Hands-on: Oculus Rift Crescent Bay Prototype
Oculus VR’s big announcement at Oculus Connect was the revelation of a new prototype: Crescent Bay. Aligned with Crystal Cove in that it’s not a consumer version nor a development kit, Crescent Bay is a prototype design that will inevitably form the basis of the next iteration of the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD) that will be made available to developers. However, this time it’s more than just a visual product; Crescent Bay also includes built-in audio.
With audio being the key new addition – though far from the only improvement – it’s worth noting that this aspect isn’t perfect. In terms of delivery the 3D audio was frequently lacking in its interpretation; there were a handful of occasions when sounds didn’t follow along when turning your head and would even occasionally cut out altogether. Of course, this is generally a software issue, in terms of hardware Crescent Bay’s audio is well presented yet subtly flawed.
The cups on the Crescent Bay move up and down for positioning (designed to fit a variety of head shapes) but can also be clipped into one of two positions: against your ear or at a 45-degree angle. This is of course to allow you to easily place the device on your head, but arguably leads to the next issue: noise cancellation. The headphones feel similar to those packaged with 1980’s Walkman sets. They’re cushioned as opposed to rubberised, and this results in a comfortable experience (less likely to cause the player discomfort through prolonged use) but also means that sounds in the real-world can still very easily be heard. This, of course, is not the desired result when attempting to achieve that fabled ‘VR presence’.
Elsewhere however, Crescent Bay is most certainly geared towards that lofty goal. Oculus VR has been very cagey about releasing the actual technical specification of Crescent Bay in many respects – screen resolution, refresh rate and latency remain a mystery – however there is an undeniable leap between this new prototype and the currently available development kit, the Oculus Rift DK2. The screen is possibly the best of any virtual reality (VR) HMD, superior even to Project Morpheus and Gear VR in terms of resolution. The ‘screen door effect’ may finally be a thing of the past. Also highly commendable is the lack of motion-blur and the vibrant colours presented on the screen. Crescent Bay, in all visual respects, once again champions Oculus VR as the leader in the field.
The device itself is much lighter and slightly smaller than the Oculus Rift DK2. The bulky front end is counterbalanced by the rear plate (which is designed similarly to the strap crossbar on the Gear VR) and the straps themselves are now plastic. These new arms are adjusted via a thin rubberised cord on each side of the front end, pulled to tighten and locked into place with velcro. The top strap is very similar to that of the Oculus Rift DK2, but slightly thinner.
The positional tracking, now with added LED markers on the rear plate, is a significant leap from the DK2. Now offering a full 360-degrees of detection, the tracking is near flawless. There are still occasional detection issues with fast movement and the space in which a user can move is limited (VRFocus‘ demonstration took place on a 4’ square rubber mat) but Oculus VR has always maintained that their HMD is intended for seated use. Exactly how much of an issue this will become remains to be seen, but VRFocus doesn’t foresee this becoming a problem with the majority of experiences that will become available following the Crescent Bay in due course.
While Crescent Bay may still be a step away from that inevitable consumer version it acts only to reassure that Oculus VR are determined to get VR right this time. Brendan Iribe stated that Crescent Bay was a huge step forward for the device, similar to the jump from the DK1 to the DK2 HMDs, and VRFocus believes that this wasn’t simply bluster; a PR line. It’s the truth. There are still many kinks to be worked out, but Crescent Bay is evidence that the ball is still rolling. It won’t stop until we all believe that presence in a virtual space is achievable in our own homes.