Brian Koponen

Programming and Tech Tips

HP Reverb G2 - Upgrading From Rift CV1

I recently bought an HP Reverb G2 as a replacement for my broken Oculus Rift CV1. In doing my research for a new headset, I saw a lot of mixed reviews for just about every headset available. It was clear that there were going to be some upgrades and some downgrades compared to my three-sensor Rift CV1 set up.

This article should be useful for anyone looking to upgrade from a Rift CV1. Overall, I like the headset a lot, but I'm going to be critical when talking about a lot of it as there are many issues that you should know about before buying.

The Headset

This is kind of funny, but my very first impression when taking the headset out of the box was that it smells bad. It took a few days for that "new plastic" smell to go away. I found that I had to limit my usage in those first days or else I would start to get a headache from the smell, which easily could have been confused with getting eye strain from the lenses. In the long run, this really doesn't matter, but you only get one chance to make a first impression, and HP does a disservice to itself by not letting these air out before packaging.

The second thing I noticed was that the headset feels cheap when compared to the Rift CV1. The whole thing is made out of plastic and it makes all sorts of creaks and cracking sounds as you pick it up and especially when you put it on and start to adjust it. Once it's on and adjusted, though, I haven't noticed it making much noise.

Reverb G2 Cable Placement
Reverb G2 Cable Placement

The cable is very long and much heavier than the CV1 cable. The CV1 cable was easy to slide out of the way with your feet, but this one doesn't like to move. It grips the floor and is actually quite annoying, especially for more active, room-scale games. I found that using some electrical tape to make the cable fall down the middle of your back is more comfortable than letting it fall onto your left shoulder.

It's even a problem when playing seated. It grips the back of the chair, adding some resistance when you turn your head. It's not a huge issue, but you will always know it's there. If you are playing a game that requires a lot of room scale movement, though, you will likely get tripped up by this cable and have to create some sort of cable management solution to keep it from getting wrapped around your feet.

The Comfort

I have seen many people say the Reverb G2 is the most comfortable headset they have ever used. For me, it is much worse than the Rift CV1. In fairness, it took me quite a while to find the right adjustments to make the CV1 as comfortable as it was. I could easily spend three hours wearing the CV1 without issue. As it stands now, I can tolerate the Reverb G2 for maybe an hour.

The face gasket simply squeezes the sides of my face too much. To its credit, the padding is very soft, but it's just not the right shape for my head. Similarly, the back of the headset has the same thick padding and, while it's not nearly as bad as the face gasket, it also squeezes becomes quite uncomfortable over time. I hope that the padding will mold to my head shape over time since it's not removeable. I'm certainly going to have to find a replacement face gasket for this to be useable for any reasonable length of time.

I was very happy to see that there was no fogging of the lenses, which was a frequent problem I had with the Rift. In active games, I would have to run a fan to help keep the lenses clear. No fan has been needed with the Reverb G2. I imagine this is because of the nose gasket, which completely seals the headset's connection to your face. Indeed, there is no light leakage anywhere on the headset, unlike the CV1 where you could see the floor through the area around your nose.

The Lenses

In my research, the most common complaints were about the FOV and the "sweet spot" of the lenses, though it seems that some people find it perfectly fine. Individual facial structure probably accounts for these differing experiences. For reference, I have to set the IPD to its lowest setting (60mm). For me, the FOV is a little smaller than the CV1, which is worse than I had hoped for, but better than I feared. The "sweet spot" is very small, however.

When I first used the headset, I immediately noticed a "warping" effect when I turned my head, almost as if you were looking through a fish-eye lens. I believe this was caused by the small sweet spot and how different the image looks at the center of your vision compared to the edges. This sensation quickly went away as I got used to the headset, though, and I haven't felt it ever since.

There is very little room for error when positioning the headset and it takes some fiddling every time you put it on to get your eyes aligned with the lenses. Positioned properly, the center of the screen is incredibly sharp and clear, but even slightly outside the center of the lens looks slightly out of focus and the far edges of the screen are downright blurry. In fact, my first thought was that there was a "depth of field" effect being applied that was sharpening the spot in the center of the screen, but it is just the nature of the lenses.

The CV1 had a big issue with god rays. The Reverb G2 doesn't have the god rays of the CV1, but it does have a problem with chromatic aberration. As you look outside the sweet spot, you can see the colors split as the image gets blurry. Like the god rays of the CV1, this is more pronounced in high contrast scenes. I would say this is mostly a problem when you look down, unfortunately, a common place for HUD elements. Text in this area can become hard to read because of the blur and chromatic aberration, despite the high resolution.

