Zombies have taken over Murcia! At Immersed Europe, we had the chance to try The Walking Dead demo by Starbreeze Studios on the StarVR headset.
This HMD is the evolution of the InfinitEye project that was announced two years ago. The first prototype back in 2013 was running two 1280x800 screens -- double the resolution of the Oculus Rift DK1 by using one screen for each eye. This way, StarBreeze got an astounding field of view of 210 degrees. This impressive FOV has been replaced by an even better 2560x1440 per eye, for a combined effective resolution of 5K. To feed such a beast, the Starbreeze Studios booth was powered by a high-end laptop attached to an external GeForce Titan X card.
To give more realism to the experience, the StarBreeze team added a shotgun that was tracked by an external camera. This camera was also used for the positional tracking of the StarVR HMD, which was covered with markers just like the shotgun.
So we sat on the chair and started the demo, which took place in a hospital. Our character had been hurt badly, so we couldn't walk at all and were pushed on a wheelchair by one of our mates. After one minute, things start to get out of control, and we were given the shotgun to help "clear the way." As for the end...well, you'll have to try it for yourself if you have the chance.
Technically speaking, the experience is stunning. The extreme resolution and the wide field of view work together to showcase a brand new experience, compared to the narrow FOV of the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive. Instead of feeling like you're inside a scuba mask, your eyes can see the game image even if you fully look left or right without moving your neck, making it an almost lifelike experience.
From using the Oculus Rift DK2, we are accustomed to moving our head a lot to look around, but with this headset we don't have to, as we can see the action just by moving our eyes. This is by far the best feature of the demo, and we are already eager to see the second generation of consumer HMDs with a wider FOV than the ones coming next year. However, this Walking Dead experience also has some issues.
First of all, the screens don't have low persistence, a must-have feature for virtual reality devices. Basically, low persistence turns the screen off between frames so that you don't see outdated information in that transition. The effect of full persistence is that you keep seeing the old frame until the next one replaces it while you're moving your head, and this causes an unpleasant blur effect. If you have (or had) an Oculus Rift DK1 or a mobile-based HMD, you know what we're talking about.
But for low persistence to work, a high refresh rate is mandatory. With just 60 Hz, the most sensitive people can perceive is a bit of flickering, especially when looking at the screen sides. The Oculus Rift DK2 uses a 75 Hz screen (well, it's really an overclocked 60 Hz screen, but it works at 75 Hz), and the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift consumer version will feature a 90 Hz screen for better low persistence. Sony will go one step beyond by reaching 120 Hz with Project Morpheus.
So, the Walking Dead demo lacks low persistence, and you notice some blurring on the image, but that's not the only problem: the Titan X can barely sustain 60 fps at 5120x1440 with this game (by the way, they use a custom graphics engine), and sometimes the framerate goes down and you can clearly see it.
However, the dark mood of the experience helps to cover it up. Besides that, the positional tracking lags a bit after our real movements, so the gun (not the trigger) and your own head reacts a bit late to your orders. Sometimes we also felt that we lost the image focus, ruining the 3D effect and the virtual reality magic. We had to concentrate in focusing again to get back to the experience, something that never happens with our trusty DK2.
It's likely that the alignment of the screens and the separator can be enhanced in some way, because if you try, you can see a light sliver of the left screen on the right eye and vice versa.
But don't get us wrong, in spite of the small problems, the experience is gorgeous, and Starbreeze has built a great experience that allows us to take a small peek into the future and see what virtual reality experiences may become in a few years. StarBreeze isn't planning to sell StarVR any time soon, but the team wanted to build it to show the world what technology will be capable of after the first commercial HMD generation enters the market. And that's a huge achievement.
Update, 9/10/15, 11:45am PT: Added images.