Category Archives: VR

The new oculus home and store experience

Oculus logo

Facebook-owned Oculus released their Rift Core 2.0 software a couple of days ago, completely revamping the out-of-app experience users have when they don their Rift headset. It’s a vastly improved experience over the original Oculus home (which wasn’t all that bad, to be honest); much more feature-rich, streamlined, and user-friendly, however it is still clearly in beta, which is a good thing because it is also still, bafflingly, missing some foundational functionality. According to the Oculus developer blog, there is much more coming and I am very much looking forward to it.

I have made a video, embedded at the end of this post, however that was not without some strange difficulty. You see, when you are in a VR app, the app is automatically mirrored to a window on the desktop, but not when you are in Home or the store. For reasons we may never know, the developers made that window a hidden window, and it required a third-party app, cleverly named HomeUnhider, to make it visible. I would have used the more popular OculusMirror.exe, supplied with the Oculus software itself, however unlike everyone else on earth, my Oculus program folder was empty, with none of the software that was supposed to be installed along with the core experience, and it’s not available for download.

“No problem,” I thought confidently, “I’ll just use HomeUnhider.” Great idea, except HomeUnhider doesn’t work with the new beta experience, giving an error that reads ‘Oculus Home not found.’ It required a complete uninstall and reinstall of the Oculus software, but I did then get the mirror program that allowed me to capture the video (for those interested, the complete path is C:\Program Files\Oculus\Support\oculus-diagnostics\OculusMirror.exe). Camtasia then proceeded to cut off the bottom bit of the video so you can’t see the dashboard as much as I’d hoped. It’s also a weirdly low-res video, which is strange as I use Camtasia a lot and don’t normally have that issue. Here’s a pic of the original Oculus home, lifted from the Windows Central forums, to set a baseline.

Original Oculus Home

Original Oculus Home

As you can see, it’s not bad. It has a nifty, pseudo-futuristic-while-simultaneously-rustic vibe going on, and the home and store functionality is combined into a single interface. You can see yourself, your friends (yeah, right), highlights from the store, and recently accessed apps. The image is actually an older version of home; it had been upgraded from the design you see in the image above, with additional navigation, categories, and so on. It looked generally the same, but with some additional functionality.  Of course, you could look around your home if you just wanted to chill, as the kids say.

In the just released beta, however, it has been completely revamped. Your house now sits on what appears to be the cliffs of a…Mediterranean, perhaps, or maybe Spanish inlet, part of a larger coastal village, with your balcony looking out over the water, which also happens to have some pirate ships.  Can’t argue with the view!

My new (virtual) view

My new (virtual) view

There are also some activities you can do, such as shoot a bow and arrow at nothing in particular, shoot what appears to be a virtual incarnation of the Sega Master System Light Phaser (which could be dangerous in the wrong hands) at similarly 8-bit targets, or lob golf balls into the water. For being such simple activities, they’re oddly fun. You can navigate around your house, something you couldn’t do before, and you can now do some limited decorating. By selecting different patterns you can change the look of the ceiling and walls, and other accouterments can be placed around as well. The carrot here is that by playing games and using apps, or simply spending time in Home, you’ll earn additional items and decorations that you can use to further spice up your space. And don’t worry, there are no lootboxes here.

Shooting 8-bit targets

Shooting 8-bit targets

I suspect that there will eventually be many more ‘homes’ from which one may choose: On the developer blog linked earlier, there is what appears to be a house in outer space as opposed to the seaside location it’s in currently, and my guess is there will be more than that. The blog states they’ll be rolling out content over the course of the next year, and I suspect further on past that. Hey, Sony’s Playstation Home may not have been a hit, but the homes you could buy were spectacular, and it never came out of beta! I can only imagine what it will be like if we can get homes like that in VR – I’d buy every single one. They even had one that was completely underwater with whales and whatnot swimming outside massive windows…Now I’m nostalgic and I can’t find a single picture of that house, so instead here’s a picture of an underwater, Bioshock-themed apartment you could get. Still pretty impressive, and apparently there’s some weird version of Playstation Home that still exists on the PS4.

Bioshock Apartment from Playstation Home

Bioshock Apartment from Playstation Home

GLORIOUS UPDATE: It turns out the environments are already available! I wasn’t aware you could scroll through decoration options within categories, however I began to suspect something was up earlier today when it said I had 78 objects but was only showing a few. After figuring out how to scroll, guess what appeared! That’s right: A space environment, and my new favorite, a city environment called ‘Vertigo.’ I made an additional video just to show them. They’re very impressive, and now I can’t wait to see the others that I’m certain will be available in the future – fingers crossed for an underwater theme!

