Wednesday, July 27, 2005

HMD Field of View Comparison

There has been some discussion and confusion over field of view sizes for the Z800 in comparison to other head mounted displays. The fact that the individual manufacturers quote in different sizes does not make this any easier. To help clarify, I have calculated the virtual screen sizes at the same distance based on the published field of view specificiations for the major models. My results are shown below.

Cy-Visor DH4400

31 degree FOV equivalent to 44" at 2m

i-Glasses 3D

26 degree FOV equivalent to 36.4" at 2m

Sony PLM-S700(E)

38 degree FOV equivalent to 54.2" at 2m

Emagin Z800

40 degree FOV equivalent to 57.3" at 2m

Hope this helps!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Updated Z800 Information... Games Testing

I have had a little while longer to try some games and this so far is my experience. Note that the problems with stereo 3d not working are the fault of the nVidia driver/game compatibility, not a problem with the headset.

Battlefield 2

Finally got this to work in stereo by setting the antialising to 2x. This seems to correct the missing polygon and textures problems. I must say it looks fantastic. Head tracking works great too.

Half Life 2

Stereo 3d looks great in this game and the headtracking works perfectly. Now if I can only find the time to play it over again.

Flight Simulator 2004

Stereo 3d looks amazing in this game, but unfortunately the drivers do not support joystick emulation, so you cannot use the head tracking to look around the cabin in virtual cockpit mode.


Cannot get stereo 3d support to work correctly. It switches in, but it doesn't look like proper stereo 3d seperation is occurring. Head tracking works fine though. I will try and keep this post updated as I get time to try more games.

World of Warcraft

Got the stereo 3d effect to work by switching off all shader effects inside the game. The result is absolutely insane. Walking though the gates of Stormwind and looking up at the huge statues in stereo3d with headtracking is just mindblowing.

Live for Speed

This game is simply breathtaking in stereo 3d. I think one of the reasons it looks great is because you are sitting down in a car, so it feels more real as you are sitting down in real life. Head tracking works great, as does the stereo 3d. Add a steering wheel and you really feel part of the action.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Z800 Review

I just received my Z800 from EMagin this morning via UPS. First thing I noticed is how small the package was, but then they say the best things come in small packages. Opening the box I see everything is neatly packed. The manual, registration and driver disk were inside, and the unit itself was packed inside the supplied carry case as were all the required cables.

First impressions of the unit were how light, yet well constructed it was. The head unit is hardwired into the control box, but the cable is very long (about 10ft) and quite thin. The control box has a USB port (for power and head tracking information), a DC power port (not quite sure what this is for, as it can be powered by USB, but a nice option just in case), an audio input port, a microphone port (not sure what this is for, as the unit has no microphone), a VGA input port (of course!), and a VGA pass-through port.

Setup and driver loading was simple, and the manual supplied though brief is very well written and gets straight to the point. Once the utility and drivers were loaded I connected my secondary display port to the unit, the USB cable into the PC, the pass-though cable to my monitor, and the audio input to the headphone output from my speakers. After configuring the nVidia driver to output on the secondary port, I turned the unit on and it came to life straight away.

First thing I noticed was that the image was a little dim, but a brightness button on the front of the unit that is used to switch between several different levels of brightness soon fixed that right up. Once this was done, the next thing I noticed was that the image was a little distorted. Looking at the optics, the quality seemed a little poorer when compared to the Sony PLM-S700. What I mean by this is that the clarity in the center of the optics is very good, but even just a little from the center there is some distortion of the image. Adjusting the inter-pupilary distance (which is done by just moving each eye’s display individually) helped a lot with this, as did moving the displays physically closer to my eye. Once I had tweaked the brightness and position of the displays the clarity was very good with no individual pixel elements distinguishable as is the case with some LCD head mounted displays. The color reproduction, brightness and contrast are excellent and far surpass any of the LCD units I have seen including the Sony.

The field of view was very good, and seemed a little larger than the Sony unit, and certainly larger than the Cy-Visor. If you have not had any exposure to VR headsets then this is where you really need to have realistic expectations. It’s not going to be like ‘The Lawnmower Man’, and if you are unsure what using one of these displays will be like then I suggest you try one first. It’s really like looking at a large screen in a dark room. I I tend to find the immersion is much better when you use the unit in the dark as you can still see your normal surroundings out of your peripheral vision when the room is not darkened.

After running the utility software the head tracking mouse emulation kicked in. This allows the head tracking to control the mouse, primarily for use in FPS type games where the mouse is used to ‘head look’. The driver software is very well presented and easy to use, and the X and Y sensitivity of the head tracker is individually controllable. The head tracker itself was VERY impressive. It felt very accurate with no discernable drift at all. In fact, I would even go as far as to say it is far superior to the InterTrax2 tracker which I bought a few years ago at the cost of $800 which had considerable drift. The tracking worked great in all the games I tried, which included Battlefield 2, World of Warcraft, Live for Speed and UT2004. Unfortunately a major letdown is that there is no joystick emulation for the head tracking, which means I could not use it with Microsoft Flight Simulator which was really looking forward to. Also, because of the lack of joystick emulation I could not tell if the head-tracker supported roll. Only pitch and yaw can be emulated with a mouse because a mouse only has 2 axis. That being said, software is easily upgradeable and I will take this up further with Emagin. Hopefully they can put it in a later release. Also, it would be nice to have an option in the drivers so that it also emulates the right mouse button being held down while tracking, as some games such as World of Warcraft and Guild Wars use this kind of configuration.

