, like maybe travelogues. Controlling sim city or DotA might be super awesome in true VR, with swipe gestures. But I don't see the market in the current core gamer population.

      The half VR available in 2 years will be good enough for a generation, or they are making a risky bet.

      • by satuon (1822492)

        What we define as VR determines how close we are to it. The lower you set the bar for what you'll accept to be VR, the more achievable it becomes, and the closer we are to it.

        In fact, if you showed an ordinary PC with a high-res monitor and a mouse to someone from the 50s, they might have declared it VR already.

        • by peragrin (659227)

          hell take an xbox one, and a 60" led flat screen, back to 1995.

          they would declare it VR, Just the resolution alone would astound us back then. forget about motion tracking and voice controls, it would be star trek.

          in 1998 I donned a VR headset of the time and walked on a tread mill. it was fun though a bit disorienting since the screens weren't lined up for my prescription properly.

          • by fractoid (1076465)

            in 1998 I donned a VR headset of the time and walked on a tread mill. it was fun though a bit disorienting since the screens weren't lined up for my prescription properly.

            Dactyl Nightmare? :)

      • by nurb432 (527695)

        Everyone knows the definition.

        I disagree. Everyone has their own version of the definition.

      • Skyrim in true VR would be awesome, but tiring with all the walking and fighting.

        I could see it working, if the gesture for moving forward is to lean forward slightly, and for moving backwards is to lean backwards slightly. Much less effort.

      • Skyrim in true VR would be awesome

        Yeah... and I am anxious and terrified at the same time to discover what playing Left 4 Dead in VR will do to my psyche...

    • by jeti (105266)

      If you listen to Michael Abrash, you will hear him talk a lot about presence, a sense of being there that works even on a subconcious level. If you can't bring yourself to step over a virtual ledge, you have working VR.

      What VR Could, Should, and Almost Certainly Will Be within Two Years [youtube.com]

  • by MpVpRb (1423381) on Sunday February 16, 2014 @03:01PM (#46260777)

    The articles were filled with very optimistic visions of a VR future that was "coming soon"

    I worked for Disney Imagineering R&D at the time, so money was available to buy some stuff and play with it

    We bought the "state of the art" system, and hooked it up..it was not super impressive

    When we showed it to the President of WDI, he said "don't show this to anybody else, it makes us look bad"

    Years, and many millions of dollars later, we managed to create our own VR headmount display and opened "Imagineering VR Lab" at Epcot

    It was better, but still nowhere near lived up to the hype

    • by Alejux (2800513) on Sunday February 16, 2014 @03:54PM (#46261073)

      And your point is? Are you saying that because it didn't become a success in the 90's it is a failed concept?

      The card I have in my computer now, is many times more powerful than an $250k Silicon Graphics Onyx that you had back then. The displays you had back then were crap and had very low resolution. The latency you had in tracking was nauseating and full of errors. Not to mention the huge weight of the "helmet".

      Compare that to:

      - 1920x1080 resolution OLED with low persistency

      - Low latency 1:1 positional tracking

      - ~20ms motion to photon latency

      - High end PC GPU's capable of rendering realistic graphics at real time >60fps

      - ~200 grams of weight and comfortable as the average ski goggles

      - $300 price tag

      It is so tiresome hearing people who never tried the Rift say it's hype and a gimmick based on 20 year old attempts at the technology.

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It is so tiresome hearing people who never tried the Rift say it's hype and a gimmick based on 20 year old attempts at the technology.

        You know what's tiresome? Waiting for the Rift to freaking release. It was demoed nearly two years ago and most people still can't get one (a dev version doesn't count). Years of news and demos and no sign of a release date... that's recognized by most as "hype" and "gimmick".

        • by Baloroth (2370816)

          I know, it's incredibly frustrating that a company is actually taking their time to develop something properly* so it doesn't flop on release! It makes me angry! ANGRRYYYY!!

          *You know, like most people on Slashdot say they wish every company would? VR is something you have to do carefully or it'll end up being declared "another Virtual Boy", and that would kill it fast.

        • by fractoid (1076465)
          Think of it as them letting us skip the first three generations of buggy crap that usually comes out before the first 'good' model. They got enough funding that they don't have to rush to market, and they're taking time to really get it right.
      • by Smauler (915644)

        Back in the 90's, I had single digit internet quake pings, with an ISDN, hooked up to a CRT (so actual single digit pings). Now I have about 3 times that latency just between me and my monitor.

        Perhaps we should start looking into using CRT technology for VR glasses to reduce the pings further ;)

        • by djrobxx (1095215)

          They just need to stop treating LCD displays as if they were CRT displays. See NVidia G-Sync

          http://www.geforce.com/hardwar... [geforce.com]

          • by Smauler (915644)

            No... that doesn't help latency. All current _monitors_ have latency, some of up to 100ms. Mine is ok, but not great, about 30ms. Old CRTs are basically 0. It doesn't matter what the video card does, it can't get rid of that latency.

