Oculus Rift Development Kit 2 ( DK2 ) Full Review

Posted August 16, 2014 by Edmund in VR Hardware

Well, it’s finally here. The Oculus Rift DK2 has arrived at last, opening up the joys of VR to a new set of developers and enthusiasts, as well as providing a crucial stepping stone towards the mythical ‘CV1’ consumer release.

Oculus Rift DK2 Review 3I’ve had some time with the device now and feel comfortable reporting my impressions of what is great about the device and what still needs work before Oculus VR’s vision is ready to hit primetime.

Good things come in small packages, as they say. I was struck by, not only the size of the box, but also how diminutive the headset actually is. For some reason I had the impression from pictures that the DK2 was much bulkier than the DK1 – but its smaller faceplate and curved edges make it seem quite compact and neat, but also a tad sturdier too. I should note that this is just a perception – I haven’t in any ways stress tested the devices – I wouldn’t want to risk the safety of either. Comfort-wise, the headset feels a little more airy than the DK1, which can only be a good thing. My main complaint with regards to comfort is that having the cable come out the back of the head strap means that you can sometimes feel it brush against your shoulder especially when it’s fully extended – which can be an immersion-breaker.

Some of you may notice that the footage shown in this video may look slightly out of focus or a bit strange from time to time. This is due to how VR experiences are rendered for the DK2. With the new larger optics inside the DK2, Oculus have set setup their SDK to render images with a slight Chromatic Aberration on screen to compensate for the effects of the lenses.

Oculus Rift DK2 Review 2Chromatic aberration is caused by lens dispersion, with different colours of light travelling at different speeds while passing through a lens. What Oculus have done is to figure out how fast different coloured light pass’s through their new optics and corrected for this with their software so that the end result is a near perfect image for the person wearing the Rift. When inside the Rift you don’t see this Aberration unless you look really hard at the outer edges of your field of view and its only noticeable on white objects as white is made up of all the primary colours.

As the name suggests DK2 is still very much a development kit. In fact it is, in many ways, less consumer-friendly than its predecessor.  Getting it all set up, for example, finding the optimal placement for the IR positional tracking camera may take some trial and error, depending on the layout of your room. I myself have had to move furniture to find the sweet spot between too close and too far away. Different demos seem to have different maximum detection ranges – for example Tuscany and the demo room seemed to tolerate a much greater distance from the camera than most third party demos.

At this stage, getting software running can be fiddly as not all demos play nice with the new Oculus runtimes. Some applications need the Rift to be running as the primary monitor, for example. There are plenty of guides and fixes available, and I’m sure it won’t be long before every new release starts smoothly with the direct HMD access setting. If you’re an enthusiast and you’re still waiting for your DK2 to arrive, your wait may well be saving you hours of messing around with display settings in the long run, if that’s any consolation at all. Even now, in spite of these frustrations the DK2 is a great device and there are plenty of games and demos that you’ll be able to get working from day one.

Oculus Rift DK2 Review 1As is obvious, just from the pixel count, the DK2 screen resolution is a big step up from the DK1. It is a huge improvement, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think. Sure, we are edging towards better simulacra and greater sense of presence. But if you had never tried the DK1, then you would still likely comment negatively on the resolution of the DK2 as ‘not being quite good enough for presence’. No, the real reason DK2’s screen resolution is a great leap forward, is that it *is* good enough for detailed UI. You can read text. This makes games like Elite Dangerous much more playable. I don’t think the importance of that can be stressed enough. It opens up whole new possibilities of design, and significantly increases the number of potential applications of the headset.

The higher refresh rate of the screen makes a noticeable difference to the motion blur that you used to experience when making rapid movements in the DK1. The low-persistence OLED display is also supposed to reduce simulation sickness, but it is hard for me to comment on that, as it’s been a while since I experience any serious nausea from VR.

There is a known issue with so-called ‘black-smearing’ in which is caused by pixels being switched off when displaying ‘true blacks’ and there is a slightly longer than usual delay in reactivating those pixels. I have not personally felt this impaired most of my experiences and, by all accounts, it can be essentially fixed in software. In many cases it already has been. Another issue that has been widely reported but probably won’t hamper your enjoyment, is the lower diagonal field of view on the headset. I believe this reduction comes from a reduced vertical field of view but, at any rate, it is not a noticeable downgrade – especially if you had your DK1 eye relief set further ‘out’ for comfort.

Of course, positional tracking is the real ‘great leap forward’ for VR.  From the moment you load up the demo room and start peering at the objects on the desk and crouching behind the chair, you’ll realise that it generates a whole new level of immersion, a taste of the holodeck. Unfortunately, it also seems to be the curse of VR that every enhancement highlights several new things to be fixed or improved. In a matter of mere minutes, you will begin to take the positional tracking for granted, forgetting what it was like to be without it and becoming frustrated whenever you bump up against its limits – like turning 180 and leaning too far forward or back.

Oculus Rift DK2 Review 4To be fair, the tracking volume is quite sufficient for a seated experience – which is what Oculus is targeting – but it is human nature to want to take advantage of this new feature and examine the environment from every angle, and human nature to be disappointed when the technology fails you. It is certainly possible to set up the camera to allow for a good standing experience, it just takes quite a bit of adjustment and the length of the cable to the headset could do with an extra couple of feet. In the end I was able to play Technolust, in such a way that I was able to transition from sitting to standing without breaking the tracking and this was quite a magical experience.

From an art and design perspective, positional tracking does add a number of challenges. For example, a lot more care will be needed in designing and animating good body models. In Sightline: the chair, your body remains static even as you lean around, creating the strange scenario of being able to lean outside your own head and turn to look at it. Couch Knights currently has best implementation of natural body leaning animation, but even this can be broken by standing up and looking down. Not implementing any avatar at all, might be the best workaround in the short term.

All in all, the DK2 is a great bit of kit that I am sure you will not regret ordering, if you have already. As a devkit it will certainly serve its purpose – the higher resolution screen and positional tracking both do what they need to do, even if there is still room for improvement in both. Ultimately, though, the real test of whether a piece of hardware is worthwhile is the quality of the games and software that are created for it. The DK2 is well on the way in this regard, but if you want to hear more about DK2 demos then you’ll have to stay tuned for future Virtual Reality Reviewer videos. Why not hit subscribe?

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About the Author

Edmund

Edmund Ward is a philosophy graduate who has focused on aesthetics and cultural critique in the information age. He grew up with 'the dream of the holodeck' and is prone to get very excited by new innovations in natural user-interfaces. Edmund is currently looking for volunteers to look after the glucose drip that will sustain his "fleshform" (as he insists on calling it) when he migrates permanently to VR.

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