Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus, and HoloLens

For over centuries, science fiction films and books have incorporated elements to their settings that had future utopian worlds featuring virtual reality and holograms. I can name a couple of films off the cuff: The Matrix (1999), Gamer (2009), Tron (1982), Johnny Mnemonic (1995), and Virtuosity (1995).

Within the past few decades, virtual reality has been an aspect of our lives in which gaming companies and computer tech corporations have tried desperately to bring out in this modern contemporary world. The gap between what we think is impossible, versus reality is ever so closing at a fast rate. And virtual reality has been attempted and failed numerous times in the past like former products such as: Nintendo’s Virtual Boy (released in 1995, discontinued in 1996), SEGAScope 3-D Glasses (released 1987), Atari Jaguar VR (released in 1995, unanimously cancelled or destroyed in 1996), the Sony Glasstron (released in 1997), The VictorMaxx Stuntmaster (1991-1995), VictorMaxx CyberMaxx (1995), Forte VFX-1 Headgear (released in 1995, immortalized in 2000), and the Tiger R-Zone Headset (released in 1995 before quickly dying out).

It is obvious to say from these titles, that the mid-90’s crazed revolution of virtual reality was a complete disaster. Over the course of twenty years though, technology and the internet has spiked up and seems to grow rapidly with each new year. Everything today seems to have some sort of Apple product or smart artificial intelligence app attached to it. Think of the newest gaming consoles (PlayStation 4 and X-Box One) which not only surface for video game entertainment, but also service as an entire media home center. There are smart televisions with Organic Light Emitting Diode Televisions (OLED) that are so sharp you can almost see the sweat off of people’s skin. OLED is becoming so revolutionary that it could soon completely replace LCD/LED and Plasma screens. There are now 3-D flat screens, detachable lab tops with tablets like Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, as well as all the intriguing iPhone and Android apps.

The mid-2010’s could be a reawakening of the mid 90’s VR revolution for a positive future in evolution gaming, business strategies, multiple media, and the way we interact in our daily lives. This even includes the elements of Microsoft’s HoloLens, which is merely augmented reality. But before we get into that, let’s focus on two seemingly competitive virtual reality gaming rivals. There is the Oculus Rift and then Sony’s Project Morpheus.

The Oculus Rift was created by the founder of Oculus, then 20-year-old Palmer Luckey in 2012. It was initially revealed at E3 during the same year. The Long Beach, CA resident was able to raise $2.4 million on development kits through Kickstarter, a company that helps bring inventions and creations to life through campaigning funds.

According to Forbes Magazine, Luckey who dropped out of University of Southern California (USC) studying Journalism, stated that his company raised an additional $16 million from Series A and have sold about 45,000 developing kits for game developers and engineers. Eventually, the startup company received $91 million from their partners and investors to continue and finish completing the virtual reality project that was suspected to revolutionize gaming and digital interaction forever. Before its release, several beta prototypes were tested by game testers and developers for primarily gaming aspects. The high definition consumer version was initially released at the end of 2014. In March 2014, Facebook bought the Oculus Rift for $2 Billion. Mark Zuckerberg felt that the Rift would play a vital part as being a new form of communication platforming. Based on what we have seen so far from the product, he was right.

Besides gaming, the Oculus Rift has enabled owners to immerse themselves in musical concerts, sporting events and has taught them new skills. Surgeons and astronauts already experimented with some of its learning programs in the past. As far as video games go, the Rift is still only pegged for PC and mobile devices. The wide compatibility that the Rift has would allow it to cross over into gaming consoles, if they allowed to only after licensing and copyright contract agreements. One con about the Rift is its lack of mobility with the user. It is run and plugged in by wires. There are no wireless components. Unless Rift comes up with wireless prototypes, they will remain limited in movement. It truly amazes me that this young genius was able to create this device within his garage that amounted to the cost of $18 billion. Seems to me like Mr. Luckey was “lucky” with his “invention” after all. Sorry, bad joke.

The original Oculus Rift prototype was slated with 2 five inch OLED displays with a resolution of 960 by 1080 for each eye, yielding an 110-degree field of view (the newest model has even more). The amount of frequency was as follows: 75 Hertz (Hz) of video refresh rate and a 1000 Hz of tracking rate. HDMI and USB ports were provided with the device. Later models included tracking camera that were designed to enhance the headsets movement tracking abilities. There were focusing lens cups to adjust the field of view for those that were either near or farsighted users. Facebook still has big plans for its use in social media. All of these components are congruent with today’s latest models.

