My column this week is a collection of observations and explanations, aimed at people who are still wondering what the fuss is about.
Here are a few more observations that are a little more technical:
I’m surprised at the state of the SDKSoftware Development Kit – An SDK is a collection of code aimed at a specific task. In this case, it’s used to talk to the Rift hardware.. It’s kind of rough in some places and really rough in others. Surprisingly, their OpenGL tools and documentation are primitive to non-existent.
See, there are two main ways to make polygons on today’s machines: DirectX (Microsoft) and OpenGL (open source, sort of). These two have been dueling since the 90’s. Using DX will marry you to Microsoft platforms and Microsoft tools, while OGL you’re a bit more free but also might have some other headaches to worry about.
I’ve spent several hours today just trying to build the most basic, elemental example of an Oculus project using OpenGL, and I have yet to make make anything happen on the Rift screen. There are examples in the wild, but they’re already obsolete because new features have been added, stuff has been re-named, and other things have been removed or consolidated. As far as I can tell, the API documentation doesn’t exist, so the only way to figure out what to do is to look at the example programs. And all of those are built for DX.
I suppose I could use the DirectX projects to play with, but I know OpenGL really well and almost nothing of DX, so the move would be painfully expensive in terms of time. It would be like learning Swedish just so you can assemble some IKEA furniture. I only have so much time in the week to put into this, and I’m not really keen on spending several days making myself literate in DX, just so I can spend time writing code that I’ll need to re-write once the OpenGL version of the toolset comes together.
Last week I complained about the number of cables on the Rift. It looks like they’ve been working on this problem for a while:
You’ll want to skip most of that. At one minute they demo a completely wireless and self-contained VR kit. I’m actually really conflicted about this video. On one hand, I love seeing this technology work. On the other hand, their “unrehearsed” banter is so fake that it borders on creepy. It feels like aliens trying to fit in at a dinner party. “Ha ha. I love telling jokes with people and socializing, and this party is a wonderful opportunity to do so. I especially like how intelligent and attractive everyone is. I am out of things to say now, so someone else should take a turn talking.”
In any case, the technology looks fantastic. At about 4:30 Carmack himself comes out, and you can watch him convert jargon to marketing talk in his head in real time as he tries to explain to the clueless crowd just how amazing this thing is. I don’t mean to sound like I’m disdainful of the crowd. It’s just that one of the annoying things about VR is that it looks like it should be easyWhich is why it’s been “right around the corner” for almost a quarter century.. So you explain to people this amazing thing that that you have invented, overcoming numerous technological, engineering, and fabricating challenges, and most of them will be like, “Haven’t we been able to do this for years?”
What I’d really like to know is if this Gear VR thing can do positional tracking with its accelerometers. Positional tracking is massively important to avoid VR sickness. (Read the column for more on that.) In the demo, the woman was watching a panoramic video, which can’t support head movements. You can turn your head in place, but if you move your head around you obviously can’t see things from a perspective other than the one provided by the camera that made the original recording. Maybe they chose a panoramic video because they thought it would be the most interesting and relatable thing for the audience to see, but maybe they chose that so they wouldn’t have to talk about the lack of support for positional head tracking.
I’m reading docs and running demos. I think we’ll be talking about VR for the next couple of weeks.
 Software Development Kit – An SDK is a collection of code aimed at a specific task. In this case, it’s used to talk to the Rift hardware.
 Which is why it’s been “right around the corner” for almost a quarter century.
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