It looks like Archimago was a nice boy in 2018 :-). Look what Santa brought him under the Christmas tree:
The Oculus Rift + Touch VR Bundle runs very well on that Intel i7 / nVidia GTX 1080 computer I have in my sound room.
As I mentioned last time at the end of 2018, I don't use the "man cave" just for 2-channel music listening (I think instead of calling it a "sound room", I should rename it my "media technology room"). Today, I'll just share a few thoughts on this device. While this isn't the usual stuff I talk about around here, I think it's good to look outside the audio hobby regularly and consider all the things the modern media technology hobbyist can do that vie for one's attention and time! VR being one that's still IMO very much in its infancy...
Here's what we have in the package:
It looks well packaged with none of the parts coming loose inside the box during shipping (from the North Pole of course). There's plastic tape and molded fasteners to keep the contents secure. Touch controllers to the sides. The two Oculus Sensors sitting on top of nicely weighted microphone stand-like bases (alas while you can angle the sensor vertically, the pole itself does not extend). And in the middle we have the Oculus Rift "CV2" headset; the Head-Mounted Display in VR lingo, or HMD. There's a little box of accessories in the lower middle with some scant instructions and batteries for the controllers. Basically, go online and get the Oculus software for Windows and instructions are on the website. Alas, it doesn't look like there's much Mac support out there although SteamVR is available for MacOS.
You've probably seen pictures of the headset over the years. Here's another view:
There's nothing much to see really on the outside. Unlike the HTC Vive, the Oculus does not have an external camera for "augmented reality". You can see the "hybrid" fresnel lenses inside the device that focus the dual OLED screens.
The 1080x1200x90fps/eye headset has decent resolution and the smooth 90fps refresh rate is nice. I noticed that there was a firmware update needed when I first ran the Oculus set-up software. While not the highest resolution mainstream consumer headset (which belongs to the HTC Vive Pro at the moment - 1440x1600x90fps/eye), this is a significant upgrade in image quality compared to those cell-phone based VR headsets like the Samsung Gear VR which I checked out back in 2016. These days, there's the Oculus Go which is much like a smartphone-based VR headset made as a standalone VR system. Also, I was not particularly impressed by the Playstation VR system that a friend has in terms of graphics. Of course it better be an upgrade given the cost and the PC processing power available!
The headset is relatively light, the foam around the eyes comfortable even for an hour at a time (about the longest I've used it in one sitting). I was comfortably able to wear thing-rimmed glasses with the headset on without issue. There is a little bit of light leakage around the nose which I did not find problematic. The cable running off the headset terminates in an HDMI input and USB 3.0 which will need to be connected to your computer of course. Thankfully the cable is not too thick or heavy and long enough ~13 feet so you have some leeway to roam around a little without tugging the device off your computer - don't trip over it. :-)
There is a small slider on the bottom of the headset to select interpupillary distance (basically spacing between the two eyes). No focus adjustment, just push the headset up or down a bit to adjust through the Fresnel lens.
Notice the foam-padded headphones. Not the best sounding headphones obviously, but they are decent for games. Not too much distortion even with higher volumes, frequency response favours the mids and bass. You can use a little flathead screwdriver tip included in the accessory box to remove the headphones if you wish. There are now some options for replacement Rift headphones (like this earbud and this from JBL). Software can utilize HRTF calculations to produce the spatialization effect - this worked well for me and certainly improved the level of immersion in games, hearing footsteps and voices coming from all directions including from behind is cool and creepy.
Head tracking is excellent. The headset has gyroscopic, magnetometric, and accelerometric sensors polled at 1kHz. I'm typically very sensitive to first-person shooters (I don't think I can last >10 minutes without getting nauseated). I can tolerate the VR experience reasonably well, better than the Samsung Gear VR. I suspect the accuracy of the head tracking plus the 90fps framerate helps significantly; it's better than just a straight 3D FPS experience for me because at least I can correlate head rotation to actual vestibular input. Linearly moving around/walking can still be rather nauseating.
Those are the Touch controllers; one for each hand of course. Notice the wrist strap so you don't drop the things. It's tough to describe the experience, you just have to give them a try... I find them well designed as controllers, light weight, and comfortable even with prolonged use. They are tracked, just like the headset with the two Oculus Sensors as they emit IR signals for positioning. As you can see in the box above, there are 2 Sensors included in this package.