      • by fractoid (1076465)
        It's the same people who say "we had electric cars 100 years ago so the Tesla Model S is neither new nor innovative."
    • The articles were filled with very optimistic visions of a VR future that was "coming soon"

      I worked for Disney Imagineering R&D at the time, so money was available to buy some stuff and play with it

      We bought the "state of the art" system, and hooked it up..it was not super impressive

      When we showed it to the President of WDI, he said "don't show this to anybody else, it makes us look bad"

      Years, and many millions of dollars later, we managed to create our own VR headmount display and opened "Imagineering VR Lab" at Epcot

      It was better, but still nowhere near lived up to the hype

      The obvious course of action is to liquidate and disband Occulus. Remember folks, VR didnt work in the 1990's. We are wasting precious time, money and resources trying to make it work in the 21st century, with all of the advances in display tech, miniature MEMS sensors and all the advances in computing hardware and software that we have had since then, it obviously can never ever work. It failed in the 90's guys, lets close up shop and forget about the dream of immersive VR.

      amiright?

  • by Junta (36770) on Sunday February 16, 2014 @03:34PM (#46260973)

    It's a big commitment to strap a giant, heavy device on your face with 3+ cables to your PC

    Granted, but then again, a lot of particular prominent, even more special purpose successes require a pretty big commitment. Rock band did well and no one is going to claim it's trivial to whip out the guitars and drumset. Granted their success did not endure, but primarily because the experience lacked sufficient variety, it did show people were committed to go through some hoops. Similarly, *really* sitting down to enjoy a feature length movie requires some commitment (doing so without commitment is possible, but much less enjoyable.

    there aren't many games in the Steam Store that support VR today

    And there weren't many games that supported accelerated 3D graphics when 3dfx voodoo came out. Being too discouraged by that leads to a chicken and egg situation. It's probably also off putting that the set of available titles are at best adaptations of existing games or very basic things. The reason being that the quality games take longer and as such are still in progress (Star Citizen is one I'm really looking forward to). Crystal Cove demonstrates they will have capabilities the dev kits aren't even equipped to help publishers prepare for yet. Oculus is doing the only thing that might have a chance, building up a lot of excitement and coming in at an approachable price point to try to break the chicken and egg situation.

    Having your eyes so close to the screens means the display is effectively very low resolution.

    This is one area that has me pretty worried and waiting (that and the availability of good positional sensing). I'm really hoping they will be able to use at least a 2560x1440 OLED display (thanks to the mobile resolution pissing contest, Samsung looks ready to announce a shipping product with 2560x1440 at 5.2", 560 ppi seems very promising to construct a display out of, even if magnified).

    VR is a surprisingly anti-social hobby, even by gamer standards

    Very, very rarely is gaming remotely entertaining to mere observers. A lot of very popular things are *always* equally anti-social (texting, reading books, listening to music on headphones, pretty much doing *anything* on a smartphone or even tablet, laptop, or computer).

    Notice how quickly we get into geez-this-is-a-lot-of-equipment territory.

    The same can be true of racing or flying games, but that doesn't stop the vast majority of people making do with simpler controls. Just because you *can* take things very far at a very high price, doesn't mean you have to. The external tracking of the head is going to be baked into the headset cost (and not that expensive, as Kinect has shown) Headphones are straightforward as is positional audio in the headphone situation. Beyond eyewear and headphones, things get optional pretty fast. Wiimote-grade tracking for hands I certainly see as a big value add, but things start falling off real fast beyond that (the treadmill I'm skeptical would do anything to pull me that much more in as I think it would still feel very very off, but would wear me out greatly).

    • by deek (22697)

      Very, very rarely is gaming remotely entertaining to mere observers.

      Not as rare as you think. Game tournaments can attract a good number of spectators.

      Plus, gaming is not necessarily that anti-social. Makes me wonder if the author has any experience with multiplayer games. Surely when VR becomes mainstram, it will have a multiplayer capability.

      Yes, it could be argued that most multiplayer gamers aren't very social, or act anti-social. Griefing is an issue. Makes me wonder what they'll do in the context

  • ...or something like that. Even if VR isn't quite up to spec yet, this would be a great way to get people in front of the Oculus &c. that aren't willing to shell out cash on pre-release hardware and software. That's how a lot of my friends and I got into games when we were kids - we'd go try them out at LAN cafes in town. With an investment into all of the stuff the article mentions - the omni-directional treadmill, the advanced sound system, and the headset of course - you could probably set up an hour
    • by rts008 (812749)

      I think that your idea sounds like one of the more practical and potentially successful ones I have heard.

      It can even be added to places already existing, so the concept of a dedicated 'VR cafe' would not be the only route, thus lowering risks that come from an experimental/new business idea.

