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Mircea Lobo

Oculus Rift - An unique product, or a new technology?

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I hope this isn't too off-topic, as it addresses eyephones / head tracking in general. Since I saw there's a whole hype about Oculus Rift support being added to SL, I thought to ask this question here as well. Especially since the subject addresses virtual reality closely, and my question also relates to how the SL viewer coded support for the Rift.

I've slowly started gaining interest in this whole Oculus Rift thing. It's actually been a few years since I wanted to play games or watch stereo pictures / movies on eyephones with stereoscopic rendering support. And although I didn't initially care about head tracking, that will be a very welcome ability as well. It overall sounds like a very promising future for VR technology... or does it?

I have one big problem with this whole thing so far: I want to use devices that are the product of a technology, not a technology that is the product of a device. Think of mice for instance: Countless brands produce computer mice... optical ones, bluetooth ones, with various additional buttons, you name it. Computer mice aren't a device that belongs to either Microsoft or any other firm. Most importantly, mice require no additional drivers to provide basic functionality, and you don't need to install each brand's software to use one. They simply work when you plug them in... whether it's on a PC or Laptop, a Windows or a Linux machine, a Genius or a Logitech mouse. On the other hand, video cards require brand specific drivers (like ATI and Nvidia), but applications themselves don't need to code support for each of the two so they can render images. If I'm to take interest in modern eyephones, I want it to be the same thing; A new technology that can be developed and supported by anyone and everyone, rather than being some corporation's toy. Especially with the popularity the Rift is getting, I imagine patent trolling (for both hardware and software) will occur, and things might not go so smoothly.

Now I've read about alternatives to the Oculus Rift already being prepared. So in regard to hardware, I assume the problem isn't very bad, and "eyephones with head tracking" can themselves be considered a free technology that's not up for patent claims. But I am somewhat concerned on the software part. Typically, if a common open-source implementation can exist. By common I mean a driver as well as per-application integration that can work with all and any such devices; The Oculus Rift itself, as well as all the different products made by other brands as an alternative... which might use different approaches and technologies. For example, will a game engine be able to write common code for eyephones, which can render stereoscopic image on both the Oculus Right and Google Glass alike?

As an open-source game developer, who might be interested to support the technology myself, I'm even more interested in better understanding this. I don't care to ever code support for "someone's hardware", only for actual architectures. I also wouldn't want to be in the position of adding support for the Oculus Rift, then when someone makes an alternative write an integration for that, then when a third brand creates yet another headset code that too, and so on. That would be like manually adding support for Genius, IBM, Microsoft, etc. keyboards to my code, which would be preposterous.

So what's known so far on this end, and how do you think things will go? Will the Oculus Rift require both drivers and application integration to support it, will only drivers be needed but the implementation becomes common, or will the Rift use a common architecture entirely which all programs and similar hardware can relate to without individual dependencies?

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Its new technology, so at this point its going to require unique drivers. Not all VR devices will be compatible with each other, or with all games. There are two ways at present for the Occulus to work, and in a way its similar to 3D film. #1 is to use 2 cameras in-game, for each eye. #2 is to use a single camera and software trickery at the Occulus end to distort the image.


#1 will require developers to build the game (or game option) for Rift use. However, I see no reason why the 2 camera output would have to be unique to the Rift. We know very little about other competitors to it at this stage (I'm guessing they're all watching very closely), but I think we can count on them all imitating each other.

Bear in mind, too, that you're comparing brand new tech with established tech. Mice weren't always as universal as they are now - USB connectivity and operating systems having libraries of drivers has a lot to do with that.

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Mircea Lobo wrote:

<snip>

Think of mice for instance: Countless brands produce computer mice... optical ones, bluetooth ones, with various additional buttons, you name it. Computer mice aren't a device that belongs to either Microsoft or any other firm. Most importantly, mice require no additional drivers to provide basic functionality, and you don't need to install each brand's software to use one. They simply work when you plug them in... whether it's on a PC or Laptop, a Windows or a Linux machine, a Genius or a Logitech mouse.

<snip>


First, in general, it would take someone(s) to write open source standards in order for a VR device to operate like a mouse the way you describe.

But one of the reason basic Mouse Functions work without proprietary drivers is that the original patent for the mouse expired / was not renewed.

"Independently, Douglas Engelbart at the Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International) invented the first mouse prototype in 1963, with the assistance of his lead engineer Bill English. They christened the device the mouse as early models had a cord attached to the rear part of the device looking like a tail and generally resembling the common mouse. Engelbart never received any royalties for it, as his employer SRI held the patent, which ran out before it became widely used in personal computers. The invention of the mouse was just a small part of Engelbart's much larger project, aimed at augmenting human intellect via the Augmentation Research Center."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mouse_%28computing%29#History

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