Palmer Luckey may have left Oculus and Facebook, but he hasn’t stopped talking about VR headsets and design principles. In the months since he left FB, Luckey has sounded off the Magic Leap’s design and created his own homegrown solution to a long-term audio problem with the Oculus Rift (CV-1) and offered to mail it to anyone that needs it, free of charge. Now, he’s sounding off on the Rift S — and warning that some 30 percent of users won’t be able to use it in the first place.
His blog post, titled “I can’t use Rift S, and neither can you,” lays out the situation. The good news? The issue isn’t literally that the Rift S is unusable. The bad news? It really may not work as well as the Rift for some people. The issue, according to Luckey, is the way the Rift S handles — or doesn’t handle — adjustments for individual IPD, or interpupillary distance. This is the distance, measured in millimeters, between the centers of your pupils. Setting the proper IPD measurement matters for properly fitting glasses, but it’s considered critical to properly calibrating a head-mounted display.
As with most things, human IPD varies across a range. The original Rift is designed with a hardware slider for changing the IPD, allowing it to adjust between 58mm and 72mm. This range covers 95 percent of the statistical distribution, shown below:
The Rift S drops the hardware slider. Like the Oculus Go it uses an IPD of ~64mm, corresponding to the most common value for human vision. Individuals who are have an IPD close to this value likely won’t notice a slight variance, either. If your ideal IPD is, say, 62mm, the combined benefits of the Rift S’s upgrades probably still add up to a net positive for your overall experience.
But the farther you depart from a 64mm value, the less good your Rift S experience will be. According to Lucky, only about 70 percent of Rift customers will be able to use the headset effectively. The rest will have varying degrees of problems. Luckey writes:
Everyone who fits Cinderella’s shoe will get a perfect experience, anyone close will deal with minor eyestrain problems that impact their perception of VR at a mostly subconscious level. Everyone else is screwed, including me. Imagery is hard to fuse, details are blurry, distortion is wrong, mismatched pupil swim screws up VOR, and everything is at the wrong scale. “Software IPD adjustment” can solve that last bit, but not much else – it adjusts a single variable that happens to be related to IPD, but is not comparable in any way to an actual IPD adjustment mechanism. This is the main reason I cannot use my Oculus Go, even after heavy modification on other fronts.
Luckey then goes into some detail on the four methods companies have used to solve this problem: Mechanical adjusters, custom sizing, perfect collimation, and my personal favorite: Ignoring the fact that a problem exists in the first place. Luckey’s distinct implication is that Oculus has opted for this latter option, even if the end result is a substandard experience for some users.
Image by Palmer Luckey
There’s a bit of a discrepancy in Luckey’s blog that I can’t clear up. He refers to the Oculus Rift S as having an IPD of 64mm but also criticizes Oculus for refusing to disclose the Rift S’ IPD number. I’m assuming his 64mm is right, but can’t confirm that. Luckey goes out of his way to note that the CV-1’s mechanical slider wasn’t automatically the right solution to the problem of supporting a wide IPD range for users, but also clearly feels Oculus screwed up its decision here.
I can’t help wondering if there’s any connection between Brendan Iribe’s decision to leave FB last year, reportedly as a result of conflicts over the Rift 2’s design, and this decision. The muted announcement of the Rift S has been treated as proof that Oculus wants to focus on other products, like the standalone Oculus Quest. That headset will have a mechanical IPD adjuster, even though it costs $ 400, just like the Rift S. Could scrapping this feature and taking the focus off PC VR in favor of standalone platforms have been part of what led Iribe to leave the company? Given the Rift S’s generally solid technical specifications, there had to be some core to the disagreement.
As Luckey points out, this move could leave gamers who heavily invested in Oculus without a platform to use in the event that the Rift S proves not to work. There are ways to run Oculus Store games over an HTC Vive, but such solutions are often inferior to formal product support. Since Oculus only self-supports its own products, CV-1 customers could find themselves without an upgrade path if they invested heavily in the Oculus Store.