Oculus Live report from GamesCom

Day two and I didn’t have a four hour wait ahead of me, since I had an all important appointment booked last week with the Oculus Live app. Or so I thought.

I made my way back up to GameCom and although I knew it would be much busier than the day before I wasn’t quite prepared for the amount of people. It seemed like Germany had empitied it’s schools and colleges and sent everyone under 18 to Cologne. Not that I have anything against the kids…. I used to be one you know! 🙂

I now realised the power of the trade pass since I could now go into a much quieter area to at least use the toilet without a massive queue. I prepared myself and then fought through the crowds to the Oculus booth in one of the main arenas. They had 15 rooms with a space for Gear VR demos too in a more open space, which had a pretty huge queue for something that you can already try. 5 minutes before my allocated space I got to the ‘check in’ and I pulled out my kindle which showed my appointment and the girl checked her ipad. No appointment. Once again the Oculus Live app had done it’s trick of dropping appointments. I had suspected this would happen and since I didn’t manage to book an appointment with my Kindle (it never actually worked, just showed the progress screen… which then did nothing) but transfered an appointment that I booked with an ipad I had deliberately not connected to wifi. The app showed my name, my time, my date. I was there, it wasn’t my fault they screwed it up (at least three times)… so she let me join the queue.

The queue moved really fast, within 15 minutes I was at the head of the line and chatted to one of the Oculus girls while we waited for an empty room. Although there were one or two guys with the Oculus logo it seemed that most of the exhibitors seemed to exclusively employ teenage girls. Oculus at least stayed classy, no hot pants or the like were on show :p The girl expressed a little amazement that I had waited for 4 hours to experience the Vive the day before, although it’s hardly surprising that everyone working at the conference wasn’t a hardcore gamer.

So I was in, room 5 was free and walked in. There was a single seat chair in the 3x3m room with the new camera pointing towards it. There was the new CV1 to the side with an xbox one controller. I sat down and the girl running the demo asked if I had tried this before. I explained I had a DK2, and she instructed me to pull the HMD on like a baseball cap. I pulled it on and then she proceeded to adjust it to fit, placing the ear phones down over my ears. While she did this I was seated in the center of a darkened hall, with a few more seats and passageways off to the sides. It seems strange how quickly you forget these details just a few hours later. She told me I could choose a demo, with the xbox one controller now in my hands and the room brightened and now showed 8 panels floating in front of me. She asked which I wanted to try (first?) and I said ‘not the hockey’…. ‘Ok, the hockey demo then’ was her reply and I quickly said ‘no no no!’. Hey, I’m english, we don’t play hockey :p

So, I was expecting a nice 10-15 demo slot and decided to jump into Luckeys Tale first since I had heard so much about it. The girl expressed a little surprise since everyone else had apparently picked ‘Edge of Nowhere’ but I figured if it was that good I could try it next.

It was nice, I would have loved to try the Touch but I was happy to be in the Oculus booth so quickly. I jumped around, bashed a few monsters, picked up some coins, looked around the very nice environment while trying not to die. The consumer rift is really nice. Like the HTC any complaints about the barely noticeable pixels or less than super wide FOV are pure nit-picking. The tracking is rock steady, no judder or artefacts, just as you would expect. This isn’t going to make anyone motion sick.

I made it over the rise to peer down to the next level and was quite happy. Luckeys Tale looks really nice and will be a great launch title, it looks polished and fun, but why stay on one game when there are 7 other experiences to try. 90 seconds was enough to convince me so I asked to move onto another game… I really wanted to see how well Eve Valkyrie would fit into the motion simulator we’re developing.

“No, you get one demo, thats’ it”

huh? I played Luckeys Tale for 2 minutes maximum, I was sold. How about selling me on something else?

