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If these Oculus add-ons are the future, book me a ticket into the past, McFly. Here are some of the stand-out Rift products at South by Southwest (SXSW).

SXSW Gaming

If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard of it by now, SXSW is a big festival in Austin, Texas. Originally, it was all about music, but it now offers whole venues for movies and interactive media. One of the interactive shows is a three-day gaming convention that was held March 13-15 at the Palmer Events Center.

The most popular thing on the convention floor was the Oculus Rift Oculus Rift VR Simulations You Have To See To Believe Oculus Rift VR Simulations You Have To See To Believe You've seen the Oculus Rift, but you haven't seen some of the insane uses it's been put to. Check out these awesome Oculus Rift demos from around the world. Read More , and I spotted several within the first few moments on the floor. I had never used an Oculus Rift before, but I was excited to get the chance. And this was the place to be, because you couldn’t throw a stone in the Palmer Center without hitting a booth with an Oculus. Believe me, I tried. Management wasn’t pleased.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t very impressed. I never once saw an official booth manned by Oculus employees, but I think at least a quarter of the booths I saw, if not more, were using Oculus Rifts to show off their add-ons. I tried out a few of them, and I was rather disappointed with the showing that was available.

Nu Reality

One of the few things I stood in line for was the Nikon Nu Reality Desert Home Experience. That’s a very fancy name for an Oculus program that claims to show a photo-realistic environment. They didn’t explain this to me when I was strapped in. Most of my information on this program was from the website. All I saw during my time in the chair was a menu giving the title of the program.

Rachel at the Nu Reality Booth

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The entirety of the experience involves sitting on a couch in a virtual house Your Own Holodeck: Will The Star Trek Fantasy Become a Reality? Your Own Holodeck: Will The Star Trek Fantasy Become a Reality? Will advances in virtual reality technology make the Star Trek holodeck a common room in every household in our near future? The "holodeck" fantasy is getting much closer to reality than you may think. Read More . I was told to look down at a magazine on the table, which glowed when I did so. But I have no way of knowing if that happened because I looked at it or because it was scripted. Anyway, I looked at the magazine just long enough for it to trigger the virtual television to turn on, then I started to turn my head in every direction.

NuReality Pic from their Website

I don’t think I need to go into too much detail about the program itself. It involves being moved around in one frozen space within a pretty midcentury modern house. I don’t see a whole lot of practical applications for this, but I’m not the most VR-savvy person. Despite the website’s claims that it replicates a real place with photographic realism, I saw some of the seams around the outside environment. Also, by moving my head as much as I did, I somehow managed to reset the neutral position by ninety degrees. I don’t know if I broke the program or the Rift, but I broke something.

Nod

The second add-on I tried was the Nod ring. This unwieldy ring is about the size of one of those Ring Pop candies without any of the positive sensory feedback. The demo that everyone stood in line for was a little game where you walked around the floor of a child’s room, shooting enormous toys that chased you around. It was surprisingly polished for a demo 5 Oculus Rift Gaming Experiences That Will Blow You Away 5 Oculus Rift Gaming Experiences That Will Blow You Away Now that the second generation of Oculus Rift development kit is out and in the hands of developers the world over, let's look at some of the best stuff that's hit the Rift so far. Read More , and my enjoyment increased tenfold when the assistant showed me how to unlock the secret minigun. (Said I: “Why is this not the default weapon?!”)

Rachel Using the Nod Ring

Trouble was, the instant I assumed the position – arm straight forward, pointer finger outstretched and rigid – my body started to protest. I’m in fairly good shape, but I couldn’t physically hold my arm in place without suffering from muscle aches. I even tried standing in an isosceles shooting stance, with my other hand supporting my wrist to try and relax my muscles. It didn’t work. The shooting motion requires you to press down a millimeter to the left of your right forefinger, a motion that makes your hand curl a bit if you do in more than a few times. This throws off the virtual weapon’s aim entirely.

Nod Ring With Analog Stick

I also couldn’t hold my hand in the proper position no matter how hard I tried. To shoot, you touch the side of the ring facing up. To walk forward, you touch the side of the ring that is pointed out from your palm. To walk backwards, you press a button on that same side. If this sounds confusing, it was. I almost wish I had tried the prototype version that came with an analog stick. The Power Glove 4 Nintendo Products That Were Way Ahead Of Their Time 4 Nintendo Products That Were Way Ahead Of Their Time Nintendo has always been an innovative company, but even their lesser-known products were ahead of their time. Read More was probably more precise than this thing.