So back to Oculus – there is the new dashboard, which I think is a huge, and much needed, improvement. It now curves around you like a futuristic control panel, offering access to settings, recently used apps, some status info, the store, and social info. It’s easier to use, especially if you’re standing up; using it while sitting requires you do some contortions with your wrists to get the pointers in the proper place. There is also a Desktop button that mirrors your monitor right there in VR, and if you have multiple monitors it will ask which one you’d like to see. The insanely nifty thing about that is that you can pin programs to the curved dash just like you can with the Windows or Mac taskbar, and even pull windows off of your desktop and pin them right in the air in your virtual house! They’ll follow you around – you can watch YouTube videos, play a game, browse the web, all as you mosey through your virtual environment. It’s an incredibly useful feature, however you can’t pin them, say, to the wall like a picture, which I think would push it over the edge into unparalleled awesomeness. Rather, they hover right next to you, although they can even overlay over an app you’re using, so you never have to be away from that admittedly very important video that finally proved the existence of life on another planet.

Oculus Dash (from Oculus - notice the different home in the background)

Oculus Dash (from Oculus – notice the different home in the background)

The store has been separated out as its own location, designed as a post-modern, I don’t know, office lobby? There’s a very natural theme to it with an Oculus-branded waterfall, wooden curved steps on either side of the round room, metal balls rolling along tracks under a glass floor, and you can even see silhouettes wandering around behind the upstairs windows. Oddly, and at the same time pretty awesomely, if you turn around you’ll see a very futuristic, yet also immersion-ruining unanimated cityscape. No blinking lights in windows, animated billboards, blinking stars, nothing. But it is an interesting contrast between what’s in front of you and what’s behind, one you can see below.

The new store location

The new store location

Looking behind you in the store

Looking behind you in the store

The store functionality is generally the same as it was before, which is a problem. They have finally added video previews of apps you’re viewing, something the Gear, the mobile version of the Rift, has had forever – the fact it’s been added to Rift now is just playing catch-up. Additionally, although it’s not an addition at all, it’s a maddening omission, there is still no search function, which is as basic a usability function as there is, especially when the list of apps can, in some categories, go for 100 pages! While apps are normally listed six at a time, their ‘Gallery’ titles, which are described only with the very vague ‘A broad, less-filtered collection from VR creators,’ are for some reason listed three at a time, and there a hundreds of them! I also have no idea what ‘less-filtered’ means, and when I clicked on ‘Learn More,’ Oculus crashed and wouldn’t restart without a reboot or taskkill because its background process simply wouldn’t quit, even from TaskManager. Anyway, you can sort, but you may still have to scroll through pages and pages and pages and pages of apps to get to the one you want.

There is also no browser, something its little brother the Gear has had for a good while now. It’s very strange; these improvements to Home and new environments for Home and Store are great, but it still lags behind the version that you use by plugging in a phone. The Gear version of home also has voice search, and other things like events, highlighted videos and better social integration, something that even I, with no friends on this or any other game platform, can see is much better on the Gear. That the Rift still lacks the basic functionality that its phone-based counterpart has enjoyed for so long is unforgivable. I’m overjoyed at this new Rift experience, and I have very high hopes, not only for its continued future development and what that will bring us, but also that it can simply be brought on par with what you would expect would be its much less capable sibling.

It’s important to also add that regardless of my complaints and concerns, Oculus is light years ahead of Valve / HTC and their Vive in terms of the interface. The Vive interface, a Frankenstein-like mashup of three, maybe four, maybe as many as seven separate interfaces (it’s hard to tell, it’s so badly designed), is overpoweringly difficult, cumbersome and unintuitive to use. So awful is the Vive interface, and impossible to navigate, that it may be, and I say this in complete seriousness and without hyperbole, the single worst interface I have ever used. In my line of work I use a lot of terrible interfaces, so Vive has really accomplished something here. Not only that, Steam VR incorporates beautifully into Oculus, so there’s no need to use the Vive at all, at least not in my household.

Below are two videos from Oculus, one highlighting the new Home and its potential options for customization, the other introducing the new interface which they call ‘Dash.’ The third video is the one I took on my own Rift in Home and the store.

 

My experience with the HTC Vive so far

(Crossposted to theexperiencebar.com)

As anyone who reads this blog, or knows me, knows, I went nuts for VR when I tried out the HTC Vive last year. Now, I’ve had my very own Vive for about a week and can offer some opinions regarding where VR is, and where I believe it will be going.