“Oculus Rift Crescent Bay”
courtesy of http://www.pcworld.com

In December 2014, the Oculus Rift came out with its newest edition called The Gear VR innovator which enabled the system to integrate nearly anywhere while working with Samsung. The Oculus VR store has even been installed. You’re able to attach your Samsung Galaxy to the device and create a virtual reality image with the built-in technology of Oculus and the hardware from your phone. The Oculus Rift’s newest prototype headset is the “Crescent Bay” which has even a higher resolution than its predecessor’s “Crystal Cove” of 1080p resolution. “Crescent Bay” has a greater resolution of 1080p which remains unknown at the moment. The sound quality has been stagnantly improved as well. The Rift is advancing at such a rapid rate, who can match its dominance?

What seems to be Oculus Rift’s most reasonable contender over the past year was Sony’s Project Morpheus. And when I say the Morpheus, I’m not talking about Neo’s mentor from The Matrix or the god of dreams from Greek Mythology. The Morpheus is another a virtual reality headset like the Rift that is only compatible with the PlayStation 4 console.

Project Morpheus uses technology from the PlayStation Eye accessory and the sensory program from PlayStation Move for motion tracking. Morpheus uses advanced light responsive technology from six LED lights positioned around the head piece using the PlayStation Eye’s wide camera dual optics view. The new PlayStation Eye can track up to 240 frames per second. And based on its resolution, there is zero lag. Lag is something that can be a major problem when dealing with virtual reality devices because it can cause users to feel disoriented or nauseous and can create blurriness on the screen. It is also a pain during normal video game-play. The optical monitors have the same resolution as the current Oculus Rift, but the screens are LCD instead. Which inexplicably offers a narrower field of view than the Rift, (a total of 90 degrees) is which about 20 degrees less than the Rift. Majority of people have said that this difference is hardly noticeable.

Project Morpheus is still in the early stages of development as the first beta prototype was only unveiled to the public in March 2014 at the Game Developers Conference (GDC). One positive difference that Project Morpheus has as opposed to the Oculus Rift, is that there’s more mobility with the device. With the Morpheus, users can stand, squat and be more active due to the Eye camera’s higher sensor technology. But at the moment, the device has less graphical quality due to its LCD screens. This differs to the Rifts higher definition with more advanced OLED ones. The technicalities of this rendered device makes this a juggernaut for fast paced video gaming experiences.

“Sony Project Morpheus”, photo by http://www.digitaltrends.com

I have briefly watched a video on someone playing a demo using the Morpheus where they were able to see their knees dip down as they bent below. One of the demos titled, “Deep” pins you in the deep part of the ocean as you descent below inside a shark cage. The virtual reality does a great job of creating a colorful and beautiful environment around your 360 degree peripherals. The image of a massive Great White Shark approaching you is both jarring and terrifying. Testers have also said that the actual headset is a bit more comfortable than the Oculus Rift. But those same people explained how much sharper the graphics were portrayed on the Rift. I have also noticed a slight glitch with the Morpheus on the demo where a fish swims straight through you. Looks like the Morpheus needs to fix up some tweaks.

Before I get to the HoloLens, I would like to say that based on these two commercial devices, the Oculus Rift has a better shot of being more successful. Due to the wide scope of the Rift’s compatibility, the consumer masses will be more attracted to this as opposed to the limited uses from Project Morpheus. The Rift will even be more economical because people did not have to spend the extra money on buying a $400 gaming console. Instead, they only have to spend $300 on the Rift. And the Rift has been used universally on the internet, social media, and mobile smart phones. The world of consumers are overly saturated with Facebook. The fact that Zuckerberg bought the Rift is another indication that the device already has beaten out Sony’s replica. My thought on Project Morpheus is that the Rift will initially be the better product from the start until Sony can figure out all of its device kinks. Within a year or two down the line after the price has been gouged, Project Morpheus could possibly become the better VR experience. Oculus Rift might sell more copies in quantity, but Project Morpheus will eventually win in quality. Least as far as gaming goes.

Microsoft’s up-and-coming HoloLens stands alone as something that could pave the way for new technology and innovation. The things I have heard about this product seems to be on par with scenes that have been used in films like, Minority Report and Marvel’s: The Avengers. It is augmented reality at its finest with holographic displays at your fingertips.

