The Oculus Rift
At the beginning of December, I finally gave into temptation and decided to go ahead and purchase an Oculus Rift Developer Kit.
If you’ve somehow not heard about the Rift (have you been living in a cave for the last two years or so?), it’s the first truly impressive and seriously viable step into the world of modern virtual-reality (VR).
Created by Oculus VR, the Rift is a head-mounted display (HMD) that features full stereoscopic 3D via dual lenses to a 7 inch screen, as well as 3-degrees-of-freedom (3DoF) head tracking.
Skipping over the technical details, the Rift basically allows you to be inside the likes of games and virtual environments, able to look 360 degrees around you, as if you were really there, in full 3D.
My first thought after booting up one of the small tech-demos available and donning the Rift was simple amazement – it’s been a long time since something like this actually elicited an audible ‘wow’ from me, but my first step into the world of VR was truly astounding. It’s quite unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.
As friends and family I’ve demonstrated the Rift to will attest, it’s really something you have to experience yourself to understand.
Development Kit Hardware
The version of the Rift available now is the Developer Kit – originally the project was financed through Kickstarter, and pledging $300+ during the fundraising netted you this device, intended really for game developers and software creators to begin adding support for virtual-reality and the Rift into game engines, SDKs and games themselves.
Because of this, the specs of the Devkit hardware are, while still very impressive, not perfect.
The screen in the device is fairly low-resolution, 1280×800 (making it 720p) – because of the relatively low pixel density of the screen, there is a visible ‘screen-door’ effect whereby you can see the individual pixels of the screen. While noticeable, you can look past it and the screen is still impressive considering its size.
Along with this, the latency of the device – the time taken for movements of your head to translate into the virtual world, is higher than the ‘sweet spot’ (around 20 milliseconds) at which point the brain can no longer sense a delay between head movement and visual changes. This can contribute to the ‘VR-sickness’ that people may suffer when using the Devkit Rift.
Other than these factors, the Devkit Rift is extremely impressive – the 3D and rotational tracking of the headset particularly, despite the latency. The feeling of depth you feel is very real, and looking up at looming objects or down over steep ledges really brings home that effect.
Crystal Cove Prototype and the journey to Devkit 2.0/Consumer Rift
The Rift Development Kit was first developed in Q4-2012 to Q1-2013, so the hardware is now over a year old. Since the first version was created, advances in small-screen technology as well as in-house tech at Oculus VR are pushing the boundaries even further towards VR-perfection.
Multiple new prototypes have been seen since the creation of the Rift devkit, most recently the newly-revealed ‘Crystal Cove Prototype’, just shown at CES 2014.
This new version is purely a technical demonstration and not intended for public use, but features a much higher resolution, 1080p AMOLED display with ‘low persistence’, meaning less motion blur and ‘smearing’, as well as full 6DoF head-tracking – now featuring positional as well as rotational tracking thanks to the obvious LEDs and external camera.
This means the Rift will now track your head movements as well as head rotation, meaning you can lean around corners, over ledges, etc.
Word from CES14 is that Crystal Cove is extremely impressive, and things can only get better from here.
Oculus have said in the recent past that they are looking to release a ‘Devkit 2.0’ before the ‘final’ consumer version, sometime in late 2014.
When the second devkit will be released or even finalised in terms of specs, we’re yet to find out. It is intended to be very similar to the consumer Rift, but will enable developers a slightly earlier chance to integrate new features like positional tracking before the mass market get their hands on the Rift.
Pricewise, Devkit 2/Consumer Rift are aimed at the same price point as the Devkit 1 – $300 or so. I feel that any more than this and Oculus may find it difficult to convince the masses to purchase the Rift, even as impressive as it should turn out to be.
Is Oculus Rift the future?
In my opinion – yes.
From my experience with the Rift, I can already see just how much potential the Rift holds for the future of virtual reality.
I honestly believe we’re in the midst of the breakthrough that VR has been waiting for – the technology is now advanced and cheap enough to reach the mass market, the world is ready for an evolution in the way we experience games, movies and more, and Oculus has the people and the drive to bring it all home.
Other companies are undoubtedly working on competing HMD’s, including Apple, Sony and Valve, so it will be interesting to see where things stand later in the year.
I will definitely be purchasing a Devkit 2/Consumer Rift, and would highly suggest you do too.
VR is coming, and the future’s looking bright.