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The Oculus Rift DK2 is a hot mess (and that's OK)

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The Oculus Rift Developer Kit 2 is kind of a mess.

The hardware itself is a vast improvement from the original. The fit and finish is better, the screen offers a higher resolution, it uses fewer cables when connecting to your PC.

The new IR webcam tracks the lights inside the headset to allow you to move your view freely as you play. You can now lean forward to take a closer look at something in your games, or even straighten up to see over obstacles. By leaning forward and looking left or right you can peek out of windows, or stick your head into a chimney to look up the flue.

This greatly adds to the illusion of being inside the game, much more than the improved screen. Which, we now know, was taken off a phone.

The hardware is amazing, and my evenings have been spent blissed out in virtual reality. It’s the software that’s holding everything back.

The SDK

The  Oculus Rift SDK led to a delay in shipping as it was being finished, and as the first few people got their units it was clear that things were a little bit shaky. Games and demos that took advantage of the latest version and allowed direct rendering to the Rift instead of using it as a second monitor worked fine. Older demos that were built using the last version of the SDK have proven tricky, if not impossible, to make work.

Just for fun, I’m posting the instructions sent to me by a development friend. This is how one gets Elite: Dangerous to work on the latest version of the Oculus Rift.

"I’m on Windows 8.1, Nvidia card, etc, but this should technically work regardless," he wrote.

  • Fresh boot of Windows
  • Open the Oculus Configuration Utility
  • Set HMD mode to "Extended"
  • Open up task manager, close wscrip.exe and ovservice.exe in processes


"Once you’ve started making changes in the Elite settings, you may need to look into the Rift to navigate the rest."

  • Open up Elite
  • Go to Graphics settings
  • Set Vsync on
  • Set 3D mode to Oculus headphones/speakers
  • Set Refresh rate to 75hz
  • Set display to "secondary"

"This should get it running correctly," he told me. "At any time in the game pressing 'F12' will reset the Rift’s center, even in menus."

Sometimes the game still loses positional tracking or the image fails to be sent to the Rift. Often a hard boot solves this problem. A community member has posted a tool that shuts down some of the background services that increases your chances of getting demos to play to make this process easier.

The instructions to get many games to play seem to involve everything from adding lines of code to the executable to sacrificing goats on the full moon. [Update: I’ve been told it’s a lamb that must be sacrificed. We regret the loss of any goats.]

Some games have bad issues with graphical stuttering, while others don't. Some demos show a line of dark pixels in the corner of my eye, and others don't. Other games introduce bad judder when moving your head from left to right, while others are perfectly smooth.

Developers seem to be scrambling to figure out what's going on, and players have been going through settings and code to make adjustment to get the smoothest possible experience. This is a scene that's only hospitable to developers and those VR enthusiasts who don't mind rolling up their sleeves and going deep with the adjustments and tweaks.

Why this doesn't matter

Chilling Space is a demo that does work with the new hardware, and it works very well. The new screen allows you to take in the view from space and see everything clearly, while calm music plays in your ears. You aim your gun with your mouse and shoot at asteroids that pass you by, and you set them spinning off into the distance when you hit them. It's relaxing, and beautiful.

Elite: Dangerous may be tricky to get to work, and it suffers some bad graphical stuttering, but the experience of flying your ship through space and dog fighting enemies is amazing. You can look left and right to move through the menus in the cockpit, and the new screen makes text legible while positional tracking allows you to lean in closer if you'd like to get a better view. It's amazing to be able to turn your head all the way around to track enemies as they fly around your ship.

There are definite problems here, but they are software problems. We're playing with hardware meant to be used by developers to create games, on software that is weeks, if not days, old. The lack of polish isn't surprising.

And the experiences that do work, even with the graphical issues, are amazing. Being able to read the text readouts inside the cockpit of your spaceship is just as cool as you'd think, and the sense of actually being inside a ship out in deep space is hard to describe in words. This is what you dreamed about as a kid, and it's hard to peel the thing off your head once you start to actually play the game in VR and explore the world around you.

The DK2 isn't a consumer product, and this is the first batch sent to developers. Things will get better rapidly, and the Oculus team has already stated that the shift from the first Dev Kit to the Dev Kit 2 is massive, but the shift from Dev Kit 2 to the retail unit will be just as large.

If you waited on ordering a DK2, don't worry. You made the right call. We're looking at the early, rocky days of developers getting used to the hardware and software, and the experience is as tricky as you'd expect. Let me know if there are any questions I can answer for you in the comments. We'll also be covering the best demos, experiences, and updates to the hardware as they happen.