Oculus Rift CV1 – First Impressions With DCS

Mudspike Contributor Charles ‘Chuck Owl’ Ouellet gives us his first experiences of using the Oculus Rift CV1 with DCS.

It is crazy to see how far DCS has come since the release of Black Shark in 2008. Now that we have a fleet of different aircraft at our disposal and that various new maps are being developed, one might wonder what the next step is. The answer: Oculus Rift. Most of you may already have heard of this virtual reality device. The Oculus’ installation is short, simple and sweet; basically plug-and-play. I won’t go into much detail on the straightforward installation setup and jump straight in-game and shoot my first impressions. I will use the word “feel” an unbearable number of times but for a good reason: the VR experience is all about your senses being stimulated by what your body perceives. The Rift plays tricks on your mind and you will realize that you may react in unpredictable ways. This highlights how blurry the lines between reality and simulation have become with the age of virtual reality.

My first “Rift” experience lasted for a couple of hours. Basically, I tried as many different types of aircraft as possible in a variety of scenarios to see what the Rift brings to the table.

rift1

THE HELICOPTERS

The first thing that struck me when I jumped into a helicopter’s cockpit was the sheer size of it. When you look at a 2D flat screen, most aircraft look like they are roughly the same size. The added perception of depth and bigger field of view provided by the Rift scales everything to more realistic proportions. Once I started paying more attention to the cockpit, I was overwhelmed with all these small details I never really noticed before. Taking the Huey as an example, I immediately noticed the sun’s reflections on the windshield, the upper console almost grazing my head, the uncomfortable metal seat behind my back, the gunsight right in my face, and the spacious interior of main cabin. No matter where I looked, I wasn’t sitting at my desk anymore: I was surrounded by metal sheets and rivets, and panels bristling with instrument gauges, caution lights, knobs and switches. The big gauges were readable, but the smaller ones were not. The resolution in the CV1 is much better than previous development kits; good, but not great yet. Despite this mild annoyance, for a second, I felt like I was stepping foot in an actual helicopter. Keep in mind that at that point, I haven’t even fired up the engine yet. Yes, the sense of immersion is THAT impressive.

I gave the Huey, Mi-8 and Gazelle a whirl and flew a couple of hours over Las Vegas. The added sense of depth is what makes a true difference here. I could instinctively judge my height much more accurately than before, allowing me better precision when doing sling load operations. Landing on building rooftops became much easier and felt more natural. Dodging poles and buildings was fun and exciting, but flying at treetop level at 100 kts was a terrifying experience. As I saw the leaves rush under my feet when flying to the “nap-of-the-earth”, my hand tightly gripping the collective felt shaky and tense. One wrong move… and a potentially very real heart attack could follow.

The sense of claustrophobia is also an interesting aspect of the Rift. While the Mi-8’s cockpit felt spacious (and I mean… HUGE!), the Gazelle’s interior is cramped and feels suffocating. The pilot’s body in DCS further adds to the sense of “being” there since you can very clearly see your “own” pilot body including your legs, arms and shoulders. The school bus-like Mi-8’s seat felt comfortable and cozy, while the Gazelle’s interior made me feel like my shoulders were being squeezed by the door and the rotor brake hung mere inches from my face. These “physical” considerations are not something that you would necessarily think of when you fly DCS, and I found it quite exciting to experience the aspect of “physical comfort” of different aircraft; yet another aspect of DCS that is simulated.

THE PROPS

In the Rift, prop aircraft like the Mustang also have a little something that is peculiar about them. Seeing your hands on the stick and throttle, your legs on the rudder pedals, your shoulders pressed against the canopy… all that added to the “depth” effect on the length of the wing makes you feel like the aircraft is an extension of your body. This is especially apparent when dogfighting. I tried to set up a massive 15 vs 15 dogfight to see the effects of the Rift on my situational awareness and overall enjoyment of the plane.

Once I started yanking and banking, I felt an incredible rush of adrenaline go through my spine. My palms became sweaty, my eyes strained and my legs sore. You feel like an object moving through a fluid, and the sense of speed in relationship to other moving objects is much scarier than I initially expected. I had to instinctively brace myself several times when narrowly avoiding collisions. Your body has a very physical response to what it “thinks” is real, and the sensation of being there is nothing short of spectacular. Your body will not feel the strain of Gs, but you will feel drained out much quicker when put in combat situations. You won’t feel like you are doing anything particularly different in the Rift than you would do when playing on a 2D screen, but the stress you will feel is very real. Being in a simulator in your bedroom is one thing… but being in the Rift will truly send you back in time.