This is what my room looks like with the Sensors in place:
That's my son playing Robo Recall (excellent shooter game, included with the Oculus Rift Touch package). Notice encircled in red the position of my 2 Oculus Sensors. One up front and to the right angled up at the player. The other further back in the room, to the left and tilted down at the player. Although the set-up software complained that the sensors were >6-feet apart (line-of-sight distance was about 11' for my set-up), this actually works very well with good "tracking volume". No problem with tracking the Touch controller if I reach overhead and no problem "seeing" when I crouch down to the ground or virtually "pick something up" from the ground with controller in hand. Nice also that the Rift software allows you to draw the virtual play space and if you start wandering out too far (like getting too close to the speakers or too far back towards the sofa), a visual virtual boundary will show up as a warning. Note that the Sensors need to be plugged into the computer USB ports also - make sure you have at least 3 USB 2.0/3.0 free - 2 for the Sensors, 1 for the headset.
By the way, for even better tracking, you can buy a separate Oculus Sensor. Usually, this would be place behind the player. I already use an extension cable for the front right Sensor (the Sensor cable is about 8' long); definitely would need an even longer extension cable if I installed a 3rd!
I think while VR has far to go before we'll see (or worry about!) a Ready Player One kind of world, this is a very compelling system at a good price these days. Remember that you'll need a decent CPU (at least Intel i5) and GPU (nVidia GTX 1060 recommended) in the computer so the cost of getting it done well isn't cheap.
Along with various demos and such, I've also played a few games in VR at this point - Robo Recall, Beat Saber, Lucky's Tale, Project Cars, Creed: Rise To Glory, Arizona Sunshine and Space Pirate Trainer VR. Nice experience overall... I already mentioned Robo Recall. Car racing in VR with Project Cars is fun but nauseating (I'm not likely gonna play much car racing I think!). And Beat Saber is a seriously fun game - recommended - even my wife enjoys this one! For a good physical workout, try out Creed: Rise To Glory virtual boxing. Good to see that there are "comfort ratings" to know about before you buy the software on Oculus Store.
BTW Crow: The Legend is an interesting interactive short film that provides a taste of potential future media.
In summary, while I do believe that VR has a lot further to evolve, it's nice to experience a system that works quite well today and the cost is certainly dropping nicely. The various pieces of the system are coming together with head and controller tracking (this tracks significantly better than Sony's PlayStation VR that a friend has with less restrictions, less "jitter" and drift). The two Sensors for the play space are small, looks okay, and not too cumbersome; I like that they are put to the side and out of the way rather than front-and-center like the old Wii motion sensor, Xbox Kinect, or the Playstation VR system's camera.
It's important to remember that the VR experience is a very personal one. This is not the kind of thing IMO that parties are made for unless a bunch of friends are able to compete together and have their own powerful computer and headsets to interact together in the virtual space. I just don't find watching people play VR and seeing the 2D image on the TV screen all that interesting. I'm also not surprised that something like IMAX VR just isn't going to be viable - that reminds me of how the videogame arcades folded years ago when the technology can be experienced in the comfort of home.
Two features I'll be looking for in the near future would be wireless communication between the headset and computer and better resolution. Although HTC has the wireless system for the Vive based on Intel WiGig technology, it doesn't look quite ready for prime time. I'm OK with the wired system until battery life, usability, reliability and cost are better. This will surely come of age at some point. As for better resolution, I'm thinking around 2Kx2Kx90fps/eye should look rather amazing; maybe something like half-4K per eye - 1920x2160x90fps/eye. This will be about 4x the number of pixels (or 2x resolution) of the current Oculus Rift headset. With the current HDMI 2.1 AV standard, there should be enough bandwidth to get this done. Of course, we're likely looking at a future generation of graphics cards to manage consistently smooth 90+fps for this.
Further out in the longer term, to achieve "Retina" resolution where the pixels are no longer visible, we'll have to aim towards something like 6Kx6K/eye using a target of 100° field of view horizontally and 60 pixels/degree as the limits of visual resolution at the fovea (currently, the Oculus Rift is close to 11 pixels/degree "only"). Combine this with 32-bits/pixel color and 90+fps, this kind of image quality will definitely require a few generations of CPU, graphics cards and next generation HDMI standards to work smoothly. Considering that we can reasonably say that 24/96 audio exceeds human hearing resolution, and 4K TV resolution is all we really need at reasonable seating distances, achieving good performance with the numbers above for VR could be a driving force for future consumer hardware. It will certainly be challenging to achieve wireless communication speeds for this kind of data transfer rate though!