“Microsoft HoloLens” image from http://www.cnet.com

HoloLens will blend between reality and the virtual world. The device projects computer holographic images over the natural landscape. Based on videos I’ve seen on YouTube about it, what HoloLens can do is simply astonishing. First and foremost, the device is merely a set of goggles, there isn’t a head piece strap. You have way more mobility than with the VR techs of the Rift and Morpheus.

With this AR device, people will be able to watch videos or Skype with others in mid-air while being shown how to rewire a light switch through holographic arrows or visual depictions. You’re able to pin certain elements from the holograms like tabs and are able to see what others on Skype can write on your field of view from their own personal Surface Pro. One feature I am really excited about is the Minecraft gaming component. The HoloLens will take you directly to the world of Minecraft by making you feel like your manipulating with millions of Lego-like blocks. The world of Minecraft can be displayed on the HoloLens as far as your imagination. The displayed holograms on the glasses will make it seem like the world is going beyond the dimensions of your living room wall or could even cover the areas of your realistic space. There even is a Mars hands-on program that enables you to see the landscape of Mars and to study its sedimentary rocks and formations without ever having to physically travel there. The last prototype feature that IGN reported was the Holo Studio, where you create 3-D models which can then be printed from 3-D printers. This can work effectively for architecture, marketing, or any other business type strategies. And as far as I know, Microsoft’s soon to be Windows 10 and current X-Box One will collaborate with HoloLens like a healthy partnership. With HoloLens almost anything is possible as the device works as an interactive computer. It is currently set to be released sometime in the Fall of this year in 2015.

A couple of minor discrepancies that people noticed with the device was that the images were not at a very high definition and there seems to be a slight delay with the calibration between the user interface and the holographic entities. HoloLens is a much supplemented version of Kinect which was a total letdown.

Another example of over-hyped consumerism for innovative technology besides the Kinect was Google Glass. At the moment, Google Glass has been put on hiatus and its return is unknown. Google Glass could be the best comparison to what we are seeing from HoloLens. Based on higher statistic rates of these brave technological devices failing in the past, there are many more skeptics than dreamers. Will Microsoft’s HoloLen’s live up to its hype, and if so will AR become the next major thing in innovative technology? We will have to wait and see.

As far as our two VR contenders, there are even other virtual reality devices that have surfaced in the market over the course of a year. One which has already been released is the Sony HMZ-T3W. This has a head mounted display similar to the future Project Morpheus but is limited by its lack of head shifting movement. The HMZ-T3W primary use is for media viewing, like watching movies in a plane or in apartments to make you feel like you’re at a movie theater. It gives you the impression of watching a screen 750 feet in size from 65 feet away. The headset consists of two jewel OLED screens with a 720p resolution per eye. However, the Oculus Rift “Crystal Cove” overtook HMZ’s resolution with 1080p whilst the Oculus Rift “Crescent Bay” prototype improved on “Crystal Cove”. With the cost of $999, you’re better off with Project Morpheus.

Such other VR devices that had less popularity were the Avegant Glyph which used images from our own retinas to formulate and mimic pix-elated objects. Another VR device was The Infinteye. The Infinteye has the large horizontal field view with 210 degrees and comprises of four render screens instead of the normal two. Then there were the UK formed VR Android gaming device called, GameFace.

Other VR devices like GameFace Mark which activated by strapping the handheld smart phone to the monitor were also developed. One formed in London was called The Dive. The software from the IOS or Android phones is what powered this device. This could be very economic, costing only $100. However, battery life seemed to die quickly and that became a huge setback. More recent smart phone conjoined VR devices besides the Samsung Gear VR which I mentioned earlier is the Google Cardboard. The Cardboard is sort of the poor man’s version of Oculus Samsung Gear VR. Google Cardboard can literally be bought on Amazon new for as low as $7.99. Prices vary based on the quality of the cardboard. However, what makes this device more effective is how well your smart phone is. The better the smart phone, the more VR experience you will have. But if you have a lower powered smart phone, than your Google Cardboard device will not work as effectively.

My advice is if you’re looking for high-quality VR experiences then spend the extra money on the Oculus Rift or wait until Project Morpheus surpasses Oculus Rift’s presentation. Microsoft’s HoloLens will most likely be the best thing to occur in the VR/AR existence. If you feel like watching this 8-minute video on HoloLens from IGN, take a glance below.

All of this stuff blows my mind. Science fiction will someday be replaced by science fact. I think the time for virtual reality and augment reality are ready to meet its maker. The only way to truly know the difference is by testing them out yourself. The world is your oyster, so carefully choose your pick. I cannot wait to get my hands on these. The world is evolving, it is about time I join the bandwagon.

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