I remember engaging a very aggressive Messerschmitt and performing multiple scissors, flinging my crate left and right and clinging to my virtual life by performing barrel rolls in desperation. I am generally a calm and collected “virtual pilot”, but this is one of the few times when I was struck with a panic attack. As I saw the earth spin around my canopy, I realized that most of the manoeuvers that you do in a simulator is not the same as doing them in real life. At times, the Rift bridges this gap between simulation and reality. I gradually started realizing how disorienting certain manoeuvers can be… sometimes to the point of feeling nausea and vertigo. As my P-51’s airframe rushed through the clouds dodging streaks of green tracers, I had a much better idea of my relative speed in comparison to other aircraft. The added sense of depth, as I mentioned too many times already, not only affects objects on the ground but also those in the air. Seeing cannon shells burst near my wings didn’t feel like I was in a precarious situation: it felt like death was clawing at the edge of my seat. I almost snapped my neck looking at that Hun on my tail, blasting his cannons away. With the Rift headset, keeping your eyes on enemy fighters can become very challenging if you keep looking behind you to check your tail. Being trapped in my seat and having my body movements restricted because of it, doing the full-scale motions with your head to look for fighters on your sides and rear is much more uncomfortable than I anticipated. After a 2-minute long dogfight, I had intense neck pains and felt completely drained.

It was scary. It was exhausting. It was awesome.

THE JETS

One thing that never fails to amaze me is the sheer size of modern jets. The Rift brings a sense of scale that reminds you of the jets’ place in the aviation food chain. Seeing a pair of F-18s taxi past my tiny Mustang felt like watching two giants casually try not to stomp me over. The sense of height and proportions suddenly feel more “accurate” to a disconcerting level. Once I stepped foot in the A-10C’s cockpit, I felt like I was 10 ft tall, towering over the runway. If I ever decided to jump down on the ground, I was convinced I would break my neck for sure.

After a couple of flights the Rift revealed something fascinating: you finally see the true love modelers have put into their planes. The MiG-21’s cockpit’s is spectacular. The details jump straight in your face: the knobs, the rivets, the scratched paint, the seat, the throttle grip, the depth of the canopy, the radar screen’s edges… I could go on and on about all these little things I noticed. The Hawk’s pit was also a nice surprise. Most DCS users have often qualified the Hawk’s pit like a flat and lifeless surface on a 2D screen. In the Rift, gauges like the ADI appeared more “spherical” than before. The small bumps of the rivet heads gave life to the metal sheets. The front panel seemed thicker and bulkier. The aircraft started to feel “alive”, full of untold stories drowned in a rich and tumultuous history.

rift3

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, the Oculus Rift’s immersive qualities are undeniable. The fact that reading some gauges and switch labels can be difficult at times can be off-putting if you are buying the Oculus to become the “best combat pilot ever”. The Rift isn’t meant to give you an edge over your opponents by “augmenting” your senses. In fact, it makes everything about combat more difficult (and realistic). My experience with the virtual reality forced me to understand why pilots dedicate so much time to training: because combat isn’t supposed to be easy. However, I also learned that some aspects of flight are much easier to master in real life than they are in a flight simulation environment on a 2D screen. In the Rift, landing any aircraft became much easier and instinctive. Flying formation with a wingman felt natural and more or less effortless in comparison to the excruciating level of concentration I usually need.

Virtual Reality hasn’t taught me much about air combat in a fictional war… but it certainly taught me valuable lessons about flying in the real skies.

Notable Replies

  1. Thanks to @Chuck_Owl for this, an enjoyable read and something I think potential VR purchasers will find really useful.

    We have a HTC Vive with DCS review also planned coming up soon.

  2. Hah! You should give it a try strapped into a seat and pulling g! :wink:

    I think until I can strap one of these on, or at least until I see that the “small gauges unreadible” has been fixed, I’ll keep waiting. Hopefully they’ll iron out some issues for the next generation but the experience certainly sounds pretty amazing already.

  3. Same for me. I’ll wait.
    While I might get past the nausea and the anger about not being able to use my touchscreens or my keyboard, not being able to read gauges or see far away objects kinda puts me off.
    Also: I love to do CAS, and if I can’t spot my targets it isn’t worth it.

    VR devices with twice the resolution of the CV1 will start to get interesting for me, and I want a glove to flick switches in the cockpit. Not as important in helis or WWII planes, but certainly in jets. I am not going back to clicking the CDU buttons or OSBs in the A-10C. I need a way to do it in VR, and the VIVE’s clunky controllers are certainly not the solution. Nor is the Leap Motion at the moment.

    Still watching this market, thanks for the review, @Chuck_Owl !

  4. Very nice review! I completely concur with all points. The sense of being in a ‘real’ 3D cockpit trumps all the challenges that the Rift brings to the table. To some extent though, it depends on what you want to get out of your simulation experience. If operating complex systems is your thing then yes, maybe you would be better off waiting for the next gen headsets. I’m more interested in the experience of flying the aircraft, as in what it feels like to be strapped into a tight and claustrophobic cockpit, tearing down valleys, dodging AAA. It’s a rush.

