Following my first visit to Raindance in 2018, I was keen to go again and waited patiently for the organisers to open up their website ticketing for the 2019 event.
It was tricky working out which experiences to visit during each timeslot so I tried different combinations until I had a full day of experiences booked for the final Sunday.
The venue was the same at The Oxo Tower in London, it felt comfortable to be back at a familiar venue as I walked up the stairs.
After signing in I received an armful of coloured wristbands and a programme of events with a floor layout showing where each of the experiences were located. The event was starting to fill up with guests eager to get into VR.
I started off with “Gloomy Eyes” on the HTC Vive Pro Eye headset, my first time seeing one or using one since HTC launched the new model.
With the eye tracking inoperative it was the same Vive Pro I’m familiar with, generally a decent headset with a robustness ideal for public or enterprise use where they don’t always get well treated!
The experience itself was very…gloomy…but very cinematic and awe inspiring. Hopefully it will get a home release very soon!
I was getting some light leakage at certain angles due to the large windows facing the River Thames, so tried to find a better pose in which to enjoy the experience. I was glad to be using an OLED display headset as it was very dark inside Gloomy Eyes.
After Gloomy Eyes, I tried more experiences, all using Vive Pro Eye.. they were everywhere at the festival alongside some older headsets.
Doctor Who: The Edge of time was fun though I managed to get snagged in some virtual scenery which prevented me completing the demo.
No man’s Sky VR was my next experience, I failed to get out of the crater before being irritated as I grappled with the Vive wands. 🥴
My final experience from my first session was “The curious case of the stolen pets” which was on the new Oculus Rift S; a headset I’d not been available to demo anywhere in London.
This was a great opportunity to see how different it was from the Rift CV1 which I’d owned in the past, it was reportedly using the single display panel (overclocked) and new Fresnel hybrid lenses from the Oculus Go.
The fixed IPD and lower refresh rate (80hz) were something that had concerned me, though my IPD at 63.5 was right in the sweet spot with the lenses proving Oculus’s prowess with lens design (often requiring a lot of ray simulation involving a supercomputer).
I was initially impressed with the Rift S, the display was clear with minimal screen door and the lenses were clear of artifacts. The experience was very fun with a large puzzle I spun around as I tried to rescue the pets, I solved the first two before running out of time.
However after months of using the Valve Index, the lower 80hz frame rate on the Rift S was very noticeable and felt sluggish in VR.
It didn’t give me a great feeling of presence, partly the lower frame rate and partly the smaller FOV, which felt like scuba goggles again after Index and actually seemed slightly smaller than CV1.
The Touch insight motion controllers worked well, but felt a bit creaky and unbalanced compared to the sublime Touch CV1 controllers which perhaps shall remain the gold standard.
Overall the Rift S felt like a sidegrade in some ways with steps forward and backwards, certainly very good value at £399 although the frame rate remains a concern – 90Hz should be the minimum for PCVR with Index proving 120Hz the new standard.
As my first session finished I felt very satisfied having tried the Vive Pro Eye and Rift S, but these were quickly forgotten when it dawned on me that my next session was using something even more rare, that I didn’t think would be available to demo.
“Rise of the Animals with David Attenborough” immersive AR experience on the Magic Leap was awaiting, of course I needed to have a really good look at the hardware 🤯
After looking very thoroughly at the entire kit, it was time for my first Magic Leap AR experience.
The lady running the experience helped me fit the Magic Leap on my head, I hung the compute unit belt on my shoulder but didn’t need the remote as the hand tracking was being used.
The experience was…. very impressive. I’d read so much negatively and poor reviews about Magic Leap I wasn’t sure how it would work and how effective it would be?
I’m not going to spoil the experience itself with any spoilers; the field of view was limited (as many had mentioned in reviews) but serviceable, the 2 depth focus planes were very welcome after several years of fixed focus VR headsets.
I had dinosaurs crawling about everywhere in a huge space so I went wandering about following the creatures…much to the amusement of the other guests!
Overall I was impressed with Magic Leap which gave a really good impression of how powerful AR can be once the technology develops.
It certainly got me moving about and using the entire space, the image quality was good and effective. Environmental tracking and hand tracking also impressed. I’ve used Hololens in the past, recently only a week before Raindance, and thought Magic Leap was a superior device in many ways.
After Magic Leap it was time for lunch, before another round of experiences. I spent my lunch talking XR with developers, volunteers and people from different companies and university’s, including some people from Bose who were showing their new AR sound glasses.
These were interesting to try and quite effective, I tried a couple of different audio experiences. The glasses provided good audio presence but were a bit overpowered by background noise.
After Bose, I had some fun using the Oculus Go which has always been good for shorter sessions as it’s a bit front heavy like the Quest.
Oculus Go experiences included Anonymous, Playing God and Afterlife. This was pretty creepy showing the aftermath of a child’s death and it’s impact on remaining family members specifically the mother.
Go is still a great device for media consumption and 3DoF experiences especially when paired with good audio headphones. Its ideal for festivals being inexpensive and easy to deploy in volume.
Probably the strangest thing about going to immersive festivals is lifting off a headset to realise you are in a room full of people wearing headsets! It’s a bit odd to witness, and I had the thought that many headset owners would appreciate the opportunity to try the experiences and demos at home.
I spoke to the organisers and proposed an idea for the next festival; offer ticketed access so headset owners could participate online during the festival with time limited access to the different experiences.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Raindance Immersive Festival 2019, huge thanks to the organisers, the developers and hard working volunteers assisting the guests.
Thanks for reading! Rob Cole, immersivecomputing