The Nova—A DIY Oculus Rift! (UPDATED!)

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Hello, Instructables! Today, I will be showing you how to make your very own DIY Oculus Rift called The Nova!

In this instructable, I will be walking you through the design of The Nova's headset, the build process of said headset, and the head tracking techniques used in order to create the illusion of virtual reality.

Without any further ado, let's get to building!

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Step 1: First Things First: Why go DIY?

Picture of First Things First: Why go DIY?

Good question! With the Oculus Rift releasing sometime within the next year or so, and plenty of Oculus Rift Development Kits available for sale and preorder, making your own Virtual Reality Headset would seem a bit absurd.

However, there are many reasons why you'd want to make your own:

  • You don't have to wait for the official release.
    Let's face it—the Oculus Rift won't get here soon enough. Why wait, when you can make your own?
  • You want to learn more about VR.
    The Virtual Reality market is growing at an exponential rate. You can get in on the VR craze and learn a thing or two by building your own VR headset—you could even brainstorm a new VR concept that you can implement into your own VR headset and share with the world.
  • You can create your own design that fits your needs.
    The Oculus Rift has many great features and looks pretty slick, but what if you could come up with a better design? One that suits your face better, maybe? Or maybe make one in a different color? The sky's the limit: this is YOUR VR headset!
  • It's a great weekend project.
    The total build time is ~30 hours, including cutting out the pieces, hot gluing everything together, soldering the head tracking LEDs, and setting up the software. You can start making your own VR headset on a Friday afternoon and be up and running by Sunday afternoon!
  • You can make one yourself without being bought out by a sketchy third party
    Looking at you, Palmer. I don't blame him though, 2 billion dollars is a lot of money to go into making a high-quality and affordable VR unit, so maybe things will work out in the end. Until then, you can still make your own VR headset for less than half the cost of the current development kit!

Are you convinced yet? Great! Then let's go on to the next step: Parts and Tools!

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millmore made it!1 month ago

I've made a version of this using my headMouse (which you link to above) as the motion controller. I used the polystyrene box that the screen came in to make a holder for everything - I just sliced it in a few layers, fitted everything at the correct distances, then taped it back together.

I found that I got dreadful distortion using the sort of lenses you described originally - the ones that are basically designed for LEDs. However, I got some cheap fresnel lenses, and they worked much better. They don't have the best optical properties in the world, but are easy to work with, and don't suffer much distortion or chromatic aberration.

Tomcat94 (author)  millmore1 month ago

Wow, that's fantastic!

I'm sorry to hear about the lenses, though. At the end of the parts and tools step, I warned not to use the lenses I initially used:
"I also don't recommend buying the lenses I bought, because the distortion around the edges is awful and I had to buy a new set of lenses--specifically, these lenses here."
I left the lenses I bought in the description for documentation purposes only, but it appears I may need to remove them completely to avoid further confusion.

Anyway, what's done is done. Your DIY Rift looks great, and I'm sure both you and your family enjoy it! Great job!

Yea, I ordered my parts before you updated the guide. I did consider also buying the loupes when I saw your update, but they weren't available to ship to the UK in a reasonable time, and I was impatient to get on.

The lenses are by far the most tricky part of this in my opinion, and it really needs almost binocular quality optics and adjustability to give a good display - i.e. for optimal display, you need the lenses at the correct distance and angle with sub millimetre precision, and for different people's eyes you ideally need adjustable eye separation, and different focusing in each eye. I mounted the fresnel lenses in binder clips, which make sure it is perfectly flat and allows for eye width adjustment, and I think it would actually work really well with better quality lenses (mine were £1 "mini magnifier sheets"). It's given me a new respect for the Oculus Rift developers though.
edmogeor1 month ago

For anyone (and you tomcat for future builds) intrested in using Arduino to track the head position, I found a brilliant project called 'EdTracker' at its an arduino project, a custom board can even be bought from the people behind it that creates a small little tracker. It connects via USB and displays on a Windows PC as a joystick, so in theory should work with games such a minecraft, if not software can be downloaded to convert this signal into mouse movements, all parts can be bought for around £10 ($15) so is a similar price to some of the airmouses available, this will also improve latency as it is connected via usb rather than wirelessly. Have not yet built this tracker but may post an instructable at a later date.

