In the ever-expanding pursuit for the absolute best virtual reality (VR) technology it’s easy to forget about some of the very basic physical requirements expected of head-mounted displays (HMDs). Every time Oculus VR adds a new component to the consumer Oculus Rift (CV1), for example, it has to take some essential factors into consideration; namely how it affects the size, shape and weight of its device. Resolution, frame rate and latency are all key pillars of the VR experience, but the simple act of putting a piece of hardware on your head and feeling comfortable doing so is just as important no matter how less technically demanding.
A year ago, this appeared to be a much bigger problem. The Oculus Rift’s second development kit (DK2) improved on the original in many ways but was still too heavy, while many complained that the original version of the PlayStation 4’s Project Morpheus HMD from Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) began to hurt their noise after a prolonged period of time. Fortunately, as the industry moves towards the launch of consumer products, the deserved attention is being paid to these aspects and we’ve seen some huge improvements in a short space of time.
For all of its updates to tracking, displays and audio, arguably the most striking feature of CV1 and the Crescent Bay prototype before it is the weight. Coming off the back of the heavy DK2, it feels like a small miracle strapping the latest device to your face. It’s surprisingly similar to donning a Google Cardboard HMD, with the light materials and distance between eyes and display essentially making it feel as if you’re pulling an empty box over your eyes.
If you’ve ever watched him on-stage you’ll know that Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe has beaten the dead horse when it comes to comfort, but it’s not until you put on the consumer kit that you realise why. Going back to DK2 is literally a very heavy sensation and confirms that this edition of the kit was never consumer-ready, no matter how amazing it seemed at the time.
CV1’s weight makes for an enlightening experience, but Project Morpheus is no slouch either. It’s not the weight here so much as the design. SCE’s kit boasts a plastic headband that users can easily adjust to comfortably fit around the top of their head. Once in place the display and lenses essentially dangle in front of the user, taking any kind of pressure off of the front of their face. It’s also possible to slide the front section of the device backwards and forwards, which is essential to making sure you become immersed in the display and not feel like it’s too far out in front.
As for the HTC Vive, it’s hard to say where the kit will end up. With the final consumer edition still to be revealed and essential improvements such as introducing wireless hardware still being made, we can only hope that Valve and HTC will have an ergonomically sound product ready in time for launch this holiday season.
VR is getting ready for the big leagues. It’s encouraging to see that, just a few months out, these HMDs don’t just have the tech specs that consumers are expecting, but are also starting to look and feel the part too. The technology still have a lot of hurdles to overcome, but this is one that’s looking to be behind it.