It can be easy to get discouraged with virtual reality (VR). All it takes is one sub-par demonstration and you’re left questioning if the technology is really as impressive as you first thought it was. I’ll admit I had that feeling earlier this week. It had been a month or so since I’d last strapped an Oculus Rift to my face so I practically jumped at the chance to use a DK1 at the start of the week. I got to try out a demo that had caught my eye a while back, but I’ll admit I was left underwhelmed by it. The 3D effect didn’t pop as much as I remembered it doing the first time I tried the headset and the awkward position I was sitting in at the time destroyed any hint of presence the demo had hoped to achieve.
It was a disheartening experience to say the least, and given the videogame’s recent tendency to push unproven technology in recent years I was momentarily worried we might have another 3D TV situation on our hands.
Thank god, then, that I got to try a DK2 for the first time shortly thereafter.
Oculus VR gave a short demonstration of everyone’s new favourite headset at a developer gathering in London this week. With it the company bought one of the demos seen at this year’s Game Developers Conference, which played host to the reveal of the DK2. Users strap on the headset and are greeted to the monstrous Sauron-wannabe from Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 Elemental demo. He sits, care-free on a stone throne opposite you inside a vast cave while an almost chess board-like table of tiny subjects running around the various stones sits in front of you.
Of course the first thing you’ll notice here is just how great everything looks. That’s in part thanks to the power of Epic Games’ latest VR-compatible engine, but also down to DK2’s impressive 1080p OLED screen. The panel is capable of displaying crystal clear resolution images that makes the black lines of the DK1 something of an embarrassment. Yes, we’ve all put up with the DK1’s screen and had some amazing experiences on it, but once you’ve tried the DK2’s panel, there’s simply no going back.
Next I’m told to give the low persistency a try. This involved shaking my head to basically find that the image holds steady, with no visible motion blur. This is one of the DK2’s unsung heroes. It’s going to work wonders towards combating simulation sickness when developers get their hands on the kit in July.
Undoubtedly the biggest leap made in DK2 however is the positional tracking. No longer is your head simply a swivel for a videogame’s camera; the new kit accurately tracks any movements the headset makes thanks to a camera following positional LEDs planted on it. The effect is staggering; I’m able to not only turn my head to look all around the room but lean forward into the demo, getting a close-up view of the miniaturised creatures scurrying around. Not only that, but I put the DK2 to the test and try and peek behind a rock that was sitting directly in front of me when I started. It performs without a hitch, following me as I stretch down and peak behind the object.
The software is almost smug in the way everything remains consistently high-quality. It expects you to be sticking your face in every inch of its digital craftsmanship and has nothing to hide. The positional tracking is exceptionally realised, and this is a demo that knows it. There are no restraints other than that if you move out of sight of the camera the screen will turn black and white until you adjust.
I took off the DK2 feeling like I really had been sitting in that cave for a precious few moments. Not only that, but I emerged refreshed and reassured about the Oculus Rift and virtual reality as a whole. The improvements made here are immensely impressive. Simply put, July can’t get here soon enough.
Jamie is VRFocus‘ staff writer, responsible for hunting down the news, writing features and keeping the social channels up and running. He’s been an avid videogamer and tech geek for as long as he can remember, having worked in the industry for almost a decade. If he’s not shut in his room playing everything from the latest blockbusters to obscure retro gems, he’ll be in the cinema trying to catch up with recent films or scurrying about London watching live music. He’s incredibly enthusiastic about virtual reality’s future and cannot wait to see a Metroid title adapted for the tech.