Thought people may be interested

Drakencas2 months ago

just one question... what is the best price-quality head tracker

Tomcat94 (author)  Drakencas2 months ago

I'll give you a quick run-down:

An infrared head tracking unit will run you ~$20 for LEDs, wires, a battery pack, and the Playstation Eye, ~$12 if you decide to just use your current webcam. It works well enough, and is a fairly good head tracker that can track roll, x, y, and z positioning.

I haven't used Arduino, but from what I can gather from this instructable, Arduino will run you about ~$30 to $40. It's a precise head-tracker with low jitter and hardly any noticeable drift. It's wired unfortunately, although I'm sure dropping another $10 for a bluetooth module would alleviate that particular problem.

I experimented with a friend's air mouse the other day and liked it, so I went ahead and ordered a cheap one for $17. It's pretty precise for the price, but doesn't offer any roll, x, y, or z positioning, only mouse look.

So, I'd say if you need to track the roll, x, y, and z position of your head, go the IR route. If you don't care about that and just want to look around with the mouse, buy a cheap air mouse. If you just want to look around with the mouse and spend a little extra to learn about arduino along the way, then go with Arduino.

It's a toss-up between cheap air mouse and IR tracker. The cost difference is about $5 to $10, they both work well, and the only difference is the IR tracker's ability to track the roll of your head and the x, y, and z positioning. Decide which features you want or don't want, and buy the one that best suits your needs.

Zack880 Tomcat942 months ago

Is it possible to use an air mouse and an IR tracker at the same time? I was hoping to install a 9DOF sensor or air mouse along with an IR tracker onto the googles and basically disabling the pitch and yaw in the IR tracker software and enjoying the benefits of both worlds. :)

Tomcat94 (author)  Zack8802 months ago

Yes! I can't think of a reason why it wouldn't work, so go ahead!

hi, I have been thinking what i wanted, but i think i am going for the air mouse. im just asking why you need the x y z and roll. when do you need it, in which games.

Tomcat94 (author)  Drakencas2 months ago

The x, y, z, and roll are used mainly for simulation games such as Microsoft Flight Simulator, Euro Truck Simulator, Arma II, F1 Racing 2013/2014, and Freespace II. If you're into simulations, x, y, z, and roll only enhance the experience.

An air mouse would be ideal for just about any other game that normally uses the mouse to look and doesn't decouple the head and weapon direction, such as first person shooters like Half-Life 2, Portal 2, Left 4 Dead 2, and Borderlands 2, or even first person exploration games like Dear Esther and Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

hi, its me again. I need your help :$ I have everything except for the lenses. You recommended not to buy the lenses you bought first, but the ones you bought after that are a little to expensive for me. Can i just buy 2 loupes with the right size lenses in it and then take them out of the loupe?

Tomcat94 (author)  Drakencas2 months ago

No problem! Yes, just about any 51mm loupe lens should work. The reason the ones I linked to are expensive is because they provide less lens distortion (which could cause eye strain!), so be careful and make sure you get a good set of lenses. You should be able to easily remove the lenses from a loupe, absolutely.

thanks for your reply. I never play simulation games and im not really interested in them, so im going for a air mouse. thank you for helping me out! :)


How much would this project cost without head tracking?

cazboi7 days ago

Hi :) I wondered if there was any way to play normal oculus rift games? Like the demos without mouselook? Because currently i cant look around using my air mouse :( Does anyone know how I can make the mouse input act as an Oculus Rift? Any help would be appreciated ;) Thx for reading.

bowgey2 months ago

great one... looks difficult at sensor part... :/

You should use an Air mouse :) Look at the updated edition (last page).

You should use an Air mouse :) Look at the updated edition (last page).

You should use an Air mouse :) Look at the updated edition (last page).

You should use an Air mouse :) Look at the updated edition (last page).

Hi, I'm using a gyroscopic mouse but when I try Minecrift (and other Oculus games like Tuscany) I can only move the camera horizontally. How can I fix this?