“No, one demo”

/sigh. All it would take is ‘click, click, click’ and I would be back in the main screen and she could go back to facebooking her friends or whatever she was doing. I wasn’t going to complain or throw the headset off, I was more stunned that anyone actually thought it was a good idea to not let the customer do whatever they wanted. So, I played luckeys tale…. but now I was racing to find something new, but instead of really knowing the game and getting used to the controls I just wanted to see something else, maybe I could get to the boss, maybe there would be some cool cut scene…. instead I died… and then died again… and again… and again at the same point. Back to the checkpoint and running up to my death… but all I could think is the girl next to me couldn’t be bothered to click her mouse three times.

I fell into the lava from the slippy log for the fifth time and the demo was over. If I had been smart I would have booked multiple demos with multiple accounts, which Im sure plenty of people did, but I actually think thats pretty lame. Technology like this should be shared with as many people as possible, and there was another line on the other side for people who hadn’t booked a demo with the app who were waiting 2, 3 or 4 hours to try it, just as I had the day before. So I could have done Eve and Edge of Tomorrow with a couple of fake accounts, but that seemed like cheating.

I got my free t-shirt (which was a nice bonus) and filled in the survey… but I felt quite dissappointed. If the HTC demo had spoiled me then Im not sure that was a bad thing. The day before I had been helped to have a really cool set of experiences, Olga was watching what I was doing and giving me suggestions, there was so much to see and try you needed a friendly helping hand. When it was over she asked what I thought and what was my fovourite experience and seemed genuienly interested in what I said. Oculus seemed like it was “sit down. put this on, one demo, get out (and dont forget your t-shirt)”, I didn’t give a damn about a stupid t-shirt, I just didn’t want to be stuck in Luckeys Tale for 10 minutes (which was still gorgeous).

After a quick wander and snack it was time for the VR Meetup which was slightly off from where I expected it to be but the Gear VRs in attendance soon clued me into it’s location. I shook a lot of hands and swapped a lot of business cards. There were maybe 30 people there in total and I tried to speak to most of them. Lots of people are doing software, no one was making hardware, but this is also to be expected. It’s really nice to make a few new friends and try to introduce other people, lots of people are working on some pretty cool stuff. I was upsurprisingly surrounded by Germans but it’s quite easy to float around the small knots of people looking for the English speakers, and the language barrier is the perfect icebreaker 🙂

Lots of people left after an hour and a half or so and then I was left talking to another developer at one table while everyone else were now surrounding another. It took a little while to realise that Palmer and Brendan had finally shown up and I hadn’t even noticed. As would be expected when VR royalty are in attendance you couldn’t have a conversation or a real introduction but it was really nice that they turned up. I tried to chat to Palmer later in the business section but was swiftly turned away by the every efficient German staff “Not a chance” were her words, which was fair enough since he probably was fending off pitches all day. :p

After they left we were joined by a HTC Prototype developer from the HTC Creative Labs, who was clearly a great person to meet as a hardware developer. He was obviously unable to spill all the secrets floating around in his head but I had several major suspicions about the final version confirmed and did my best to try to convince him that we’re worthy of a dev kit (or at least a lighthouse and the specs to add our own sensors….). Fingers crossed. One developer showed me his Gear VR demo that had just that day earned him a dev kit.

So the TLDR? Oculus have some great hardware but their GamesCom presence is let down by a a sub standard experience (flakey appointment app and uncaring demo staff). Maybe it was just the girl I got, but if I had known it was ‘one demo, no backsies’ I wouldn’t have been so frustrating to pick something I only wanted to quickly see. I also agree with what BluePinguin said on Reddit, devs and people who travel specifically for things like this should be acknowledged. This isn’t to say that I’m more important than some teenager from Berlin, but I bought my air fare, trade ticket and insanely expensive last minute accommodation when I got a Oculus Live demo last week. I haven’t seen any other games either, not because I’m not interested, but I’m happy to wait for a release to play them. The VR stuff is something I want to experience now, and GamesCom is the only place to do it now. The guy that organised the meetup got a Touch demo, and I’m happy for him, but it would be nice to spread that love to a few more of the devs that are obviously passionate about VR.

HTC win GamesCom I’m afraid, their staff were just more enthusiastic, I hope Oculus take note and at least make sure the booth staff tell people know there is only one demo, if not allowing two for half the time each. I’d queue for four hours tomorrow to try the Touch, but I guess it’s not going to happen… maybe I’ll get lucky into OC2… but I think the flight cost means I’m not going anyway. Roll on Q2 2016!

