OC4: Hands-On With Santa Cruz And Full Freedom Of Movement Controllers

by Ian Hamilton • October 11th, 2017

Oculus offered me brief hands-on time with its Santa Cruz standalone headset prototype and full freedom of movement controllers.

I got to try the earlier version of Santa Cruz at last year’s conference and, like last year, I wasn’t allowed to shoot video of my time with the all-in-one gear. Before diving into my impressions, I’ll say that although Jamie Feltham and David Jagneaux recently tried Microsoft’s controllers with a wired PC headset, I don’t have that point of reference to compare just yet.

I tried a version of Dead & Buried and found myself spinning quickly in circles. I must have done four or five full rotations getting the zombies coming at me from all directions and, obviously, I didn’t think of getting caught in the wires once. I laughed pretty quickly because this was delightful. Put simply, Santa Cruz feels like it represents the way VR should be. The controllers ditched the analog stick from the Rift controller in favor of a touchpad — though I didn’t use the touchpad for anything in the game — and they overall felt much lighter than Touch. The headset itself slipped on easily and it was at least as comfortable as a Rift. The freedom I experienced losing that wire while enjoying hand presence is a high bar for immersion and it will be hard not to hold all future VR hardware to that standard.

After my demo I interviewed Nate Mitchell, Oculus co-founder and VP of product, and he said the version of Dead & Buried I tried inside Santa Cruz was graphically somewhere in between the mobile and PC version of the game, but closer to the mobile version. I was able to aim precisely at the zombies firing at me from above and all around. I also tried a second Santa Cruz headset with a much calmer experience called Boundless where I fed a nice little alien. Both worlds were richer and more dynamic than the more static one I tried in Santa Cruz last year, but neither matched the complexity seen inside a virtual world drawn by a fully powered PC. Just like my Rift at home I was able to see out the nose area of one Santa Cruz headset, but in the second I noticed no light leakage from the outside.

The only tracking glitch I experienced was when I deliberately turned my head to the right while holding my hand extended to my left. I turned my head back left and saw my hand snap back into position where my mind told me it was located. To be clear, this wasn’t a natural movement — I specifically tried to see the limitations of the tracking. I moved quickly around a pair of large rooms (Oculus wouldn’t specify exactly how large they were) and never lost tracking.

Oculus representatives were reluctant to speak about the specifications of Santa Cruz, and, for that matter its other standalone the $200 Oculus Go. So I’m left wondering about features like frame rate. It was a short demo and with a stated time frame of delivering Santa Cruz developer kits in the next year, Oculus has a lot of time to continue improving the way it all works.

Update: I returned for another demo of a third experience shown in Santa Cruz. It was a slow motion experience where I was on a platform defending a pod that had a person inside of it. During the slow motion mode I could pick objects out of the air and throw them at other objects to try and deflect them from destroying the pod. When I threw several objects something was off with the physics and the objects flew at super speed in directions I didn’t intend. During one impressive example of the tracking capabilities, I looked straight ahead and reached for a virtual object that was behind me without looking at it. The object wasn’t directly behind my back but only slightly to the right, and four times in a row I was able to grab the object and bring it in front of me without looking at it. I also laid briefly on the ground and the tracking still worked.

I had a very tough time noticing a screen door effect in Santa Cruz compared with what I’m accustomed to seeing in the Rift. I believe Santa Cruz uses a very nice display panel, and I asked Oculus CTO John Carmack about it after my demo. He would only say that what it uses isn’t the same as the Rift display panels. I couldn’t say whether the field of view was larger or smaller than the Rift or Gear VR — it felt in the same ballpark.

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  • Andy Harsanto

    Can all the inventor put additional small camera on the left and right side to broaden the tracking angle? Would probably add to hardware requirement on processing it and cost eventually but that probably similar to 3-4 camera in the outside-in setup?

    • NooYawker

      Ive already broken one controller. I can’t imagine how much a controller with cameras would cost.

      • Laurence Nairne

        I think he means cameras on the HMD, not the controllers, that would be ridiculous 😀

    • If you watch the keynote they show a visualization of the tracking sphere, and thanks to the 4 cameras in the corners of the HMD it seems like there’s only a negligible cone of un-tracked part of the sphere. This seems good enough to track 99% of natural movements.

  • Folo

    How about the FOV, godrays and SDE? Have they improved on that compared to the Rift?

    • Ian Hamilton

      None of those things left an impression on me given the short demo time and types of experiences I tried. For example, with SDE the experiences seemed to use fairly solid colors and weren’t super detailed so it was kind of hard to see any SDE effect. If I get more time with the headset I’ll try to address those questions more.