This is probably the biggest issue with the Reverb G2. I would have sacrificed the ultra sharp view in the center of the screen for an overall sharper image that could cover the whole screen. As it is, the ultra high resolution screen is largely wasted when you can't see most of it clearly. To be fair though, people will experience this effect differently based on their facial characteristics.

The Screens

The actual screen quality itself is fantastic. Right away I noticed there is effectively no screen door effect. This fact alone makes a huge difference in your perception of the virtual world. Increasing the resolution has the effect of making objects in the world feel more solid than they were with the CV1.

The screen is an LCD, so I was expecting a considerable loss in the black levels coming from the OLED of the CV1. For reference, I had turned SPUD off on my CV1, so I was getting the truest black level possible on those screens. Indeed, black levels are not as good as the CV1, but it's hardly an issue. Black areas don't look gray, they still look like black, just not quite as dark. I realize that's a silly thing to say, but it's what it feels like in the headset. Once you're actually playing a game, and not studying the screens, I didn't even think about it.

The colors are great. Everything is vibrant with seemingly accurate colors. It doesn't have a washed out appearance. I've never used an Index, but I have heard that's a common complaint for its screens. I'm pretty picky when it comes to this stuff, and I have no complaints with the screens on the Reverb G2. Ideally, we could have OLED screens at this resolution for the ultimate experience, but until that day, this is the next best thing.

The screens can run natively at 90Hz, just like the CV1. They can be turned down to run at 60Hz, but I found this completely unusable. It creates a very strong strobing effect that is very uncomfortable. I was hoping this might be usable for performance reasons, but it's not, at least for me. Some people apparently aren't bothered by it.

I am running a GTX 1070, which I thought would be well underpowered to run this headset. I have been remarkably surprised at how well it works. Performance is going to be heavily dependent on the game you are playing, of course, but I found I can run the headset at full resolution in many titles, though not at a solid 90 fps. I feared that the headset would barely even function at full resolution, but that's not the case at all. You just have to make a tradeoff between visual clarity and frame rate for each game you play.

The Audio

I thought the audio on the Rift CV1 was great, and I have a high bar for audio quality in speakers and headphones. The Reverb G2 uses the same audio solution as the Valve Index, which is supposed to be excellent, so I had high hopes. In actuality, the audio solution is a mixed bag, in some ways better and some ways worse than the CV1.

The distinguishing feature is that the speakers don't touch your ears. In a way the sound is more immersive, since you can't feel anything on your ears. On the other hand, you can hear all the sounds in your room much better than with the CV1. Depending on your environment, this can break the illusion of being in another place in VR. If there is music playing, or enough loud noises in game, you won't hear the noises in your room. It's the quiet moments where it is very audible.

The speakers have a greater clarity to them than the CV1. I'm definitely hearing details in the sound that I never noticed before. There is also a greater positional audio effect. However, the speakers definitely lack in bass response and the treble is quite shrill and tinny. It's not unlistenable, but it's grating nonetheless. Overall, I prefer the CV1 headphones. It's a more pleasing sound, even if it doesn't have quite the clarity, and I like being more isolated from the room noise.

The Controllers

The worst parts of the Reverb G2, by far, are the controllers. First of all, they require two 1.5V AA batteries in each controller, making them noticeably heavier. I had to buy special rechargeable batteries for these, as the typical 1.2V rechargeables will make the controllers think they are always in a low power state. With these batteries, though, I have no complaints with the battery life. It seems very similar to the CV1 battery usage.

On the plus side, they share the same button layout as the CV1 and they feel comfortable in the hand, but the materials don't feel as premium. The trigger has a lot more resistance to it and feels kind of squishy. Even more of a problem is the grip button. It's smaller and in a slightly awkward position, making it much less natural to use.

Grip button hinges from the left side
Grip button hinges from the left side

On the CV1 controller, the grip button depressed straight into the body of the controller, unlike the trigger which has a hinge. On the Reverb G2 controller, the grip button is hinged just like the trigger and has exactly the same squishy resistance. It tends to pinch your skin when you squeeze it and is uncomfortable to use repeatedly. In Half Life Alyx, I would use the grip button for the gravity gloves gesture all the time on the CV1. That's just not practical on the G2. Instead, I have learned to use the triggers for the sake of comfort.

