Oculus Rift Headset Closes Gap on Virtual Reality
Oculus VR's final developer kit includes a 7-inch tablet display mounted to a headset with stereoscopic optics that helps immerse you into a virtual world.
CREDIT: Melissa J. Perenson
It's not often that tech reality lives up to the hype. But in the case of Oculus VR's virtual reality wearable display, the first hardware now shipping to developers does just that. And it marks the first step towards these virtual reality headsets coming closer to consumers.
The maker, Oculus VR, has yet to give even a guestimate about when it will deliver a consumer version of this game changing hardware. But it's making progress: Just days ago, the company hit its first milestone of getting hardware out to supporters who bought in on the Kickstarter campaign (Oculus Rift remains the second most-funded tech project on the site).
Oculus VR will also ship this initial “developer kit” in May for those who pre-order online. The kit costs just $300—not too high a price of admission even for adventuresome enthusiasts who can't wait for the consumer version.
The Oculus Rift, as it's called, is a stereoscopic virtual reality headset. Virtual reality has been attempted in fits and starts over the last two decades, but has met with little success. Previously, the technology fell short on both immersion and graphics. [See also: Cheaper 3D Boasts Titanic Entertainment]
Cue up Oculus Rift, which consists of a head-mounted 7-inch tablet display that shows similar images to each eye to deliver the illusion of a three-dimensional world. The headset has built-in sensors to track head movement: a magnetometer, a gyroscope, and an accelerometer. The head tracking, coupled with the full-world stereoscopic immersion, gives a sense of separated and natural movement, and is what makes Oculus VR succeed where others have failed to put the “reality” in virtual reality.
When I tested the final hardware, the 3D gaming experience responded to my natural movements. The field of view wrapped around my head: I could look up, down, left, right and even behind — and still see within the game. The get-up was surprisingly comfortable given its heft; and the goggles fit nicely over my glasses.
Meanwhile party developers are already coming up with ways to innovate on Oculus, though. The headgear supports Unreal Engine and Unity — which together open it to tons of existing games, with no extra coding or special treatment required.
Oculus VR's company founder Palmer Luckey speaks of the company's goals for its consumer version: A smaller, 5-inch display that's lighter, higher in resolution, and faster at refreshing (to eliminate the shimmer effect I noticed in the demo). Oculus did not supply resolution specs on the display in the developer version, nor did it say the weight.
Luckey declinee to ballpark when consumers can get their hands on Oculus Rift. “It all depends upon what feedback we get from developers: What features we need to add, and what we need to improve,” he said.
Right now, he adds, it's all about “putting it out to developers to see what they will create.”