      • Bundy

        Would like to know what kind of processor/GPU they have in that thing. Right now the best mobile processors are made for phones and this doesn’t really need small cores or cellular antenna’s. I wonder if they’re using something like a Snapdragon 835 or something custom.

        • koenshaku

          The processor is in the PC. It is just an VR HMD with an integrated wireless solution, which will likely from Intel and you will see that will set the standard for wireless VR in 2018.

  • ivan

    So will it be standalone or will have wireless connection to PC ?

    • Firestorm185

      Pretty sure it’s standalone.

    • Ian Hamilton

      Yes, standalone. Everything contained within the headset.

      • koenshaku

        I wonder what the point is to release both this and the oculus go. I don’t think they will have much of a difference in terms of performance since they’re both mobile solutions that take weight and battery life into consideration.

        • Jeff Messer

          No inside-out tracking with the Go, that seems to be the main differentiator…and I’m assuming while Go is intended to be in the same class as Gear VR, I’m hoping the target for Santa Cruz will be for it to be capable of handling most Rift experiences.

          • koenshaku

            That is a lofty expectation, unless they will be using cloud processing of some sort I’d be surprised otherwise

          • AmiRami

            I don’t think that is realistic tbh. In order to be a standalone device, it needs to be running an ARM CPU/GPU like a smartphone does. This means it can’t compete anywhere close to what a Gaming PC can deliver.

    • dk

      if it was standalone ….and had ports for a pc …..that would be the dream setup…. also eye tracking

  • JesperL

    How powerful is it compared to the PC driven HMD’s?
    Graphics and gameplay will still be “simple” on these, like games for phones and tablets?
    We are not going to see a 2018 standalone that can run games like Fallout4?

    • They pushed hard on the point of balance between quality and affordability, standalone being in the sweet spot of both. Feasibly, most standalone offerings will probably be based on mobile processors (there’s a Qualcomm in Santa Cruz, I’m pretty sure), so performance will be closer to mobile than PC. That’s where adoption will come, while the PC rigs will push the limits of raw quality/performance but not expect huge sales volumes.

      • JesperL

        Yea, thats what I figured.
        I got a Vive, and preorder on TPCast to have wireless freedom.
        But what im really waiting for is next-gen VR, PC based, inside out and wireless and 4K 😀 yea, the wish list is long and expensive lol.

        • You forgot foveated rendering, huge field of view, gloves, hard holograms, virtual companion AI, etc… 🙂

          • JesperL

            I love it when you talk dirty! 😀

          • Nate

            “…virtual companion AI”. I’m seriously excited for when a companion AI is essentially the homescreen on VR systems that helps you find and consume content that you’re looking for. Probably at least a couple generations off though.

          • AmiRami

            Microsoft is working on Cortana doing just that in Windows 10 Fall creators update which launchded today.

          • Nate

            Awesome.

          • AmiRami

            I’m totally excited!!!

        • koenshaku

          Who did you pre-order your TPcast from? MS store canceled my order and gave me $25 with of store credit.

          • JesperL

            Webhallen in Sweden. I live in Copenhagen DK, so its a 30 min drive to pick up in SWE.

  • Very cool! Since this could enable true “world-scale VR”, my biggest question is – is there a guardian system of sorts? Can you see on-the-fly visual indications of objects/walls you’re about to stumble into, or even stairs/cliffs where the real-world floor/ground ends? Or will you be prompted to trace your play space from within the HMD, just like setting up Rift or Vive? Also, any indication of how you could interact with other players in the same physical space?

  • Jeff Messer

    Interesting, somehow I got the impression that Santa Cruz was intended to be the next gen Rift, and that the PC would be doing all of the rendering with it streaming wirelessly to the headset (like TPCast is doing, essentially.) This is definitely the right direction I think, but I also kind of hate to see VR quality being held back by mobile 3D. Is that ends up being the case, hopefully we’ll see a Rift v2 next year with better lenses, wider FoV, more comfort tweaks…and maybe a little lighter?

    • AmiRami

      Intel is working with Microsoft on that right now. Its called WiGig and will be a MUCH lighter and more elegant solution than TPCast is. Thats why I will be personally going with a mixed reality headset which I am betting MS has told its OEMs to have their devices compatible with WiGig when it launches.

  • AmiRami

    So I assume this is runnning an ARM chipset? ARM has matured leaps and bounds in graphics but can it really compete with a dgpu from NVIDIA?

  • Rook

    2 stand-alone’s, can see facebook’s influence on the brand