The first thing I should mention is that just getting it was an experience. I received my original confirmation email 14 minutes after ordering, but it didn’t arrive until April 14th. Of course, I was in class that day and missed it, and since it required a signature from me (they couldn’t leave it at the front office like usual, HTC paid extra to ensure my specific signature), I had to go pick it up from the FedEx office.

Finally I got it home, a single big box, and was ready to unpack.

Finally!

True

It seems like I’ve been waiting forever.

I received an email from HTC telling me my Vive order is being processed! Hooray! At last, I can escape this infernal earth (which isn’t a band name, but it should be) and spend my time working a boring corporate job.

Here’s what I received:

Hooray!

Hooray!

Sounds good

Sounds good

I’ve never ordered something that comes with an ‘Alternate Face Cushion.’ UPDATE: I learned after making this post that the email I received was sent to everyone who ordered one, and does not, according to a Vive post on Twitter, indicate anything about the shipping date.

I eagerly clicked on “look up your order online,” anticipating seeing the HTC elves furiously building my machine, however it took me to page in which I could do a ‘quick lookup’ using my email address and the last 5 digits of my credit card number, or my order number and a password.

Hmm. Ok.

Hmm. Ok.

The thing is, I didn’t recall receiving a confirmation email when I first ordered, no order number or anything, and I had no idea what password they’re referring to.

So I entered my email address and digits of my CC#, and it said ‘Incorrect order # or Password,’ which is weird because I entered neither of those things. I tried again. And again, and again. Nothing worked. It said I could reset my Order Password, but I would need my order number to do that, and I don’t believe I have a password anyway!

Dammit

Dammit

UPDATE: After some searching around, it turns out they *did* send me a confirmation email that didn’t come up when I searched my inbox. I had to go through my messages one by one, and it was an email that wouldn’t convert to HTML. So I had to scan through a bunch of HTML and CSS to discover my order number and password (which they sent in the email), and finally got to the status page. it didn’t tell me a whole lot.

You didn't think I'd show you where I live, did you?

You didn’t think I’d show you where I live, did you?

What *is* interesting is the statement that they will start shipping in April, and the estimated arrival will be based on the date the shipping notification is received. What it doesn’t say is that those who ordered early should receive them early, and I ordered it the second they became available to do so. Daniel O’Brien, HTC’s VP of VR, clarified on Twitter that April 5th is the day they will start arriving to consumers, not the day they’ll start shipping. I also read that some people received emails specifying orders will start shipping in May, not April, which would indicate they are being very particular about order order. You know what I mean.

In other words, on April 5th or thereabouts (it better be thereabouts, dammit), I’m going to take the next 97 days off. You heard me.

Whenever it arrives, I’ll put up a full unboxing and setup soon after.

Bam!

Soon

It’s finally happening! Vive Preorders will start on Feb. 29, and I’ll be there even though ordering one will force me to give up luxuries like food and shelter for a few months. It will be worth it, I’m sure, however one of the lingering issues many people are facing is whether their PC will be powerful enough to drive the hardware for a compelling experience.

That’s a valid question, with HTC themselves providing some recommendations for VR-ready PCs. I have a PC, though, one I almost bankrupted myself to build, so needless to say I was crossing my fingers it would be enough.

Thoughtfully, Valve released a test via Steam that determines if your PC is VR ready. I downloaded it, it ran a neat – if two-screened – version of the Aperture Labs demo from when I tried the Vive back in November, and gave me my results.

VR, here I come!

Damn right

Damn right

If you’re interested, here’s what the demo looked like while running (Screenshot taken from Steam store page, although it looked exactly the same on my machine).

Vive test

Vive test

A tiny (but expensive) jump into VR

As all my readers know, I am a die-hard proponent of the upcoming VR revolution, and it will be glorious. I thought I could wait for the full-fledged headsets releasing later this year, however after a presentation by a VR company that is partnering with a course I’m teaching, and a demonstration of the latest GearVR headset, I took the plunge.

I went to best buy, got a Samsung Galaxy S and a GearVR, and brought them home. What I had experienced with them already was a fascinating look at current consumer grade VR technology, so I thought it was time to invest, take the plunge, and start experimenting with it on my own.

The Boxes

The Boxes

The process was interesting. First, the phone had to charge, and even with it’s Quick Charge technology it still took about 30 minutes. then, getting the plastic carrier out of the Gear VR box was tough, as it was caught on something. I was worried I would destroy the box or the plastic thing to get it out, but somehow I managed with minimal destruction. It did require carefully manipulating it at both ends of the box, and gentle finagling to finally set it free.

The Box

The most difficult part of the process