As a technophile, it's fun playing with stuff like this, remembering that VR use/gaming is far from mainstream at this point in history. Data up to September 2018 suggested <1% of Steam users have VR headsets connected (0.72% to be exact). While the number is growing, this will take awhile to develop and I don't think uptake will be fast due to various demands like the cost and space requirements to get it done well. We'll see in the years ahead...
One last thing. VR Motion Sickness is worth thinking about as audiophiles. This is I think a good example of the power of "seeing is believing". After all, that visuovestibular mismatch is a reflection of how the brain "thinks" the body should be moving, and this "belief" in movement without vestibular input is powerful enough to create potentially violent physical sensations. Just think about this when we consider audiophiles who somehow believe that "sighted listening" is just as good as blinded, and that they're not psychologically affected by name brands or beautiful looking fascia. ;-)
As what seems like a little New Year gift from Oppo, I see that a new beta firmware is up for the UDP-20X (203 and 205) machines (UDP20X-64-1221B) as of December 28th. This will give the machines support for HDR10+ high dynamic range material, a Dolby Vision HDMI bypass mode for HDMI In, among other smaller changes.
From a technical perspective, HDR10+ is basically "dynamic" HDR10 which means dynamic metadata remapping on a frame-to-frame basis to change the "brightness boundaries" of the scene. (Remember that I wrote about the 4K TV features like HDR awhile back, and specifically about HDR standards here.) So long as the hardware can get the job done (hardware that already supports DolbyVision should be able to do this), it should be just firmware that needs updating to support HDR10+. It looks like a manufacturer will have to submit their devices for compliance testing and an annual admin fee (not much - $10,000/yr for display manufacturers) in order to slap a sticker on the box. Otherwise it's an open, royalty-free standard which is a good thing for compatibility. So far, Amazon Prime Video is already streaming HDR10+. Supposedly the first HDR10+ UHD Blu-Rays are available now: "IMAX Enhanced" A Beautiful Planet and Journey to the South Pacific since early December 2018. It has been reported that the first actual full-length movie with HDR10+ is Bad Times At The El Royale recently available January 1, 2019. Timely release of this feature for the Oppo UHD players I suppose.
At this point, the main "players" in the HDR alphabet soup are: HDR10 (the common denominator for all HDR TV sets and UHD Blu-Rays), Dolby Vision (aka DV, technically still the highest quality and only one with 12-bit resolution/primary color value), HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma, best for on-the-fly encoding like in sports broadcasts) in use in Europe, and now HDR10+ supported by 20th Century Fox, Samsung (see recent promo article) and Panasonic. I know that my Vizio P75 TV from 2016/2017 already has HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG implemented (though HLG not officially announced for this model). Hopefully Vizio will be nice enough to add HDR10+ by firmware, even if not officially announced. :-)
Oppo - great job! If you can, for us audio users, please try to show more audio data on the LCD screen... I'd love to see the front panel LCD show something like a scrolling "Optical In -- 96kHz" when playing music instead of the scrolling generic "SCREEN SAVER" message! A small touch but useful and thoughtful. Should not be hard to implement???
I really like it that companies like Oppo continue to support their products and Vizio has someone like Matt McRae, CTO, visit user forums to discuss and answer questions. Have a look at the uncertainty the Samsung KS8000 (2016) owners experience over whether HDR10+ is coming to the TV set after Samsung announced that it was going to do so through a firmware upgrade back in 2017. Engagement with the end user (especially the advanced, enthusiast end users) by technically astute representatives of a company is an important asset that really adds to the reputation. Word of mouth from vocal and knowledgeable enthusiasts I'm sure goes a long way especially in a crowded market where there might not be much to differentiate devices and features between the brands.
Lastly, kudos to the Vancouver animation team that did Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Watched it over the holidays, fantastic movie and cool soundtrack score! Should be "amazing" in 4K HDR UHD Blu-Ray...
Happy 2019 everyone! Enjoy the media...