Next on my list was to test the stereoscopic ability. I downgraded my nVidia drivers to 71.79 and first tried FS2004. For some reason the glasses seem to take a few seconds to ‘warm up’ to stereoscopic mode. Even on the nVidia test application I couldn’t see the effect for a few seconds but once it kicked in is was simply breathtaking. The only games I have that truly supported the stereoscopic 3d are FS2004 and Live for Speed. Both of which looked simply unbelievable. The image had a fantastic sense of depth with no perceivable flicker or ill effects on the eyes. I had to configure the stereo settings to an almost minimum amount of separation to get the best effect, but it looked SO GOOD! The best game I have tried so far for these glasses is Live for Speed. With the glasses hooked up, head tracking, steering wheel and stereo 3d the game was SO immersive. Being able to look around the car in stereoscopic 3d while driving just blew me away, and took this game to a whole new level. It is the closest feeling I have had to driving without actually being in a car. Playing on this headset, and playing on a monitor is like night and day.

The headphones that come built into the unit are the small ear-bud type. It may just be me, but I couldn’t get these things to stay in my ear to save my life, but then I can’t get regular ear-bud headphones to stay either, so maybe I’m just a freak! The annoying thing was that even though the ear-buds do have a clip to store them in the frame they jumped back out again very easily. I notice though that you can unplug them from the unit, though I still need to figure out how to take them off completely, but I am sure it is possible. I will probably just use my wireless headphones with the Z800, which to be honest have a far superior sound quality anyway.

Overall I must say I am very impressed with the unit. The build quality and display quality is great, and the head tracking surpassed my expectations. If I had any negatives I would have to say that they could do with improving the quality of the optics, if that would be possible without raising the cost. Also joystick emulation support in the driver I would say is key, as many people will want to use this product with Microsoft Flight Simulator. It would also be nice to see an option to emulate the right-mouse button being held down when head-look information is converted to mouse messages.

If you haven’t been exposed to any consumer head mounted displays such as the i-Glasses or the Sony PLM-S700 before, then I would suggest you try the unit out first. At $900 it is not cheap, but then just a few years ago gamers were paying that for an 18" LCD monitor. These glasses undoubtedly represent the state of the art as far as current consumer VR hardware goes, and if you are serious about your simulation and/or gaming then you need these glasses! This could well turn out to be my favorite toy of the year.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

$5 Off Any PSP or PS2 Game at Best Buy

I've had this coupon for some time now. I got it when I was standing in line at Best Buy at Blossom Hill in San Jose to purchase my PSP when they first came out. The guy came round and handed out a bunch of flyers, one of which was a photocopy of a coupon for $5 off any PSP or PS2 game good until the end of the year! The fact that it was a copy made it even better, as I could scan it and re-use it. I have done this a couple of times now and they have never questioned it. Even if they did, there is no way they can tell it is not the original coupon they gave me since it is an exact copy.

This is great, as most games that are $49.99 and $39.99 are usually $10 off at Fry's when they first come out (get a price match at Best Buy if you live close to a Fry's), or they go on sale at Best Buy eventually for $10 off, which means with the coupon you are paying $24.99 and $34.99 for a game, which I think is a pretty damn good deal considering their original sticker price.

Anyway, enough talk. You can download the coupon by right clicking here and selecting 'Save Link As...'. It's a little large, but I kept it that way so it looks like an authentic photo-copy. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Terraformer Taking Shape

After much work recoding the Windows front end into MFC, the new version of my Terraformer terrain editing tool (for game programming) is coming along nicely. With MFC I have now added a toolbar, a toolbox and two dialog bars contained within a rebar control. This makes most functionality now available in the window frame rather than having to go to the menu all the time. I have also added a perlin noise generator with realtime preview that you can then use as a brush to both textures and height onto your landscape in real-time.

Next step is to tidy the code up and make sure everything is encapsulated properly and then add a few last remaining features for this first version. I will probably revisit the rendering engine and try to add some performance improvements, as it is a little slow with large terrain at the moment, which is why the current demo version only allows a 2x2 tiles of size 32x32.

Anyway, if you would like to download the demo version, you can do so by clicking here. If you have any problems running the program, please let me know as I have not got a machine without a development environment to test the release version. I have also included a demo terrain that I put together in about 2 minutes which you can load from the file menu. I am sure you people out there can come up with much better terrains than the demo one. If you do, please send them to me... I would be really excited to see what other people can build with this tool.

Well, back to work. Enjoy the program!