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DK2 first impressions

Level 2
Today, after some extended wait I finally got my DK2. So here are my first impressions. The first step was of course installing the newest version of the runtime (hadn't done that yet) and going about to install the newest firmware – but the HMD already had the most recent version installed. Next step: creating the user profile and measuring the IPD. And here I ran into the first, well not obstacle, but oddity: I had a really hard time getting one of the lines to the edge of the aperture (eventually I ran off the display border). It also turns out I've got a huge head, had to loosen all the straps to maximum.

After measuring the IPD I started the Demo Scene in Direct-To-Rift (DTR) mode. The Demo Scene runs really smooth and positional tracking works like a charm *thumbs-up*. The Screen Door Effect is not nearly as bad as I expected it to be, after seeing so many people complaining about it. IMHO perfectly acceptable for a system intended to get your developers feet wet at the shores of the seas of VR. The limited resolution is kind of more a nuisance, of course, but then you're not going to read newspapers with this thing, so, what's the big deal. This being a second version development kit, this is pretty solid. Heck 10 years ago nobody at all would have complained about that (resolution and SDE).

So far, so good. So far…

Next stop: Tuscany. Great Scott, look at that judder. I mean: Don't look at it! What the heck?

Okay, I think it's time I mention my systems specs, because this may give some significant insights: Since I'm at university outfitted with state of the art graphics workstations (I'm the GPU coder at our research group) and I hadn't got much opportunity to play games over the past years (too much work; home equals bed) my system at home used to be essentially be at a state about 8 years old, because there was little incentive to upgrade (Athlon X2 64, A8N-SLI premium mainboard, 4GiB RAM).

Did I mention that I do the GPU coding in our research group? Well, I wanted to be able to work from home for the current project and so for that I invested into a GeForce GTX 980 (the workstations I have at work sport a GTX 690, a GTX 780 and a Titan – and we use them!).

So there you have it: Quite dated CPU and mainboard but kick-ass GPU; for my work I only need a fast GPU (the faster the better) and probably some old Pentium-3 would get the job done as well. Eventually I'll of course upgrade the rest of the system. But that's what I got and I don't want to do some half assed upgrade now, only to have upgrade again in a few months when Intel is releasing their new line of CPUs.

So judder, eh. Judder == framerate issues, and yes, Tuscany clocks in at less then 50 FPS. I haven't hooked the GPU profiler yet, but I don't need that to know, that the GPU is starved by the CPU; but that's odd, because I'd not consider Tuscany that complex. My suspicion is, that something between Direct-To-Rift-Mode and the VR applications consumes some significant amount of I/O bandwidth, which that old mainboard+CPU of mine can not provide (but later it turned out that Tuscany is particularly bad, compared with other applications).

Let's try extended desktop mode (EDM). To make a long story short: What a clusterfuck :roll: The blame however is IMHO not so much to be placed on the DK2 or the runtime, but the totally brain damaged (on a grade, that Linus Torvalds so nicely would have called "Sloth level retardation") multi monitor support and configuration of Windows and the GPU's drivers. If this had been Linux (but we're still waiting on the RT and SDK for that, *meh*), I'd known without looking into the manpage, what call to the xrandr command line tool to make, to set it up properly. But in Windows you have to do each step one after another, and the configuration you made before, messes up the options you can choose for the next one. The good thing is, you can trick Windows, and here's some hot tip for you folks (you need a second computer though): VNC! Use VNC (use a client with automatic reconnect, because you'll get kicked each time the display configuration changes) to make the DK2 the pimary display device and disable everything else. In case you're wondering "what's tricking Windows there?", well, when you turn off the DK2, Windows no longer sees has the primary device it got configured to, and it will fall back to whatever configuration it had with the other display devices. But when you turn back on the DK2 it will reconfigure to the DK2 as the only display device. Which leaves the problem of launching applications. That's where VNC comes in again; just remember to disconnect the client once you're done, otherwise the framerate will be impaired.

Now in extended desktop mode Tuscany works much smoother (still some judder).

Anyway, time to try something different. I already had SteamVR and the Half-Life VR beta installed. It wouldn't launch properly in EDM, so back to DTR. However even with DTR, the display wouldn't appear on the right output (what the heck), so back to the single screen (via VNC) but having selected DTR in the config utility. SteamVR launches properly, but at the first start something seriously messed up: The Menus was somewhere 2 floors below me, toward starboard. Huh?! Okay, killing the process and restarting… there we go. The big-screen menu looks nice in VR, actually 8-) Interestingly there is only very little Judder, despite the perceived framerate being not totally smooth at times.

And finally: Half-Life 2 in VR mode. Since I don't have a Hydra nor a STEM (but plans to build my own tracking device, based of radio measurement; BTW I'm a licensed radio amateur) so this is keyboard + mouse control and not the cool Hydra-VR mod with the stats on your wrists and weapons.