Sixense STEM System

I really wanted to try this one, but the line for the booth was out the door. I don’t blame them: This was the demo that allowed you to wield a lightsaber in virtual reality. I did stay and watch some people try it out, so keep in mind that this opinion is given by someone who wasn’t actually able to try it. But I think, compared to the other things I saw and tried, the STEM System shows the most promise.

Sixense Booth at SXSW

The STEM System is a full-body tracking system that lets your whole body move within the virtual space. It comes with two handheld totally-not-Wiimotes with analog sticks and a full suite of buttons on each one. Some models not shown on the floor have tracking packs that attach to other places on your body, allowing the system to track your whole form within the game. It’s a very cool, if not precisely innovative, device. The developers also claim it’s compatible with many different game engines and offers users the ability to customize the controls.

Sixense Controller Demo From Website

The cons? First of all, it is expensive, and it doesn’t come with an Oculus Rift. Without one, it’s useless. I don’t know if it even works with other VR headsets Valve & HTC Announce New VR Headset to Ship by Christmas 2015 Valve & HTC Announce New VR Headset to Ship by Christmas 2015 Valve's new VR headset is the best the world has ever seen. Does Oculus stand a chance? Read More . It’s also enormous, with the base being about the size of a video game console. Also, the people I saw playing the demo would frequently make small wrist twitches that translated to wild swings of the lightsaber on the screen.

Parting Thoughts

I have no way of knowing if the showing at SXSW is typical of Oculus add-ons, or indeed of the Oculus Rift itself. There were a number of other Oculus devices on the floor, but nothing else really struck me as very useful or innovative. I really want to be impressed 5 Signs The Oculus Rift is Going To Be A Storming Success 5 Signs The Oculus Rift is Going To Be A Storming Success Oculus Rift is going to change gaming, forever - the hype hasn't just fizzled it, it's been sustained for the past year and only growing. The age of VR is now upon us; immersive experiences... Read More by the Oculus and the veritable army of add-ons that are coming out for it. But nothing I saw at SXSW really blew my mind.

Tell me what you think!

If you’ve seen better Oculus products, or you were at SXSW, let me know in the comments so that we can compare notes!

  1. Slashee the Cow
    March 21, 2015 at 5:43 am

    I don't think the Sixense STEM is useless without a Rift. (Disclaimer: I backed it on Kickstarter). Not only will it highly likely work with other VR headsets, it'll work fine without any VR headset. Sixense is actually working on SDKs to allow different VR headsets and different motion trackers to interact (i.e. using the Sixense SDK, a game won't have to know - or particularly care - what headset or controller is being used).

    It's the follow up to the Razer Hydra (which, while being made by Razer, uses Sixense's tracking technology), which was around well before the Rift. I'm not saying that any games were mind-blowingly better when played with the Hydra (although Portal 2 - which got native support and Hydra exclusive DLC was pretty good), but it wasn't entirely useless (fun times playing Beat Hazard - if you haven't heard of it, it's like the gameplay of Geometry Wars, or another twin-stick shooter - since you can use the motion tracking sort of like a Wiimote pointing at the screen, moved my ship around with the left stick, pointed where I wanted to shoot with the right controller and pulled the trigger... that was pretty fun). The reason I don't use mine so much any more, I'd like to think is more the Razer side of the equation - the analog sticks are all over the place and don't work that well any more.

    There's also plenty of things you can do without VR. For starters, with the tracking packs you can put anywhere, you could, for example, put one of those on each leg, maybe one on your head, and hold onto a controller in each hand, and, I don't know, punch and kick stuff? That sort of setup would be good for basically anything you can do with an Xbox Kinect (and the Xbox doesn't have VR).

  2. Tuna Oddfellow
    March 20, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    Thank you for reviewing what sound like tech duds. I wish that the you had tried the demo you thought had the most promise. It's easier to create the hype to get people at SXSWi to wait in line then it is to deliver a product worth playing playing with.

    • Rachel Kaser
      March 20, 2015 at 9:18 pm

      I wish I had too, but the floor was only open for eight hours.

  3. Vishal
    March 20, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    Awesome idea and you have represent it awesomely. I am really impressed with the quality of article.

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