  • I missed out on seeing Avatar in 3D in one of those IMAX theaters. (With the screen that covers your peripheral version.) I didn't bother to watch it on cable since apparently the part that made it impressive is in that environment it's like you're in the movie. With these VR glasses it seems there's now finally a setup that can display that movie(and other) properly.
    • by thygate (1590197)
      VR != 3D movies
      • I realize that but it would be incredible to watch a "movie" where you're in the middle of the scene. (Kind what I hear they were trying to achieve with Avatar with 3d glasses and IMAX.) I mean could you imagine how much better the experience of pretty much any movie (especially horror) if you felt like you were right in the middle?
        • by erfunath (962996)
          Agreed. What they really need is the ability to pause a scene for a short period of time - or advance when you're ready - and allow the viewer to travel around the room, look at the details, choose different vantage points as the story progresses. Add details, like articles in newspapers on tables and stuff in drawers. That's what makes all the best RPGs what they are. Tell a story by adding immersion. I'd pay good money for that.
  • by thygate (1590197) on Sunday February 16, 2014 @05:22PM (#46261613)
    I got my rift a few weeks ago, and haven't had too much time to play with it yet, but these are my findings. The experience is truly quite new and incomparable to any non-stereo 3D tech, it is much more immersive, yet also very intense! Many game genres, like flightsims, space-fighters, etc, will no longer be relaxing, or even enjoyable the way they are on 2D screens, simply because it is now almost a real simulator. You will get sick, and you will need hours/days/months of training to be able to cope with the new level of realism. The stereo 3D images, combined with head-tracking, are now feeding much more info to your brain than just a visual scene, it's telling your brain you should be feeling G-forces (that the inner ear obviously doesn't register), and it can give you a very bad disembodied feeling when you don't see your arms or body when looking down. With the current oculus rift dev kit, you also still feel like you're looking at the world through a gas mask or hazmat suit or the likes, resolution is quite low, and you clearly see pixels. Even though it doesn't weigh too much, you will feel its weight on your cheekbones after a while too. I had no problem with the cables. For playing existing games, without native rift support, there are currently two "drivers" (read directx wrappers), that double render the scene in stereo and map and distort it for viewing on the rift, and also adjust the view transform in accordance with the head-tracking. (Vorpx (commercial), and Vireio (free oss)). Of course this doesn't work well for all games and genres, but it is very nice to be able to check out your favorite games this way. The most disturbing and nauseating things are the silliest things, like when the games loads and the scene freezes, or a cut-scene comes up with limited camera freedom, a HUD that requires you to refocus on a different plane, etc.. Of course it does have advantages too, like you can now turn off the guidance-lines in racing games that tell you when to brake etc, because now you'll FEEL you can't possibly take that turn at those speeds. First-person games are a lot more immersive than third-person games, which feel a bit weird when controlling a single character and viewing it from behind. Half-Life 2 (with buggy native support) did give the best experience for me so far, when Alyx first appears, it really feels like she is standing right in front of you. Quite amazing indeed. Overall you really feel like you're in the HL world, only thing killing it atm is the low resolution. Anyway, imho, VR-tech should be around, but it will always exist side-by-side with watching a traditional screen, it will not replace it, at least not in its current state.
    • From: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03... [nytimes.com]
      "The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that âoeruns on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.â Fiction

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life;

        ORLY? I don't know about you but for me there is a significant difference between reading about masturbating and actually doing it. That emeritus professor of cognitive wanking should do a bit more actual wanking, he might learn something about the real world.

        The VR has got to the stage where people actually get nervous about stepping off virtual ledges. Reading about it ain't the same.

      • In one case you're in another person's head in another person's world. In the other case you're in another person's world, but still in your own head and in control of your own actions. I promise being in your head and making your own decisions is better.
  • The summary talks about all the devices that you need to complete virtual reality. The fact that you need all those devices should make it clear: this isn't virtual reality, nor even a step toward it. It is immersive gaming, but until you are directly raising/lowering voltage on neurons, you aren't creating a virtual reality. You're just shaping this reality to create an optical illusion. Virtual reality means truly constructing a brand new reality for the mind to perceive, from the direction of gravity to

  • by ledow (319597)

    I have set my lower threshold for VR:

    When I can go to a paintball place and play "CS". Take a fake gun, run over a real terrain that I can see in the virtual world, and my "shots" register as if they were real and take players out of the game once they are "dead" in-game.

    Once we get to that level of head-tracking, arm-tracking, freedom-of-movement (i.e. running around in an arena / studio / forest and having the VR know exactly where we are and overlay the virtual world accordingly, thus allowing me to onl

    • by Wildclaw (15718)

      a flat 2D surface in front of your eyes is *not* like a 3D world when your eye tracks (no matter how close it gets). It does not "curve" the same way. So now you need a tiny, bright, hi-res, portable, low-power FLEXIBLE display too which doesn't distort the image too much. Oh, two of them.

      Or you could just use lenses combined with a shader that corrects for the lens distortion.

  • I think Rift is in the right direction -- I've played with a few HMDs and many VR systems, and although the resolution of the Rift is extremely poor, the comfort is better than almost any HMD that I've tried.

    The State of the Art in VR is not HMDs but systems like the CAVE [wikipedia.org] (check out the C6 [iastate.edu] at Iowa State) where the user is in a room with head tracking and a 3D input device, and each wall (including the floor, ceiling, and the wall you entered through in the case of the C6) is a 16 megapixel rear-projected 3D

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