The Best HMD I Can Get My Hands On (Right Now)
What a perfect time to exist on this planet. Technologies are coming into existence that our mothers and fathers could only dream of. It is perfectly reasonable to think that within our lifetime humankind will be able to experience a sophisticated and robust metaverse that will allow us to bridge social gaps, tear down race and sex barriers, facilitate education for more youth, and engage in fantastic media and gaming experiences with each other. In fact, that is barely the beginning of a much longer list. The possibilities for the use of metaversal technology is almost limitless, and it is quite possible that we will owe this entire foray into the virtual space to Palmer Luckey and the Oculus Rift. I already reflected on this technology in its first incarnation in a previous message, so I won’t get bogged down in the theoretical if I can help it. Specifically I want to focus on the Development Kit 2, and what it brings to the metaversalist’s arsenal.
Just like its predecessor, the DK2 is a comfortable, functional, wired HMD. It still needs to draw power from an external source and it’s input comes directly from a desktop computer. However, the first major change comes in its integration with a desk (or tripod mounted) camera. When the DK1 was released it allowed the user to track their view within simulated worlds by looking left, right, up and down. However, it did not allow the user to track their head in space. This means that you couldn’t lean around corners, lean over to look down at your feet, or get truly close to inspect objects. As technologies are developed that can render digital imagery at near-lifelike quality you will certainly want the ability to inspect your environment. Well, with the help of infrared tracking, the DK2 allows you to do this and it works really well.
The amount of presence enhancement that comes from head tracking is astounding. Not just for the person inside of the HMD, either. As I’ve remarked earlier, when I was using AltspaceVR I noticed that the head tracking data was being sent not just to my viewport, but also to the head of my avatar that others were seeing in the social VR environment. The effect is wonderful for enhancing social VR and I would encourage you to read my thoughts on AltspaceVR (and follow their progress, I’m a huge fan of what they’re doing.)
There are, of course, other important upgrades. The DK2 allows programs to access the HMD directly, which streamlines the usage process. As we all know, ease-of-use is extremely important in order to get people to adopt an emergent technology. Without adopters there’s no funding to continue the development, and so making a plug-and-play product will be important to VR in the short (and long) run.
The graphics are better, due to screen pixel density. Essentially, the more pixels per inch of screen, the less you notice their individual colors when the lenses focus the picture onto your eyes. This, too, will be extremely important to allowing users a robust experience, since the device is currently used only for visual feedback. (They are working on binaural audio, though, which would also be driven by the head tracking.)
The price point was a little high for the casual user, but as with all technology as the demand rises more accessible units will become available either from Oculus or a competitor. There were substantial rumors that by the end of 2015 we may have one or more consumer-level HMDs on the market so if you were thinking about buying a DK2 I would suggest you wait (if you can muster up any patience.) If you are unable to, though, I think that the DK2 isn’t a bad investment. Though not initially stable (it is a development kit, after all) they regularly update and it’s quite likely that by the time consumer versions of other HMDs are being released the DK2 will be the most stable for a while.
It’s a wonderful, magical little device and I am a big fan of it.