Ben Kuchera

The future, improved: hands on with the high-definition Oculus Rift dev kit

The future, improved: hands on with the high-definition Oculus Rift dev kit

“We were putting it together the day before we got here. If you put your nose to it you can smell the paint,” Oculus CEO Palmer Luckey told me as I looked at the HD version of the Oculus Rift dev kit. “We didn’t know if we’d be showing it or not.”

The hardware fits just like the standard dev kit, but it’s easy to tell the difference while walking around a tech demo for Unreal Engine 4. The screen door effect is removed, you can see more detail, and the image is clear and bright. There is still some motion blur when turning your head, but the image quality has been vastly improved with the new display.

Very little, if anything, needs to be done to existing games and demos to take advantage of the new hardware. “The software side is relatively easy, thanks to our awesome chief architect insisting on making his ridiculous SDK with adjustable parameters,” Luckey explained. 

The original idea for the SDK was to just have profiles for the company’s displays, but Oculus’ software architect demanded that the SDK be fully adjustable and compatible with “anything that hooks up to it.” The result of that demand was that the Rift reports its size, resolution, and other parameters to the software when it’s connected.

“It adjusts games on the fly to match [the hardware],” Luckey said. “So these demos people have been putting out for our original dev kit? We can plug in our HD version and it just works perfectly.”

“That’s cool as hell,” I told him.

“I know,” he said, smiling.  “It’s super cool.” You can not be around this man without catching his excitement for virtual reality.

They’ve had issues with the supply of displays in the past, so I asked if there were many of the his new high definition panel in existence. Luckey said that he’s not worried about supply, but he wouldn’t answer my specific questions about the display used in the high definition Rift.

“I cannot talk about what display it is. It’s a top of the line off the shelf panel. Supply won’t be a problem, there are plenty of them available, and they won’t be discontinued for a while. The other thing is the display we’re using right now, it’s not the final display,” he said. “We have some time until the consumer version comes out, this is just the best tech we have available today.”

Don't expect to be able to buy the high definition kit any time soon. The company is working on a host of improvements, including positional tracking, and they don't want to get locked into the trap of releasing a new dev kit every time they add a new feature or improve the display. I was told that there might be a second dev kit released close to the retail unit so developers could test their creations on hardware that's close to being finalized, but I couldn't get a hint of when that might be out of anyone in the room.

I was nervous that the “gimmick” of the Rift would wear off when I received my own kit, but the more games I play on the hardware the more convinced I become that the Rift presents an improved, dramatically different way to play games. With some teeny tiny hints that Sony may be interested in the technology, and now after having used the much-improved, high definition prototype of the hardware, I can't wait to see what else is coming down the line.