A lot of pixels have been turned black (sorry, I couldn’t find a better analogy for ink in our domain, which is the internet) for the Oculus Rift’s sake – and much has been made about its integration with Second Life. Personally, as I’ve explained elsewhere, I’m underwhelmed. I see the Rift as a bulky, unwieldy device that will have only limited usefulness – and, honestly, I’d much rather spend that money on having my car serviced or paying my bills than on a product that doesn’t fit in with my usage model of Second Life and, thus, will spend the rest of its life gathering dust on a shelf.
Regarding my own usage model of Second Life, I think I’m fairly typical and in line with many other users who simply don’t have the luxury of dedicating to Second Life (or any other virtual world) one, two, or more hours without distractions and interruptions. Even when I’m in-world, I have – at the very least – Firefox with (at least) twenty tabs open. More often than not, I’m also working on various documents in LibreOffice at the same time. Yes, I have to multi-task, like many other people. I have to go back and forth between instructional videos, Wikis, tutorial pages etc and editing stuff in-world, check email etc. And my household’s needs provide an even more diverse gamut of distractions. Also, I don’t have a spare room to equip with all the expensive contraptions I’d need to enjoy virtual reality – and even if I did, there are other things I’d rather do with it.
Also, I’m not even going to get into claims about how “only the combination of Oculus Rift with the Razer Hydra can provide a true VR experience”; Such claims are bullshit and the fact that the people making them choose to speak about specific products and not about a more generic usage model makes me want to use a rather unflattering term. Suffice it to say that these people have ignored the fact that, without engaging, immersive content (which one can find in Second Life and its OpenSim clones), even the most immersive technology is meaningless.
The Rift has various weaknesses, which I’ve already described in the past. The most serious ones, in my opinion, are:
- You can’t see the keyboard, so you’d best be at least a half-decent touch typist;
- Fully-enclosing VR headsets are prone to causing vertigo and motion sickness, and the Rift is no exception to this rule;
- Without a motion/gesture controller, there’s really not much you can do with the Rift.
- There are only few uses for it and, even these, you cannot be always guaranteed that you can engage in without interruption.
Personally, I’m in favour of motion controllers that leave your hands free – see Microsoft Kinect or Thalmic Myo. And this is where the Hydra and similar controllers fall short. However, I really think we’re missing something. A few weeks ago, in an issue of a Hi-Fi magazine I found in our home, I read a review of the Epson Moverio BT-100, an Android-powered interactive display (as Epson describes it). The Moverio BT-100 follows a different route. As said, it’s Android-powered (it relies on Android 2.2, which is obsolete now). Also, it’s essentially a multimedia player, and even includes headphones. It uses two qHD (960 x 540) projectors, which project the image on a clear lens in front of the user’s eyes, thus allowing them to see their surroundings; for better isolation, one can slip a dark, but still see-through, plastic in front of the lens, although some degree of ambient visibility is still retained. Of course, this means that the user is also allowed to see the keyboard. According to the magazine review I was reading, this helps mitigate motion sickness. Plus, it offers the unit the potential to become an augmented reality headset as well. However, it is somewhat bulky (although nowhere near as huge as the Rift), and its resolution is not what I’d like to see for use with SL and other such VR environments.
At the CES 2014, Epson unveiled the next generation of the Moverio, the BT-200. Once again, it’s Android-powered (Android 4.0 this time), and this iteration is much sleeker and, from what I read online, implemented in a much better way. The one weakness I see is the resolution of the built-in projectors; I would really have preferred full HD (1920 x 1080). TalkAndroid.com has an interesting (p)review of this unit and I think it could form an excellent alternative to the Rift.
Then again, how much does it differ from Technical Illusions’ CastAR? I’m not sure, as Technical Illusions’ website offers little information. What I do know is that the Moverio series already exists and would perhaps take only a few improvements (most notably, the resolution of the projected image) to transform into an excellent and extremely versatile AR/VR headset, and not only for Second Life and its OpenSim clones. The way I see it, the way forward, as far as usable immersion is concerned, is not the Rift, but the Moverio and the CastAR, as they are far more versatile systems and can fit more easily into different usage models more easily than the Rift.
- Oculus Rift coverage in this blog
- Oculus Rift coverage by Inara Pey
- The Oculus Rift: Resurrecting Virtual Reality – Paste Magazine
- Razer Hydra Gaming Controller – Razer United States
- Kinect for Windows – Microsoft
- Myo – Gesture control armband by Thalmic Labs
- Epson Moverio BT-100 – Epson America, Inc.
- Review of the Epson Moverio BT-100 at MustekDealerNET
- Epson Moverio BT-200 Next Generation Smart Glasses – Epson America, Inc.
- Hands on with the Epson Moverio BT-200 augmented reality smart glasses at CES 2014 – TalkAndroid.com
- CastAR – Technical Illusions