Cetacean vacation

One of the criticisms leveled at virtual reality is that it can be isolating. Rather than being with other people, the argument goes, VR users are spending their time in a made-up world.

As Applin and Fischer and others have noted, this criticism contains within it a very misleading view of the human condition. In fact, we all live in a made-up world. With our extensive use of clothing, medicine, housing, utensils, written language and more, even the most “back to the earth” among us are living a highly virtualized existence.

So I don’t feel that I am betraying some key principle of “authenticity” as I let my mind wander over the possibilities that have occurred to me after experiencing the Valve VR demo — possibilities that would never have occurred to me after trying on “almost good enough” technologies, such as the Oculus Rift or the various CAVE environments I have visited through the years.

And I find that all of the experiences that occur to me are ones that actually draw me closer to other people. For example, I would love to be a dolphin for the day, going on a mini-vacation with a friend — who is also being a dolphin — as we explore the great barrier reef.

Unlike human scuba divers, my friend and I will be free to chat away as we visit one fantastical undersea wonder after another. And of course we will be able to swim a lot farther and faster. :-)

Or perhaps my friend and I can be flying dragons swooping and gliding through the floating islands of James Cameron’s Pandora. Thinking of this last possibility, I am struck by the difference between a mere stereo iMax movie and the experience of true sensory immersion.

In point of fact, I remember thinking, when I first saw the beautiful and intricate visualizations of Middle Earth in Peter Jackson’s Ring trilogy, that one day even this will seem primitive, in the way most people now think of black and white silent films as primitive.

Now, for the first time, it is clear to me what kind of future alternative experience is coming along to make that happen.

6 Responses to “Cetacean vacation”

  1. Michael Blix says:

    It’s exciting to see your continuing reaction to VR that crossed the crucial threshold. It really has an incredible way of opening up someone’s mind to what is possible.

    Have you seen this talk by Michael Abrash, from the Valve room team, now at Oculus, laying out his path through the misconceptions to realize the power of VR?

    Some pretty wild, intriguing ideas: VR as enabling the MOST social interactions ever experienced, being the final platform, greatest R&D opportunity in decades, HCI on a whole new level, etc. All from someone who was initially quite skeptical of VR. I’d be interested in your take.

    A truly history moment is coming when the consumer version of the Oculus Rift is released, delivering something beyond the Valve room demo. It’s going to have instant consumer adoption on a massive scale. ‘Dawn of computer graphics’ indeed!

  2. admin says:

    Yes, eventually, but not the first consumer version. Remember, the Valve demo is not constrained by the requirement that it come in at consumer cost.

    It’s a reference implementation that deliberately pushes beyond the threshold of perception on all fronts: custom lens design combining off-axis aspherics with a fresnel layer for high res *throughout* the field of view, ultra-low-persistence OLED display panels (so no pixel smearing at all when you move your head), full 6DOF 1000fps inertial sensing for subframe head prediction, camera based AR for ground truth correction of head position/orientation, ultra-high frame rate (95 fps) with a separate data pipe+display panel for each eye.

    Not to take anything away from Oculus — I think what they are doing is wonderful — but practically speaking, it will be at least two years before Oculus or any commercial player in this space will be able to achieve that level of performance at consumer prices.

  3. Michael Blix says:

    I don’t think Oculus has any intention of shipping a consumer unit that doesn’t deliver as strong an experience as the Valve room. If so, then it’s just a question of when they ship it.

    Abrash, who led the Valve VR team, addressed the exact question of when a consumer version could ship with the knowledge that they just created a reference implementation that one might naturally think years away from consumers in January:

    Powerful consumer VR with presence in 2015 at a consumer price point. Maybe he’s wrong but I can’t figure out what the issue would be. Especially with Facebook-level capital, stated that selling at cost, working directly with Samsung now, and that Oculus has had for months consumer prototypes already that deliver strong presence. I really think they could ship a consumer unit for ~$300 in 2014, but might not more based on strategic reasons like content pipeline not being ready.

    Even the second Dev Kit about to start shipping has most of those features: low persistence OLED, 1kHz tracking, positional tracking with external camera, etc.

    It’s so much better than the first dev kit. Latency still too high, refresh rate needs to improve from 75Hz->95Hz+, but really it’s tantalizingly close, just a step or two away.

  4. admin says:

    I guess we’ll see. :-)

    The good news is that it’s not a question of whether, only of when.

  5. evolvedant says:

    “it will be at least two years before Oculus or any commercial player in this space will be able to achieve that level of performance at consumer prices.”

    Thankfully this isn’t the case at all.

    “CV1 will meet or exceed the quality of Valve’s demo.” – Palmer Luckey
    And this was stated 5 months ago on Reddit before the Facebook deal that allowed Oculus VR to reach for an even higher CV1 goal. More recently it has been clarified that Oculus VR’s internal demo now far exceeds Valve’s.

  6. admin says:

    @evolvedant: Although I’m not sure what it would mean to exceed Valve’s demo, I, like everyone else, hope that Oculus will come out with something spectacular.

    Believe me, whenever I can actually experience an high-resolution-at-the-periphery, zero-latency, rock-solid-registration 360 degree world with Oculus, I will be very happy.

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