In my review of the Rift I called it out on the limitations of its resolution and also some blurring of the lenses. Does that mean that VR is a failure, to sit alongside the Virtual Boy?
No, in fact I believe the opposite is true – the Oculus Rift is a resounding success as a proof of concept. However if this is a proof of concept then what does the Rift need to do to improve?
There are several immediate gains to be made when Oculus launches the Rift V2. Firstly two high resolution cameras on the front of the device would really help. I haven’t tried a Vive, but I suspect that camera has some great uses. Firstly it allows the user to look around without removing the Rift and also adds safety. Two cameras would give depth perception, and a small button on the side of the device to activate them would save a lot of hassle when groping for a controller or a drink. It could also open up the way to more augmented reality experiences, more in line with the Microsoft holodeck.
In terms of simplifying the market place the Rift V2 has to come bundled with the Touch controllers. I always hate when a device splits their user group in two. Whilst we’re talking about simplifying the marketplace – they need to simplify the market place. Even this long after launch the Oculus store is still dreadful, and comes bundled with all kinds of hateful behaviour like user agreements that state they can scan your hard drive and processes that run constanly in the back ground.
I discussed the difficulties of resolution in my original review, and how virtual desktops and video are problematic. The Rift is perfectly capable of using its 1080 x 1200 resolution to place you in a virtual cinema with an 80 foot screen in front of you. It’s a fantastically immersive viewing experience. The problem is that the 1080 x 1200 resolution means that if that 80 foot screen is showing a 1920 x 1080 video, the Rift is going to strip a lot of the resolution out of it. Watching HD Netflix is like watching a badly compressed video on the internet.
What is really needed is a huge boost to resolution. I think that any improvements are going to produce impressive gains, and I’m going to go out on a limb here – I suspect that if you can get to around 4K per eye then VR would be practically indistinguishable from reality. Big claim, but I say that based upon how life like some of the detailing in VR already looks, like cockpits in racing sims or Oculus Dreamdeck.
Unfortunately, that is a huge ask. We are talking about quadrupling the resolution of the screen, a move that is going to require a vastly more complex (and more expensive) piece of hardware, and also huge gains in GPU technology. Not a GTX1080, not an 1180, probably not a 1280. I think we’re going to be waiting ten to twenty years for VR to hit full potential.
Full potential? What is that? Well clearly nobody knows, and like all tech and advancement I suspect we will see a lot of surprises and kinks in the road. However already at this stage the promise of VR is huge.
Imagine a world in which going into VR didn’t mean a bulky headset, but instead was closer to putting on a pair of sunglasses. Sounds like science fiction, but Virtual Retinal Displays should make that a reality and this technology already exists and is in use today. By beaming the image directly onto the retina the hardware involved can be significantly lighter. In addition I have read reports that using this method creates a degree of blurring between pixels, leading to an overall smoother image. This sounds similar to what the Rift already achieves, but better. Fine, so I’m not mad keen to sign up as a beta tester for getting my retinas fried, but I suspect this is the way of the future.
So let us assume we have a light VR headset with a very high resolution, what would that actually mean for us? Simple: it would change everything.
Winner of the Oculus “Most Irritating Stock Photo” Award
At this point things start to go full science fiction, but having used the Rift it’s all completely believable. If you had the choice between watching a film on a laptop, or plugging glasses into that laptop and watching in a cinema, which would you pick? What if you had the choice between going to a miserable office in the real world or working remotely from a virtual beach? The list is endless.
There are aesthetic and practical advantages as well. Imagine you are writing an essay on a small laptop in an ugly dingy study room next to a loud road. Plug in your VR glasses and you could be sitting in a calm library, or in Venice, or on a beach. Lovely, but perhaps you get distracted easily and want to sit in a black void? Fine. Now to work – firstly pull up your document on a virtual screen in front of you. Now open a 20 foot cinema screen in the distance, then hang a few webpages from the air around you. Open a few books and files – all floating in the air of course. Suddenly this doesn’t just sound like a nice way to work, it sounds like a productive and smart way to work.
There is just so much potential here that it has scary ramifications. Suddenly the grim future of Ready Player One becomes much more real – if you lived in a hell hole, but had easy access to any reality you pleased, what would you pick?
For me, there is no question – VR is the future. There is too much potential and too much scope for it to be ignored. However the Oculus Rift is likely to be looked back on as the 80s brick mobile phone – huge leaps and bounds at the time, but destined to become hopelessly, hopeless obsolete.