Ultra Thin USB 3.1 cable for the Oculus CV1 + 21.6Gbps Displayport?

Spectra7 VR oculus rift USB 3.1

I wrote last year about the announcement of Oculus chip manufacturer Spectra7s new ultra thin HDMI connector chip. With head mounted displays being wired for the foreseeable future it’s pretty important that any consumer device has a thin flexible cable to connect to the PC. The Oculus Rift DK2 of course has a USB2 connector but this is now rather outdated.

So, enter Spectra7 with their TC7050 USB 3.1 chip with 5Gbps of bandwidth. This is easily enough to handle high resolution ‘inside out’ video streams that I see coming, if not in the first consumer version, but soon afterwards. Being able to see the outside world clearly and quickly is also quite important, so we can probably expect dual cameras to appear in the front of most HMDs as a standard feature. Not only would these cameras allow the user to quickly see the outside world for spatial positioning but they can also be used for processing the users real life environment. Want to see where your coffee cup is in VR so you can take a drink while flying a spaceship? This would require a fast transfer of data to the PC to figure out where you are and where your cup is.

The new TC7050 chip gives a 90% reduction in the thickness of the copper cable, the same as the HDMI chip. This means an ultra thin cable combining HDMI and USB 3.1 is possible for the Oculus CV1, or certainly in CV2. Oculus has already stated that the technology they acquired with their acquisition of Nimble would not necessarily make it into their first consumer version, but with the VR gauntlet now thrown down by HTC and Valve, with a good input solution and, perhaps most importantly, a release date, they might be tempted to adjust their schedule.

Spectra7 VR oculus rift USB 3.1

Product Brief PDF link : here

 


Also mentioned in the press release (but not yet announced on their site) are two new display chips.

“Spectra7’s TC7108 chip delivers two channels of DisplayPort HBR2 at 5.4Gbps each (10.8Gbps in total), while the TC7216 delivers four channels (21.6Gbps in total). The TC7050 delivers USB 3.1 Gen 1 data at 5.0Gbps. The TC7108 and TC7050 can be used together to build bidirectional links for ultra-thin high definition external displays and dynamic interfaces for wearable technology.”

‘wearable technology’ hints at VR, but until they release more information than these few lines we won’t know if this is of interest to the VR community…

 

 

2560 x 1440 (WQHD) @ 80fps + hand input for Oculus Rift CV1?

spectra7

Hot on the announcement of new gesture recognition chips on the 8th of November Spectra7 released a press announcement for what looks likely to be the replacement for the VR7100 chip that significantly reduces the thickness of the DK2 HDMI cable, the VR7200.

From the press release :

“With Spectra7’s new VR7200 chip which features the Company’s patented high-speed, active signal processing and power delivery technology, dual screen VR HMDs with a single super-thin cable and ultra-compact connector are now possible. Next generation VR interconnects built with Spectra7’s VR7200 are capable of dual 2560 x 1440 Wide Quad High Definition (WQHD) display resolution with 4:4:4 Chromaat up to 80 FPS perscreen without any image degradation as a result of Luma and/or Chroma subsampling and do not require a separate external HMD power connection”

Samples are available next month which pretty much rules out the rumour of a February release for the CV1 I read today on twitter. This falls a little short on the 90fps we were expecting but is still an improvement on the 75fps from the DK2.

We also saw an announcement for actual order amount for the new gesture chip, 500,000 of the VR7050 according to TMXMoney, along with the VR7100 replacement, which is undoubtedly the VR7200. “The order calls for delivery of over 500,000 devices including the Company’s recently announced VR7050 Gesture and Motion Backhaul Processor and the second generation of the previously announced VR7100 ultra-miniature Digital Video Link Processor chip.” This is half of the usual ‘million unit’ figures Oculus talk about for the CV1 but it’s still early days for further orders.

So are these two new chips for the Oculus consumer release and when could they arrive?

