HMD Project – Part 13.5 (the Oculus Rift)

Time Changes Things.

It’s been about 4 months since I made any contribution to MTBS3D or my own HMD project.

I have been keeping only a cursory eyeball on happenings, a glance here and a glance there.  Some months ago I heard that Palmer was going to launch a Kickstarter to get funding to make a basic high FOV low resolution low price kit available to the masses.  In July 12 I heard that this idea had stalled, or rather delayed by a few weeks.

Then came August and oh how I under-estimated that boy’s zeal!

We emailed several times in late 2010, when we were both still looking at the retro-fit or even projection solutions (he was keen on laser devices due to their ability to shine on curved surfaces) (gettit?).  We shared a purchase of a couple of Proview HMD’s from ex medical stock, which he added to his grand collection once he had absorbed all the information it could give him.

Palmer, by this time had also made a couple of good Liquid Image MRG mods and following futile efforts by everybody in the community to get any useful info from the makers of these vintage headsets, or find decent small panels with which to upgrade them looked in a different direction.

The biggest challenge as I have outlined previously, is displays and optics.  The idea is so very simple.  But finding a way to get high resolution small displays (under two inches) or a way to fit twin large displays into your inter pupillary distance (IPD) AND align it all under high magnification AND get a decent FOV is really hard.

LEEP on the Cheap – Vrtifacts

Whereas the ultimate goal has always been high FOV & high resolution (720p per eye minimum) the community as a whole was still impressed by this article, way back in June 2010, from Tone at VRtifacts .  Mobile phone screens in 2010 were not as good as they are now and I played with Tones setup, but dismissed it as a mere good proof of concept.

I recreated it with the Vitrolight displays using the optics I bought from the –  the 40 and 50mm glass lenses I found were very good – and indeed were the ones I used for all my later and current testing.

The results were very good, but, I thought, just too low a resolution.  So I carried on with my widescreen mirror rig.  Well, I say carried on; this is the past tense, so I started it…

Palmer on the other hand, head down, made great strides in actual usability; creating a product – a system which could be disseminated – although not technically amazing, he was getting awesome results:  I remember this post catching my eye: .  But it was March. The day after Paddys day.   I was in in Val D’isere on a ski trip, so fat chance of me absorbing it properly, or remembering it.

If you are in the US, and you ski, you are probably thinking “but why not? – nothing like cup of mulled wine by the fire and a hearty read of a friendly forum!”  Well, you perky little Puritan; when traveling in Europe, say from the UK to France (about 21 miles) upon arrival you get a helpful little text that reports that you are now roaming from O2 to O2 (france) and that all calls made or received will cost you 75p ($1.20) per minute and data will cost you £3200 ($5100) per GB. I wish that was a typo.  It isn’t.  We get ‘king screwed over here on data ‘roaming’.  So I tend to not spend too much time on t’interweb whilst abroad.

Anyway, I digress.  FOV2GO is superb; genius; it deserves all the press that I hoped the Kickstarter campaign would get.

FOV2GO. This is awesome.

The Oculus Rift, as a device, is awesome.  Many of us have created similar setups via testing and on the back of the “Leep on the Cheap” article.  Indeed; it was with my first vitrolight display and my two 40mm lenses atop my 50mm lenses  that I first experienced homemade high FOV stereo: It blew my mind just as it did the first time I played “Dactyl Nightmare!” and later experienced the Sensics Xsight and other high end VR.  But for me the resolution was too low.  I was aiming for HD minimum.  I only played videos, I didn’t even use my headtracker, I just thought – “ooh this works!” – I believe if I had interacted (and this is what it is all about!) I would have made something solid.  I think the rest of the community, especially those who toyed with the multi lens leep on the cheap article had similar thought processes.

Palmer on the other hand, made something of it.  Earlier he had made the PR2; undoubtedly recognisable!

The PR2 – The original working Rift prototype

And he continued with this basic design, undoubtedly spending an immense amount of time looking for better optics!  He also, quite obviously, spent a great deal of time figuring out what to do with this information.