The main menu is, well, stuck to your face, but I don't (yet) see how bad having things stuck to your head is. Launching the chapter "A Red Letter Day". Okay, this is interesting, the illumination calculations, specifically the terms that involve reflective vectors, are significantly different between the eyes. Note to myself, and the other graphics coders out there: Either get your illumination vectors, especially the reflection terms for specular, done "perfectly" or just calculate them from a single "viewer" point (midpoint between the eyes); apparently you can't take shortcuts or get away with half-assed approximations (John Carmack, take note, there's another chapter to add to the "Fast Inverse-Square-Root" story).

Also I get my first impression of "Black Smear". To be honest: I don't quite buy into the original "explanation" (let's call it theory) on what causes it. I have my reasons to hypothesize that there's more at work than just a lack of reponse time, but it would take another wall of text to just get into that. Let's just they that the given "explanation" doesn't quite fly with my understanding of OLED display and low persistence driving modes; I've got an oscilloscope, some (for this kind of measurement obscenely) fast photodiodes and a couple of signal any sync generators; there is going to be an interesting weekend.

Well, back to λ² (some spoilers ahead so if you've never played λ² – well, seriously I don't care to put spoiler tags, it's your problem then). I've been a devout fan of the franchise since I've played the first installment for the first time (ah memories; it also totally re-sparked my interest in realtime graphics; take the winter 1998, some small village with nothing to do in the holidays whatsoever but a really nice computer and sluggish Internet; yeah, I passed my time programming stuff and messing with 3D engines). So I pretty much know each and every detail in all of the games. But being able to explore Dr. Kleiner's lab with the perspective the DK2 gives you: WOW! This is awesome!. Okay, the judder is annoying, but not nearly as bad as Tuscany, yet this is DTR mode as well. If I keep my head movements slow it stays within acceptable limits. But holy fuck, the VR experience gives you a totally new sense of scale of (imaginary) places you thought you knew inside out. So let's step into the HEV suit. And oh, well,… come on, this is ridiculous… Ladies and Gentlemen, face-stuck HUDs sucks big time in VR. I knew it from reading the forum, but experiencing it first hand is another kind of story. Okay, let's ignore it, for the time being.

The stairs in Tuscany were not an issue, even with the bad judder. So I climb the ladder. Okay, that was weird, but not bad yet. Can I jump down? Oh my, my lizard brain starts complaining. I don't want to strech it too far, but I want to test what I can tolerate; as it turns out, having the viewpoint get close to objects without head movement being involved is kind of… bad. If I get close to an object using "natural" head movement, everything is fine. But using the mouse+keyboard to get close my brain doesn't like. Interesting. For the finale let's go through the teleporter sequence; nothing to worrysome, although between jumps I come out facing the labs' walls, not the NPCs. Not a VR issue per-se.

So the teleporter sequence ends, and there we go again: Ledges. Ugh, we have to come up with some nice solutions for that. To bad, I really love the cliffside chapters of Half-Life 1 and 2. I'm wondering what this means for the chapters Ravenholm, Sandtraps and the Citadell which involve some amount of ledge-ing.

Barny throws me the crowbar, and Gordon's arm now becomes visible… in a place completely dislocated from what my brain assumes, which is between weird and bad. But interesting; I really love these kinds of self observations on things your body does and trying to infere why it does that. The really interesting thing is, that, what little nausea I gave me, feels different from the motion and sim sickness I experienced so far; it's kind of as if the sensory mismatch has its "sign" flipped compared to what I've experienced so far.

With that I end my VR adventure for this day.

Too bad that there's not a lot of space in a MRT scanner and that anything electronic is absolutely forbidden withing and you have to keep your head still. I'd really like to see functional MRT (fMRT) data on how the brain copes with mismatched sensory information, or even something as benign as a limb out of place. I'm totally okay with being in an MRT scanner, I regularly volunteer for studies requiring people put into the tube and can not empathize with people getting claustrophobic in there; so I'd love to do that, but from a technological point this is out of the question.

Level 4
I have finally had a chance to try the DK2 at the TAVES show, in Toronto, yesterday.

I also spent some time at the VR meetup at the same show. Then I ran to another seminar at the same show (on current and upcoming video technology), halfway through the VR meet, as both I found relevant... were happening at the same time.

I had to sit on my hands and chain myself to my chair in both instances, as I knew my stuff as good as or better than both presenting groups and would have done a far better job of informing, exciting, and sending them home with relevant retention of the data. And I'm a far better public speaker. But hey, not my purview....

As for the DK2, compared to my DK1, I find it (DK2) to be a very worthy device.
Intelligence... is not inherent - it is a point in understanding. Q: When does a fire become self sustaining?