Friday, 27 June 2014

Oculus Rift (DK1)

Personally, I've always loved the idea of Virtual Reality. It ties in with my love for gaming and that want, need and desire to explore new, different and interesting environments. Whether it's an alien planet or a recreation of a real-world city, I'm there. But gaming on a monitor or TV can't fully immerse a gamer properly, as they're not really in the world. The Oculus Rift changes this. 

The concept of Virtual Reality stretches as far back until the 1950's with Morton H Eilig's Sensorama; a crude yet impressive machine that catered to a whole slew of senses. However, the kind of VR we all imagine and dream of is not the Sensorama. Instead, it's the Metaverse from Snow Crash, the Holodeck from Star Trek and the Matrix from, well, The Matrix. It's the idea of stepping into a world that is not our own, all within the confines or our own home. While you may not to be able to have adventures alongside Jean-Luc Picard in the guise of Dixon Hill just yet, since 2012 VR has very suddenly made some massive advancement. While we've hoped VR would truly take off in the 90's, due to pricing and technical limitations it didn't made it too far. However, this time it's happening, it's really happening. Get ready, as soon VR will be everywhere.

Known to have the largest head-mounted display (HMD) collection in the world, in 2012 a young inventor named Palmer Luckey decided to create his own. The device was known as the Oculus Rift, and compared to other HMDs currently in the market, it was aimed towards gamers at an affordable price. Simply put, the Oculus Rift is a HMD that delivers a stereoscopic 3D picture to the viewer, while also tracking the users head movements. This essentially puts a gamer into the gaming environment like never before. John Carmack (mastermind behind Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake) was impressed with the Rift so much that he showed it off at E3 2012 working with Doom 3 BFG Edition. The Rift was received with praise and soon found its way to Kickstarter, in a bid to bring it to the market. Asking for $250,000 and subsequently raising an overall $2,437,429, the Rift released its first Developer Kit (DK1), and since there have been many games, demos and experiences created solely for use alongside the Rift. While Oculus plan on releasing the DK2 quite soon which will then be followed by the long awaited consumer version (CV1) at an unknown date, I got a chance to try out DK1 for myself. Here are my thoughts.

The demo I got to try is RiftCoaster, which places you on a virtual rollercoaster. Putting the Rift on was a dream come true, as I've been dying to try it since 2012.  It was lighter than expected, felt comfortable on my head, but once I got into the experience I completely forgot I was even wearing it. First off, the resolution on the DK1 is quite low, but this will be drastically improved with the DK2, and even more so with the CV1. Despite the low resolution I instantly felt like I was there. From the real sense of depth and presence I was feeling, my brain was literally in shock. Then the rollercoaster began to move. As it began to pick up speed I kept jerking my head around to take in the environment. It was simply incredible! Every head movement I made was instantly mimicked on screen, which went a long way in helping to make the experience feel authentic.  While looking down and seeing no body did take away a certain level of presence within the virtual scene, it didn't ruin it. Then the rollercoaster got to the top of a hill. At that point I did something very bad, I looked down. Believe me, due to the 3D and head tracking working together, I had a true sense of being up high, very high. Then, right before my brain could even deal with that fact, the rollercoaster plummeted down, hit sharp turns and twisted. The next few minutes were almost a blur, as I just enjoyed the experience of fully inhabiting a 3D environment. The most telling part about how real it felt was that afterwards I was told that I was intensely gripping my chair, as the sense of motion was very, very real for me. Taking off the Rift and imagining the possibilities made my head spin. From viewing movies in a virtual cinema, interacting with other Rifters online and even exploring some of the countless game worlds available on PC, I wanted a Rift more than ever. I still do.

The RiftCoaster was great but I'm hungry to try more. I went into the experience after watching countless videos and reading many articles about the Rift, but nothing could prepare me for how great it truly was. RiftCoaster is just the tip of the iceberg, as I can see the Rift eventually changing games, movies and entertainment in general. Most recently Facebook acquired Oculus. While the knee-jerk reaction to it was quite alarming, in the long run I can see this as a wonderful thing. With Facebook behind the Rift, and Oculus backed up by an outstanding and loyal community of followers, I expect it to explode into the mainstream next year. Whether you're ready for it or even want VR to happen isn't important. It's happening regardless, and it's going to be incredible.

Oculus Rift DK1 gets a perfect 5/5.


Denis Murphy

Oculus Rift at CeX

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