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Tag: Development

Oculus Rift Thoughts and Impressions

oculus_rift

Christmas came early to WaLTS today when we inherited an Oculus Rift from another department. The TL;DR version? It’s fantastic! Buy one!

For about an hour it looked like we were up the proverbial creak as the Rift needs USB and HDMI input and most of us in the office are Mac users. No DisplayPort to HDMI adaptors lying around, and even the few PCs we have don’t have HDMI. Then we stumbled on a DVI to HDMI adaptor in a box full of crap and one of the newer PCs had a graphics card with a DVI port. Success! I should mention that it’s the Dev Kit 2 version we have, and it was hooked up to a mid-range HP running 64 Bit Windows 7. Hardware problems solved, it was on to the software.

It’s not the worst I’ve ever had to set up, but it’s not transparent and you need to install the SDK and the runtime before any of the demos will work. Perhaps if we had read the instructions first… but in a room full of techies that wasn’t going to happen. Everything installed, in the right order, still wouldn’t work. The config utility simply wouldn’t recognise the device, all we got was the orange LED of disappointment. Swapping the HDMI and USB connections around had no effect. Eventually, through a bit of trial and error I was able to get it working as follows:

1. In Windows I had to detect the device as a new monitor and keep the setting on ‘Extend these displays’, after doing this the device was recognised in the utility;

2. In the Oculus Config Utility I had to set Rift Display Mode to ‘Extend Desktop to the HMD’;

3. Software would then work, but only when using the ‘…DirectToRift.exe’ version.

This was the only combination of settings where I could get anything to work. I found forums with people reporting the same problem and worked through many suggestions to no effect. It could be almost anything, but I suspect the PC is just a bit crap.

What worked:

The Tuscany demo from Oculus worked perfectly, as did everything from http://riftaway.com. The best thing by far was Cyber Space and the ragdoll eject feature, which I discovered by accident because, as we’re established above, I don’t read instructions unless necessary, is hilarious. Discovering Space wouldn’t work, it loaded on the Rift but it didn’t display properly – the middle of the screen was missing so you couldn’t do anything. Don’t Let Go! looked like it would have been fun, but that simply wouldn’t display in the Rift, all I got was the stereoscopic display in the PC monitor.

Impressions:

The headset is surprising light and comfortably. One of us had used a DK1 before and said it was a big improvement. Despite being full HD, the resolution appears low and pixelated because the screens are so close to your eyes, but that is amply compensated for by the immersive experience which is truly outstanding. A little disorientating at first, and then a little more when you take if off, but in both cases it passes quickly. The cables are a bit annoying, there are a lot of them, and it would be nice if this could be simplified.

Next steps:

Well, the first thing to do is get it working properly. I think maybe getting a DisplayPort to HDMI adaptor for one the of Macs is the way to go here as most of the Macs are new(ish) and pretty high spec. Then we’ll want to develop something ourselves. I think I might struggle to come up with a business case for the boss to let us develop some cool games, but a virtual walkthrough of the campuses for prospective students is a good starting point; I could see us setting up a stall with the Rift at recruitment fairs, induction events, school visits, etc. and let people walk around the University while playing with the newest cool toy. We’re also a shoo-in for best stall at next year’s SLS Innovation Event I reckon.

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Technology Bytes, Semester 1

Back in late September / early October I was asked by a colleague in our Academic Development Unit to develop a series of sessions on learning technology to plug into their CPD plan, the result was Technology Bytes! Six sessions running every week starting in late October covering:

  • SunSpace and ClassLive
  • Solar (Equella) and Articulate Storyline
  • Turnitin and Prezi
  • ePortfolio (Mahara) and Thing Link
  • Streaming Service (Helix Media Library) and PowToon
  • SMART Boards and Audio / Video Feedback and Marking

My intention had been for each session to briefly demonstrate one of the University’s core learning technology tools alongside something new, funky and maybe even just a little bit sexy, then to have a discussion on what has been demonstrated and an open Q&A. Once the sessions were going however, I quickly learned that our academic community were expecting more formal planned training which went into depth on each topic.

Now, as I am busy planning the second series to run throughout semester 2, this is a key lesson which I am taking on board and will stick to one system or tool in each session, but will be including a dedicated session on external presentation tools which will cover Storyline, Prezi, PowToon and Thing Link together, and another new one dedicated to mobile apps. Audio and video feedback and marking I want to expand out to a session on its own as there is a great deal of potential here to enhance the student experience and some of the work I have seen where this has been used has had fantastic results.

A further improvement which I will be making is to re-word the titles and descriptions to bring the pedagogy to the fore, rather than the tool itself, in an attempt to reach more people and increase participation in the sessions.

I am reliably informed that the programme as a whole has been very well received by ‘higher-ups’ and that they feature prominently in all of the new Faculty development plans, with strong encouragement for staff to attend. Very encouraging.

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New Lecturers Programme

Attended the New Lecturers Programme as an interloper, or mole, in order to meet the latest batch of academics and to try and inculcate a close working relationship between themselves and WaLTS. Also, still being new, it was a useful opportunity for me to learn more about the academic side of the university. Particularly enlightening was Iain Rowan and Fiona Jackson’s session which covered a broad range of academic policies and procedures including valid grounds of appeal for students and how honours degrees are calculated (more complex, if possible, than the OU’s with which I am well versed!). The course carried over to Friday morning which was given over to Student and Learning Support, my directorate. Familiar territory, though I still learned about some services the Library and Sunderland Futures offer that I wasn’t aware of. There is always something new to learn!

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