In the end he presented what we now know as the OR prototype; Something GREAT.  It’s not so much the the device, but the idea; the possibilities and ramifications.

Now I won’t bore you with a review, as I haven’t played with his actual kit – The web is alive with Oculus Rift reviews and demos.  If you havn’t already seen some of them, read the official forum thread –  (nay; entire SUB forum! – jeez, it was only a moment ago Palmer toyed with the idea of a VR/AR sub forum.)  What I will do is splurge some info about the enablers of the Rift and what it really means for me.

Firstly, Palmer found a way to cut down the 7in1 board. Bastard thing and it’s bastard cheap shit LVDS cable.  We toyed with the idea of CAT5e/6 LVDS extensions, which I failed to do – palmer succeeded, but not very well, hence driver on board the Rift.  Also, for the record, I followed the correct coloured line correctly with my jigsaw in metal mode and still bricked one of my 7in1’s. When I say bricked, I mean nasty smell and everything.

7in1 Where to Cutdown

Since then smaller boards have come along, also, which makes it easier for DIY by a long shot.  These things are freakin’ tiny in comparison to the 7in1 – not got one, but they can’t weigh more than the panel ~105g I’d say.  This is moot to me now though anyway– see my next post -coming soon.

New, smaller (much smaller) driver board

Secondly, he found some awesome optics.  First I heard was a couple of days ago when the (best thread in the world?) was updated. Whereas I had been having to use both my glass 50mm and 40mm to get a side by side in high FOV – palmers find does it in a single lens for not much money if you live in the US.  For the rest of us, it’s mega bucks in postage and a long wait. I’ve ordered some and I can’t wait to see the real Rift.

To give you an idea: My 50mm = 74g, My 40mm =43g , Virtual Research VR4 assembly (30mm) is 73g 

So to get the same FOV I was toting a quarter kilo (including bindings) of glass. No way that would sit in a ski mask! Especially with that curse of a giant board!

My Lens To Match That of ‘The Loupe’

Just because it was in the same folder, here is a pic of the goggles I was using when doing my mirror rig testing.

Testing Goggles With 50mm Lens

Contrast that with this:

5X Aspheric Lens

I’m looking forward to receiving them, it’ll be interesting to see if I would have used them if I had been able to buy them previously.

“Had I been able to buy them previously?” Of course I could have bought them previously.  The UK is a leading, nay, trend setting optical powerhouse of innovation and manufacture – just look at Vision Express!  Bollocks.  The nearest similar lenses: 50mm,  5X mag with FL 55mm – £100+ each.   Mind you the ebay page doesn’t say what the FL is – I can only imagine Palmer got luckey. (Gettit?)

Anyways, I have never bought any aspheric lenses at all –as I assumed them to be too warpy, used to my mind, mostly in light directional application such as LED lighting, perhaps even for lasers. Again, I have been trying to emulate the old school lenses, in particular those from Virtual Research – wrong application, wrong decade, perhaps. Also; high investment in other lenses and mirrors. <sigh>


Thirdly, head-tracking and packaging.   The Oculus Rift is so neatly packaged as to make it wearable and usable, ok so it’s larger than the public are accustomed to; it has to be; awesomeness needs to stretch.  It also has very good head tracking: Immersion.  Again, something I had overlooked in search of numbers.

The Oculus Rift is effective & smart design, even when – or rather, especially when, its’ details are disseminated.

However, the Oculus Rift is not about numbers, nor is it about acronyms (which is a shame, really – I already can’t wait for OR2) and it’s not even, really, about a fantastic, game changing product about to hit the market (In a year or more).

It’s about what Palmer Luckey will create; his passion for the technology, his creativeness, ingenuity and incredibly ambitious character has re-ignited a dormant industry; a surge in Virtual Reality products and technology is sure to ensue.  And this time, we DO have the technology.