The thumb sticks feel fine. The buttons have a click to them, which is different than the CV1, but they feel fine. There is no capacitive touch sensors on anything, so your hands are much stiffer in VR, which might be an issue in certain social VR games. I was having issues with the capacitive sensors on my CV1's right controller which caused a lot of accidental interactions and was actually becoming quite a problem. In that sense, I'm relieved not to have to deal with the whole issue at all anymore.

The worst part is the haptic feedback. I'm very glad that you can disable it completely in SteamVR. The motors create a very basic rumble, so you don't get any of the detail that was felt through the CV1 controllers. Especially in an active game where you are swinging the controller around, sometimes you won't feel a quick haptic pulse or it will be a little delayed, which is quite distracting.

The main issue, though, is that the motors are very loud and honestly sound like a duck quacking. In something like Half Life Alyx, which is very quiet most of the time, the rumble noise completely ruins the atmosphere. Thankfully, in a game that has music playing all the time, you won't hear the noise much at all. So for most rhythm games, you can leave the rumble on without an issue. Atmospheric games, however, will probably need to have the rumble turned off.

The tracking rings on the controllers are very large. I was expecting to be hitting the controller rings into each other all the time, since the CV1 has nothing like that. Surprisingly, I haven't had this problem at all. In Half Life Alyx, I could do all of the reloading exactly like I did with the CV1, never having the controllers bump into each other. Even in rhythm games, where your hands are constantly crossing back and forth and getting very close to each, I've had no problem at all.

The Tracking

I had three sensors for my Rift CV1 that provided completely perfect tracking. I knew that the Reverb G2 would struggle in comparison, using an inside out tracking system. Thankfully, it's not as bad as I expected. A lot of the worst reports are caused by issues with certain motherboards. Luckily, mine has had no issues.

I have my VR set up in a room that is ideal for this kind of tracking. There are no mirrors, and only a fairly small window. The lighting is provided by recessed lights in the ceiling, creating very even lighting across the whole room. There are plenty of things hanging on the walls to provide tracking points for the cameras.

In this environment, the tracking of the headset itself has been perfect. It hasn't had any problems recognizing the room or needing to recreate the guardian boundary. The controllers are another matter.

When the controllers are in view of a camera, they track very well, but there are several tracking dead zones. The cameras don't track the controllers if they are very close to headset, above your head, behind your back and, worst of all, around your waist. It's not a problem to move a controller through these dead zones. Anytime I'm reaching above my head, over the shoulder or around my back, the predictive algorithm works perfectly fine. The vast majority of the time, you are just quickly reaching to those areas and bringing your controller back in view. Actions like reaching over your shoulder to get ammo in Half Life Alyx, for instance, have been completely fine.

By far the biggest problem is the dead zone around your waist. I'm really surprised they would have developed the headset this way. It becomes a problem when you are just standing with your hands down by your sides, which happens all the time in most games. The controllers quickly lose positional tracking and, most annoyingly, will soon snap to the center of your play space. I have no idea why anyone thought this was a good idea. It would be much better to let them just sit still in their last tracked location.

You quickly learn to keep your hands farther in front of you or farther out to your sides to keep the controllers in view of the cameras. Thankfully, the controllers track practically instantly when in view of a camera, so lost tracking is very easily fixed with just a shift of your head or the controller to get it in view of a camera.

Games that use a lot of two hand weapons like rifles or archery can be problem. I had problems playing the archery game in The Lab, for instance. I had to change my positioning to get it to work right. I don't really play these types of games much, but they are probably going to have the most problems with these controllers.

Though obviously not ideal, I've found the tracking to be good enough for most games. You can work around the dead zones pretty easily. It's sad that there isn't a way to use an external tracking camera like used on the CV1. Even one camera sitting on my desk would solve the vast majority of the tracking issues.

Conclusion

Comparing the Reverb G2 to the Rift CV1 is actually quite difficult. There is a lot to like about the Reverb G2, but it comes with its own set of issues. It's disappointing to see a product with so much potential hamper itself with some bad design decisions. If HP fixes the tracking issues and improves the controllers, it will have the best VR headset on the market. Maybe the Reverb G3 will be the perfect headset.

In the mean time, I will be working on ways to fix the FOV, sweet spot and comfort issues as those are the worst problems for me. I believe this should be fairly easy to fix with a third-party face gasket replacement. I will provide updates as I try things out.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Question or Comment?