    Flying DCS World with the Rift is the closest to the feeling of real flight that I have experienced in a desktop simulator. Despite the limitations I could never go back to simming on a flat screen.

  5. rob says:

    Thanks for the review, very enjoyable. Having the DK2 and using it with DCS was pretty incredible. Even with the screen door effect and unreadable gauge, just flying around was very enjoyable. Quite by accident, while flying the DCS Huey, I realized that the HEAT/Cooling vibrating seat/back pad I was using really adds to the “willing suspension of disbelief”. Really looking forward to the next gen of VR.

  6. I really enjoyed this article, which pretty much confirms what other reviewers have said of current VR flight simming experience. If I knew where to buy one at retail, I’d be very tempted. Probably a good thing for my bank account that they haven’t reached wide distribution. The price gouging on ebay and amazon make it easy to resist.

  7. Great article @Chuck_Owl , but can you expand please on just how you control the sim using the Rift; and what changes you needed to make to your ‘normal’ way of controlling?

    I’m intrigued by the practicalities of using this thing - I have a HOTAS but I still use lots of keys and I haven’t worked out what that will mean, particularly for non-clickable cockpits (and for clickable cockpits - how do you interact with buttons and switches with the Rift on?). Do you use voice control to supplement the HOTAS buttons?

    smith

  8. Still waiting for CV1…

    With DK2, I enjoyed just flying around and doing pattern work. While dogfighting, you get tired quickly with all head turning and body twisting. It’s not like with TrackIR…with Rift movement is one for one. Still…I can’t fly now without one. TrackIR now feels medevil and crude.

  9. (forum tip: You can ping a user, and it’ll send them an email if they are offline, by putting an @ sign in-front of any username here - like this @Chuck_Owl)

  10. @smithcorp
    I don’t use voice control. In the CV1, you can use your mouse to click switches and buttons (but they are often more difficult to see and it can be challenging since your view wobbles a bit more in the Rift than with TrackIR).

    Pressing keys on your keyboard is a bit more difficult, I have to admit. I usually type without looking at my keyboard, but even for me it was difficult since I didn’t see “where” the keyboard was at all. I think the best course of action would be to map as many things as possible on your stick so you know exactly where they are.

  11. Thank you for the article, Chuck! And the explanation you gave to smithcorp about using controls in the cockpit - that’s something I was wondering about as well.

    In a real cockpit the pilot will handle many buttons and switches by ‘feeling’ for them, knowing where they are. A gear handle is the only handle around that area of the cockpit so you don’t have to see it; same goes for old-style ‘turning’ fuel tank selectors - you feel where they are pointing (left tank, right tank, off, maybe a ‘both tanks’ setting). In a GA aircraft you know the left lever at the throttle quadrant is the throttle, the middle one the prop setting, the right one the mixture. Again, you don’t need to see them to handle them - you can keep the eyes on the temperature gauge or the RPM gauge instead. That is something that will still be impossible to implement with VR while also limiting the use of the keyboard, unrealistic as that is (of course Saitek’s throttle quadrant can help out with the latter example).

  12. For simple planes like in Rise of Flight, I think HOTAS plus Rift will be quite feasible for me - ditto most WW2 planes (though I can’t visualise how the bombsight view would work yet), but a modern jet still has me pretty stumped - especially say an FC3 plane without clickable cockpits. Voice attack or similar could be a goer for handling things like flaps, gear, cockpit opening, changing weapon stations and the like.

    Chuck’s article has really increased my desire to try the Rift though - combat flying with it sounds amazing.

  13. This is certainly food for thought, thanks @Chuck_Owl.

    I’m curious about the performance of DCS in the rift.

    On my plain old 1440p screen my 970 gives me a lot of stutter when close to the ground. From your testing on helicopters was this an issue, or did it need some settings tweaked?

    Also, on what spec of rig were you running?

  14. I can’t speak for the CV1 but if it’s anything like the Vive you also have 0 peripheral vision, which makes things considerably more difficult. I don’t know how this compares to the actual jet, but if you’d be so kind to ship an F/A-18 and a JHMCS to my address, I can give you a detailed comparison :wink:

  15. Troll says:

    I really liked your article, Chuck.
    Like others, I’d like to know more about your PC specs, settings in DCS and performance.

    Bunyap has made some videos with the OR CV1. He uses large objects. What’s your take on this?

    Is it possible to lean in and see the smaller instruments? Do you have to lean in far…?

  16. I agree with all of that. It will be pretty cool to see how it works with something like an AH-64 too…where you “look to shoot” with that chaingun… Already works pretty good with TIR and EECH…but can’t wait to see what it would be like in a more modern sim.

  17. I have a GTX 970, the bare minimum recommended. Without VSync, I can get “okay” framerate in 1.5 (Georgia), but I noticed that I get a smoother framerate in 2.0 (NTTR).