Well, the VR7100 chip was announced in October last year and began production in May 2014 for the DK2, so this is likely to mean we follow the same schedule and see assembly begin in the middle of next year….

So, CV1 confirmed for Xmas 2015 and WITH a built in hand/gesture recognition system? Who else would order half a million of these new chips?

Spectra7 also recently took out a 2-year loan of $4.75m which might be Oculus ensuring that the supply of chips isn’t in any danger of drying up while the CV1 is being built.

So what screen? A Samsung S5 panel fits the resolution and these should be widely available now…

Maybe we’ll know for sure in about 10 months 🙂

PDFs:

Gesture : http://spectra7.com/S7-VR7050-Press-Release-20141008-F4.pdf

New HDMI : http://spectra7.com/pdfs/Spectra7-VR7200-Press-Release-20141113-F.pdf

Old HDMI: http://www.spectra7.com/pdfs/products/VR7100-S-Product-Brief-Rev2.pdf

The VR7100 inside the DK2 cable (ifixit)

Low cost methods to increase perceived field of view in virtual reality headsets without additional electronics.

Human vision is about 210°, we can see pretty much 180° side to side and moving our eyes can see slightly behind our head. Useful for noticing predators sneaking up on us… The DK1 from Oculus was 110°, the DK2 is about 100°. This was due to a few reasons but it’s generally expected the FOV will increase in the next iteration. A low FOV tends to pull you out of the experience, no one wants that blinkered feeling you get in a diving mask. When I was a boy these were made from black rubber, so the tunnel effect was really pronounced, modern masks are made from clear silicone. Your view is still blocked but since light passes through you can still sense movement from your outer peripheral vision. Much nicer.

lightpackSome creative people took this idea and turned it around to create LED strips that project an average light reading and display it on the wall behind your TV. Ambilight and lightpack are of limited use, but a cool idea. It didn’t take long for someone to suggest putting one inside an Oculus Rift to increase the perception of a wide FOV but HMD’s are quite a bit too small for this to work well. It also seems Apple has a Patent for this idea but my following suggestions are not the same.

Still the idea is quite good, most of our vision is concentrated in a 6° arc and the amount of detail we can perceive drops off away from the center of our retina. A method of putting extra light into our peripheral vision would be really nice, especially if we can do it for ‘free’.

But how? I thought of a couple of possibilities, but please remember this is just idle speculation, a thought experiment, although if Oculus want to hire me to try them out they better hurry up before I apply to the HAXLR8R program 🙂

Well, first we would need white (or probably neutral grey) borders around the screen to allow for some reflectivity.

A fairly simple idea is to create a clear plastic rectangle that fits around the edge of the lens, this refracts a small portion of the image out and onto the sides of the borders. We might sacrifice 2° of ‘real’ FOV to create an impression of an extra 10° or so, on all four borders, per eye. This ‘lens’ might have to be precisely aligned however since we might need to increase the luminance at the edge of the screen to compensate for the loss of light as it’s refracted. Screenshot 2014-10-17 20.47.43

 

Look at the simple example I drew in Inventor. The right side shows the normal eye -> lens -> screen. BUT the version on the left has a strip of clear plastic around the edges. Now part of this light is refracted out and onto the HMD plastic panels on the side. We lose a little detail but make the Rift feel less contricted and enclosed.

 


 

Another idea would require some minor changes to the HMD casing but could produce a much more impressive effect. We would lose NO viewable area but could gain a really bright peripheral effect with some clever design engineering.

Consider that the current DK2 wastes a huge amount of screen estate. This is the nature of the design and not a massive flaw, but we’re throwing away pixel light that could be used in out peripheral vision.

UE4Rollercoaster-2014-05-10-11-46-29-72 Each of the eight corners are only displaying black. Instead we could cover these areas with translucent plastic that bounces these pixels light out to the edges of the screen in a similar way that fiber optics can relocate light. Instead of wasting this potential light we can add it to the experience and a 110° FOV could be perceived as perhaps 130°, bringing us one step closer to a more immersion.

