Back in 2012, I watched with great interest as Oculus VR kicked off what many presumed would be a new era of human computer interaction based on an immersive virtual reality headset. Smartphone displays were mass produced enough and high quality enough to be a feasible design component. The acceleration sensors which were also popularized on phones (and hard drives) were also a key ingredient. I was pretty excited to see what this kind of VR was like but since it quickly developed into a Windows only hobby I figured I’d be patient.

Unlike other computer technologies which one could vicariously experience by watching a demonstration video, the whole point with VR was that it was a whole new way of doing things that you had to actually experience to fully appreciate. And I sure did want to see it for myself! I consider it kind of amazing that, despite being highly motivated, it took me four years before I ever got to look through a VR headset. That opportunity was today.

I went to the Microsoft Store, somewhat ironically, where they were giving demos of their frenemy Valve's VR technology on the HTC Vive.

  • Obviously I’m sad that there is no Linux… uh, I mean SteamOS support. Gamers. Par for the course. I’ve already covered why.

  • The next thing that I found regrettable was that none of the nine possible demos were cockpit based. I already lamented this ridiculous oversight of the VR community but sad to encounter it up close.

  • Cable management is an issue. This Vive wants to be the system that allows more kinetic bodily motion than other systems yet, treading on the umbilical cord is not cool. My manufacturing engineering experience calls to mind brackets for drop down pneumatic hose that would do the trick. I’m sure serious VR pioneers have worked something out but as it stands, the cable is bad.

  • The mass of the unit seems pretty chunky for a pair of sunglasses, but not bad at all for a pair of computer monitors. Once on your head, it’s not too bad and with the wow factor of what’s going on, in my 12 minute evaluation, I didn’t even notice the weight. I still think a helmet form factor isn’t entirely stupid.

  • My demo was only 12 minutes, but I had absolutely no simulator sickness. That’s a good thing too since I fear I’m getting more sensitive to that. When I was young I was immune to motion sickness of any kind, but as I started refining my equilibrium faculties on the bike, I became much more sensitive. Recently I tried to play some Skyrim projected onto a 10 foot screen and despite playing it through a few times a couple of years ago that way, lately it makes me uncomfortably queasy pretty quickly. I guess I’m trying to say that I’m a delicate flower when it comes to these things and I had no problems at all.

  • In fact, the latency looked great. I think the best indication of that was to look at the controllers and wave them around spastically. I could see the latency, but without making a serious effort, the virtual controllers in your hands are as correctly placed as they are when you’re looking at them in real reality.

  • When Oculus started their first Kickstarter campaign, my eyesight was still great. In the last four years it has degraded quite a bit. I have trouble seeing detail far away but I can read books fine and I can read computer monitors perfectly. I was very happy to find that my vision in VR is pretty good.

  • I was especially curious to see for myself how serious the screen door problem was. I could notice it if I looked, but when I wasn’t trying to see it, I didn’t. I think this will only improve with time and, for me, it’s fine.

  • The resolution in general was good. Photo realistic stuff was photorealistic. By being able to turn your head to look at things, it really magnifies the amount of information your brain gets compared to static computer displays.

  • The field of view was not 100% what a normal human can make use of, but it was ok. Again, I expect this will improve if the whole thing catches on. As I pointed out in my discussion of cockpit games, many situations ideal for VR simulate a person who would naturally be wearing a helmet anyway. It’s not like a normal gaming setup has fully provisioned field of view either.

  • I think there is a ton of potential, but I don’t even think that a serious game has been created that really takes full advantage of this technology. I kept thinking about how awesome Skyrim would be with this, but to use all of VR’s potential would be very hard. I’m confident it’s coming though. The demo titles were to VR what Little Brick Out was to personal computing.

  • Of course I am disgusted to see the stupid 2d GUI play such a big part in the care and feeding of this technology. This massive failure of imagination will be an Achilles heel that will plague VR for decades.

  • The demo was very hard for the Microsoft store guy to get running. I admit to standing there thinking, dude, I am not even helping. And eventually when my son was doing the demo, it died coincident with an alert box saying "Steam is updating", or as I read it "You don’t have control over your own computer, chump."

  • The freedom of motion was neat, but moving around is dang awkward. Hence my endorsement of cockpit games. In one game you could just point to a spot and teleport around; that’s really awkward.

  • Because you could move about the cabin a little bit, they had this clever system of chaperone squares which was like a blue fence that emerged out of nothing when you got too close to what would be considered out of bounds, e.g. walking into a real wall in real life.

  • For all that though, the sense of space was awesome.

It felt like there was so much untouched potential. I think VR will happen and it is entirely possible that it will be a pretty major shift within the next 10 years. Still, at $800 and the need to be a paying Microsoft customer, it’s probably a little out of my price range right now. I’ll be looking for people selling their units on Ebay after the holidays in 2018.