What is most amazing and enjoyable in the videos of the reviews of the Oculus Rift, is the gasp and awe and amazement of the participant.   They are all giddy with excitement; it’s a new experience to them.  Blimey; it’s only high FOV and head tracking.  We had that in HMV in the 90’s.  When we had CD’s. and the 90’s.  (for the record I miss them both, or at least the idea of them. And you; you know who you are.)

Anybody who frequents the MTBS3D forums knows, we have been in a stalemate for a long time.

HMD companies will generally only deal with ‘the channel’ or guaranteed big business; they are hunting for the big margin low volume opportunities. And the margin can be big.

They have no interest is supplying or helping the hobbyist, or even the small business person. “Gaming? Pleasure? Hahahah! – our devices are only made for pure evil! Begon! Vile hobbit!” – is what one well respected vendor said to me. Actually.

At a low level, In the display market, for micro displays, from the same factories who produce for big name western suppliers I have been offered 500 units at $45 per unit; for an WXGA panel. I have been declined transactions when I stated purpose: ‘head mounted display’.  They don’t like competition.

We have been told by many popular manufacturers that the public does not want high FOV in their wearable video gear.  We have asked that they reconsider. Many times.  We have speculated that they won’t do it because it can’t be done without massive support implications; nobody want to have to politely support stupid people – so therefore nobody should be supported in any way.  In short; their attitude has been; “We can but we won’t. Do or Help.” I have spoken to well over 40 companies over the past 2 years – none of them would help a humble hobby man.

Mind you, it is nice to see Sensics do OEM components now!  Dunno what the cost is, but that will be coming down.

25 years ago, we had awesome 1.3 inch (I hate having to mix units) displays – which just happened to be a near perfect size for 30mm optics.  Later, SVGA displays could be squeezed onto a similar form factor – allowing for greater field of vision – Apache pilots with Proview were ‘enabled’.  Technology then took a turn.  People took a turn. Manufacturing processes changed (they tried to turn but were too large)

Processes changed, things got smaller; Resolution got bigger, and applications changed. Manufacturing grew up, it modulised and it shipped. 25 years ago we rented our TV’s from Radio Rentals. It was the house treat. Now on a comparable income we can watch TV on a screen, on a phone, which is 4X higher resolution and 8X smaller. Depending on what size screen you rented in the first place, obviously.

I believe the transition made acceptable high FOV harder. I do. And I sympathise. I really, really do.

However, using the power of science and devious cunning, it was still possible to create a high FOV HMD :  It just wasn’t possible to own one.

We are at an another apex of display technology; affordable displays are now available.   This allows for single screen high resolution, wide field of view playthings once again.  What comes around…  Not only that, 3D is popular currently and much of the audience is too young to remember the original VR hype, and, importantly we easily have the power to drive quality 3D environments.

The Rift will be, when launched; a spectacular success. And my infinitives, I have, split. Probably; I only got a B. Which is probably a D by now. Even semi colons are a mystery.

Palmer has timed it perfectly, he has great backing; Carmack is a legend (but needs to be sat down and talked to – firstly about the end of Wolfenstein the 3D punching the air bit – were those voxels? I nearly pissed my pants at that … Wow.   I didn’t get on with D3 – until I got the torch mod… but that was a while back – everything else rocks.   John is up there with Peter Molyneux and Paul Neurath  in my books.

Even if it turns out that the mass public doesn’t want it; those who do want it will finally be able to get it. At last.

His utilisation of a single screen makes game integration a doddle, even for consoles – very smart.  Immersion works far better with square screens (or 4:3) than wide screens (16:9/10).

His utilisation of proper side by side 3D, rather than interlaced, again, keeps it simple and makes integration and compatibility a doddle. Though I hope the SDK allows for under over also.

I hear rumour that he is already getting custom lenses commissioned, couple this with a proper shell (By proper I mean engineered to hold the screen properly and at the correct distance!) and we should have something immediately twice as good as the prototype as far as comfort goes.

Exciting times ahead.

Rift: “To burst or cause to burst open” This is exactly what palmer has done with the VR industry.




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