Hi! :) I had this problem with Minecrift, i was not able to move the normal mouse either... I found a setting in minecaft, where you could enable it to rotate up/down. I dont remember where, but think its in the VR settings. Hope this helps ;)

Hi! :) I had this problem with Minecrift, i was not able to move the normal mouse either... I found a setting in minecaft, where you could enable it to rotate up/down. I dont remember where, but think its in the VR settings. Hope this helps ;)

oriv13 days ago

@Lahcym, check this link>

Lahcym14 days ago
What is a good 1920x1080 display. I'd like to make this but with higher causality display.
marcosbele15 days ago

This project is awesome!

And I'm starting to build my own version. Two days ago I get the screen, but I have a doubt with the power supply. I know it is 12V, but what kind of adapter did you use specifically?

Seriously, this project is fantastic and I promise to send pictures of my version!

Gico24 days ago

Hi girls, my first prototype is almost finished. It's based on Nova v2 project. I used a black polypropylene "hollow fluted sheet", very light and strong enough. I cut it in ONLY ONE PIECE and bent the faces just like a box. So I didn't have to use so much glue or tape and the structure is very consistent. I used a 7" display and the 2" 5X lenses sold on ebay.

It works very fine and the stereoscopic view is good (some image distortion and cromatic aberration on the edges).

As soon as I refine the details I'll share the project with the exact measures to cut the plastic sheet for the structure.

Dead_Lemon1 month ago

Thanks for the awesome instructable, would have never thought you could build your own!

Looking around eBay, Ive come across a 1080p display, but it is an 8 inch display. Would this work? I'm more concerned how games are set up, will they work on the higher res? would this cause any incompatibility with the lenses used?

It would be cool to move make a 1080p Nova before the 1080p Oculus is released!

No1sBoy1 month ago

I have a question that may be a bit silly, but, it has just been eating at me since I first started becoming interested in 3d/VR design...

In order to get a 3d or stereoscopic image, you would need to take 2 images or projections and scan or project one image to each eye individually, am I correct? I am not totally sure of the actual science of it. Or the programming that must be involved. Something about off setting one image from the other just enough to fool the senses.

That being said, is it possible to use 2 receptors, like two small handheld video recorder screens (they are like 2 or 3 inch squared), and place 1 screen per eye in a headset? And if so, would that mean having to use the second output of a graphics card as well?

I am very interested in knowing. I have several very nice, albeit obviously obsolete, handhelds and would like to use them for something other than taking up storage space or e-recycling. JVC and Sony made some very nice micro-cassette recorders and the external screens are very high res.

Is this something that can be done?





nah891 month ago

With your second design do you see the border around the screen at all?

david_d1 month ago

Great project. I purchased all of the parts including the 7' LCD display but it does not come with a power supply. Which power supply did you use to power the unit?

PhilW10101 month ago

Hey Tomcat, I have been trying to make this myself and I have run into an issue. Even after trying to fix the spacing of the lenses as well as adding the divider between the two to prevent cross talk I still can't seem to get it right. The left image feels completely off compared to the right one. Plus I don't think the magnification of my lens is high enough (I didn't have a x5, but I did have a x2 and a x3 which I was hoping could stack and work but I think it was just hopeful thinking). However, it also looks like if I have any stronger magnification I would not be able to see significant parts of the display. Am I doing something wrong with this?

aqasem1 month ago

I have a couple of question :

First : If I'm wearing prescription glasses what should i do ??

second : Is there difference between your Nova and Oculus Rift in the (res, comfortability ..etc ) ??

Finally : When you are using nova do you feel any eye strain and headache ??

thank you :)

Tomcat94 (author)  aqasem1 month ago


First, I'm not entirely sure what to suggest in regards to the prescription glasses. I've had a couple friends with glasses try it, and they said it worked fine and was comfortable wearing it over their glasses, but then again it may depend on the size and shape of your glasses. You may need to adjust the lenses accordingly.

The screen resolution of my DIY Rift is the same as the Oculus Rift DK1's screen resolution (1280x800 pixels). It's comfortable enough to wear for a good while before the bridge of my nose gets irritated from the weight and I need a break.

Last, it's comfortable enough to use for extended periods of time without eye strain and headaches (given that your lenses are of decent quality), however, it's recommended that you take short breaks between 20 minute gameplay sessions to give your eyes a chance to relax.

Hope this helps!

aqasem1 month ago

what does make this Display special comparing to other ??

Tomcat94 (author)  aqasem1 month ago

Primarily cost, size, and screen resolution. It was a fair compromise between the three at the time I had bought it.

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