Here is a very crude example. The top of the right screen is sampled, the corner is illuminated and reflected into the top border. This doesn’t have to be quite so general, we can split the areas up into smaller bands to improve the effect.

 

coaster with border

 

Wide angle, low distortion camera tracking for the Oculus Rift

I thought I would write a quick demo about one problem of the Oculus Rift DK2 that not been addressed, the coverage of the positional tracking camera. Generally it works really quite well, but if you move outside it’s field of view then tracking will stop, immersion will be lost and the experience degraded. The camera is pretty standard, they’ve not designed anything new, just adapted a fast, reliable (and cheap) off the shelf sensor. It doesn’t have an amazing field of view so it’s quite easy to move outside this range.

m_5329e14e84308_s

52º is actually pretty narrow…

If Oculus hopes to have a system whereby you can navigate a whole room then 52º just can’t cut it. A 90º view would mean you could place the camera in the corner of a room and it would be able to look along the walls.

Not everyone will want to want to sit near a corner….

Ideally we have a system that has 180º coverage so it can be placed on a suitable wall and the user has little danger of moving outside it’s field of view.

 

So just get a wide angle camera right?

iphone-accessories-fish-eye
Actually this isn’t an optimal solution since wide angle lens create not only a huge amount of distortion but the center of the lens, where the user is likely to spend most of their time, is compressed so the amount of ‘pixels on target’ is actually quite low. Great for expressive photography but not so much for tracking LEDs at sub milimeter accuracy…

Instead a better solution is to simply use multiple cameras at a slight angle to each other providing 180º+ coverage.Screenshot 2014-10-11 22.22.52 By this I mean we have three camera sensors on a single circuit board, not three separate cameras.

 

three lens camera

 

 

 

 

 

 

I created a quick playable demo in Unity to show the idea. A camera on either side of the central camera gives us significant overlap. The three bottom ‘screens’ show what each of the camera can see, when you move to the side the LED markers are transferred to the other camera.

We don’t have to worry about strictly lining up the images since they won’t be displayed. The cost is marginally more expensive, but imaging sensors are really very cheap, so the camera would only be a couple of dollars more expensive.** There is a slight processing overhead when moving from one sensor to the next as more markers would need to be tracked.

It is inevitable that Oculus will move to using camera on the HMD to track position (and pass through a picture to the user) but this may not come for another couple of consumer versions, so in the mean time using multiple low field of view cameras together to give a wide field of view tracking is quite possible.

You can ‘play’ the demo here. Press 1 and 2 to switch from a 90º camera watching three 72º overlapping cameras to a 160º camera in the same position and move your mouse. You can see the sphere behind the ‘displays’. In a real application the cameras would not move, the user would, but the demo allows you to move the camera to show how they would overlap and still give you a wide, undistorted field of view.

 

** A quick Goggle reveals the sensors in the Oculus camera are actually about $9 each! More than I hoped but still not crazy money…

 

The experts over on Reddit had this to say:

3rd_Shift: “It seems utterly preposterous to pursue a multiple camera solution with the added cost and complexity that entails when you could achieve the same result with a wide-angle lens and a higher resolution camera.”

Randomoneh “Have you ever used a fisheye lens?It seems like you’re confusing fisheye for rectilinear lens.”

My reply :

yes of course.

So lets see, how about just using say a lens like the rectilinear Nikon 13mm f/5.6, well we don’t actually need that lens, just clone it in plastic… it only has 118 degree field of view but we can’t go beyond that without going into fish eye territory…

http://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/13mm.htm

But not to worry…. so we’ll clone in plastic which will make it cheaper right? Lets make it only 1% of the cost of its original price… despite the fact that it has 12 groups / 16 elements (ie 16 lens) and weighs over 1kg.

So 1% of the original price is about $80, yes, in 1979 the lens cost $8k.. now they’re, god knows… $25k+??

So $80 1kg plastic lens for 118 degrees vs. three $10 10g cameras for 180 degrees.

“utterly preposterous” you say….?

Please feel free to link to a nice 180 degree rectilinear lens for $30….