The new VR milestone: Hands on with the latest iteration of Oculus Rift, Crescent Bay, which fully tracks movement

Wow. I thought I had experienced virtual reality before I put on Oculus VR’s new prototype Crescent Bay headset. This is a different experience altogether, and a huge step forward from the DK2 released earlier this year.

In their keynotes at Oculus Connect, the brains behind Oculus kept talking about ‘presence’ what it takes to create total immersion in virtual reality. It sounded like a buzzword to me, until I strapped Crescent Bay onto my face, placed its integrated earpieces over my ears, and stood on the ledge of a skyscraper looking out over a virtual steampunk cityscape. I looked down, tried to step off the ledge, and my body recoiled. I was there.

Oculus’s demonstration ran through a few in house demos and one from Epic. Most of them were built in Unreal Engine 4. In one, a gigantic T-Rex lumbered down a hallway towards me, roared in my face, and stepped over and past me. I turned around to watch it go.

The biggest experiential difference with this demo was standing: I stood in the middle of a real world room and as I walked around it I also walked around in the virtual environment. Taking a single step forward or to the side immediately kicked in the ‘presence’ the Oculus team talked about.

The new audio plays a big role in selling the sense of presence Oculus designed these demos to take advantage of positional audio, and proximity and directionality of sound is key. The integrated earpieces are nothing special, but the way they were used made a big difference.

The demos Oculus used to show off Crescent Bay were all simple, and wisely used their simplicity to very quickly convey that sense of presence. Oculus says that Crescent Bay is as big a jump from DK2 as DK2 was from DK1. I say it’s bigger. This is some next level shit.

Crescent Bay hasn’t just magically solved all of VR’s tricky problems, though. I still felt the telltale hints of motion sickness after a few minutes, and I’m not sure what caused it. Maybe it was from latency, or from the refresh rate, which is higher than DK2 at 90 Hz.

The Oculus team weren't showing off anything like a traditional game. They talk much more about ‘experiences’. I like experiences just fine. But I also like video games, and I’m not sure how those will work while standing and walking around with a cord tethering me to my PC.

When I talked to Oculus’s Nate Mitchell and Palmer Luckey, both hammered home the statement that Oculus is a seated experience... while also grinning in a way that seemed to say “but we’re totally developing this incredible technology dedicated to letting you stand and walk around, so do the math.” The new camera for tracking positional data has a very wide field of view, according to Luckey. White locator dots on the back of the headset allow for a full 360 degrees of movement. The ability to walk is so compelling, I don’t want to have to go back to using a joystick to move.

Oculus isn’t talking specifics about the hardware in the new prototype, but here’s what I can say for sure: the screen is higher resolution, the optics you snuggle up against your eyes are clearer and more comfortable, and the headset is lighter. The screen door effect is almost entirely gone. The display still isn't near the density that Oculus wants it to be Michael Abrash says you'd need about
8Kx8K per eye to achieve the density of your average desktop monitor, given how close the Rift screen sits to your eye but this screen is absolutely good enough to ship in a consumer version.

Mitchell confirmed the demos were running at 90 Hz on high end systems using the new Nvidia Maxwell graphics cards. That’s another worry about the hardware’s eventually usability. It’s going to demand a hell of a PC.

There are still huge challenges ahead, then, but I think Oculus will get there. When I was standing up on that ledge, I took in the Zeppelin in the sky, the steampunk architecture, and the imposing skyscraper that dominated the nighttime skyline. The top of the tower was fitted with Oculus VR’s logo, with Oculus HQ emblazoned underneath. That seems about right. If the consumer Rift lives upto Crescent Bay, this thing is going torule the world.

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