    Since I fly WWII birds a lot, I use “Large Objects” all the time and I’m fine with it. I don’t really have more difficulty to spot objects down below than I already have in DCS though.

  18. I haven’t even gotten to mess with a JHMCS yet haha. :sob:

    @Chuck_Owl On a related note, Frooglesim posted a video reviewing Flyinside for FSX/P3D using the Oculus, have you had the chance to try it out as well?

  19. Not yet, I might give it a try in the following weeks.

  20. It works well enough. I’ve used it very briefly. Civilian airliners and general aviation are very, very slick with it. I have serious stability issues when using it along side the superbug however.

  21. This was a really interesting video. FlyInside looks amazing.

    It’s interesting that FlyInside has things like zoom and in-sim windowing, to bring things like PDF plates into view, mouse interaction, larger tooltips etc. I think a lot of these things might be standard UI things for sit-down sims.

  22. I really want to get one of these. VR headsets that is.

    I want the Vive but the Rift has been tempting me because of the lower price and ATW (Asynchronous Timewarp) … but … the Vive has room-scale VR, a more moral* integration philosophy with regard to competing products … but … the Rift is a little lighter and has better** optics … but … the Vive has less noticeable god-rays.

    The thing is, I know I would love to be flying with either of those and I also know that in a years time, with higher resolution displays, I am going to want to get the next version.

    Gah!

    On the other side, I know that my GTX 970 is ok for VR, but it’s not going to win any awards from me for excessive frame rate. The GTX 1080 is.

    Gah!

    * for some definition of morals;
    ** for some definition of better;

  23. The async timewarp is great for things that can’t get to the target frame-rate not to barf, but it is a stop-gap ‘trick’ in a way. It works so well for sit-down cockpit sims as your frame of reference is really only around a fixed point (unlike walky around stuff where you really need reprojection).

    Valve are taking a bit of a hard-line against it because they think it ultimately hurts the future of VR titles it wants to see (and it didn’t imagine flight sims so much), with the thinking that VR titles will have to be more efficient as the resolution gets higher and higher. ATW as a stop-gap won’t work going from 45fps to 95fps on a 4k per eye, so the Valvians are trying to say ‘devs - just go fix the underlying 45fps first’. They could add it to SteamVR tomorrow, but they feel devs won’t make the baseline improvements VR needs if they do.

    Stuff like foveated rendering (reducing detail away from your eye focus) is ultimately the way to go and would rock so hard on flight/driving sims, but we’d need V2+ of the hardware at the very least for decent eye tracking.

    The optics between Rift and Vive seem pretty similar, with the Rift having a nicer sweet spot but the Vive have nicer field of view. Glasses in the Rift can be pretty tight, and the Vive sits a little too far back from the face.

    As for new GPU card, maybe a 1070 is a good fit? :slight_smile:

  24. Excellent Chuck! Thanks for diving right into the meat. If I see one mor unboxing I’m going to (non-virtually) scream. I’m sold!

  25. This is actually a good point. I was considering the 1080 as a more future-proof card but it does drive up the overall cost of VR ownership (as I am lumping a GFX card upgrade in to the VR pot).

    I see AMD announced their new solution targeted at the middle ground but I am underwhelmed buy the potential of that card. If it can match the rumoured speed of a GTX 980 then that puts it in direct competition with the 1070 (?) but at a probable $300 price point. This may pull down the potential cost of a 1070.

    Of course. I may be out to lunch. Oh! It’s that time anyway!

    EDIT: I am seeing more rumours that the AMD card is expected to the 80% as capable as the GTX 1070 but at 50% the price. Which is interesting. Might be too low on performance for me to consider but the price point is nice.

  26. Yeah, these kind of videos do get pretty old pretty fast.

  27. As for the reducing quality based on distance to your eye focus:
    If it is really EYE focus (and not the center of my field of view), yes.
    Otherwise no. That absolutely kills natural seeing.

  28. That’s some very good news. I had a suspicion that DCS was not utilizing the full amount of resolution available previously. I’m glad to see they’re adding more configuration.

    Also I’m just throwing it out there, and this isn’t anything against ED, but those Rift mandated VR accreditation things seem really, really stupid.

    EDIT 2: GOSH DARNED CATALINA WINE MIXER ZOOM TOGGLE. It’s like ED is running down my list of VR gripes and drop kicking each in sequence.

  29. So am I right in my understanding that now we get the choice between silly laser pointer and a much more practical mouse cursor regardless of VR headset?

  30. If they don’t enjoy the Steam Store hoops, they’ll gonna love the Oculus Home store stuff. :slight_smile:

    Yep, looks like a toggle with keyboard/Hotas assignments for mouse buttons too.

  31. Have you tried raising the pixel density to make the gauges more readable?

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