Price and release date, update: There’s still no official price for the Oculus Rift Virtual Reality (VR) headset, but at May 2015’s Code Conference, CEO Brenden Iribe stated that a PC and Oculus Rift shouldn’t cost you more than $1,500 (£1,000, AU$2,000) total. The company released the spec requirements Windows machines will need to run a Rift not too long ago and we estimated the final cost to reach around $1,030 (about £654/AU$1,282).
However, as Oculus develops and takes advantage of newer PC components, we would take those estimates with a bit of a pinch of salt. The only official word on a release date so far is “early 2016″, and Oculus Rift has been a slow-gestating project so far. We’ll see.
Well hello, little fella. Oculus Rift showed up at Facebook’s November ‘Innovation Pop-Up’ in London, which was largely dedicated to AI and the Aquila internet drone project. Alongside some of the demos we’d seen already was a very neat ping-pong game and Henry, a short film for kids that took the VR movie genre as far as we’ve seen it taken so far. The lushly detailed CGI was impressive, but it was the actual story-telling and the pathos injected into the characters that made it truly magical. So don’t think for a moment Oculus Rift is just about gaming; it’s not.
The second Oculus Connect 2 conference in Los Angeles focussed not just on the VR hardware, but also on the huge focus on pushing out content for the head mounted display. The official addition of 360-degree videos to Facebook timeline means there will be more to watch. Oculus also announced that Minecraft is heading to virtual reality on both the Rift and Samsung Gear VR, along with a slew of arcade games.
Various studios have been diligently developing games to use with the Oculus Touch controllers since they were revealed in June. While not available at E3, Connect 2 had eight games for everyone to try out.
FPS lovers, meet Oculus Touch
The last time I used Oculus Rift and the Touch controllers, only Toybox was available to mess around with in the virtual space. Though still rough, it was an impressive experience. During Oculus Connect 2, there were eight games to choose from but sadly, demo time only allowed two play throughs.
I wasn’t able to upload many photos because most of them were blurry messes. The games I played had me moving around too much for the demo giver to take a solid picture. While it’s unfortunate there aren’t more pictures of me looking silly, it should tell you just how fun the games are. In comparison to Toybox which was basically a teaser of Touch’s abilities, these games were action packed and very well made – though still not exactly ready.
The first one I played was Dead & Buried which was developed by the Oculus Studio Team. It’s a wild west shooting gallery that progressively gets more difficult as you go. After pulling a lever on the right with your Oculus Touch hand, a cowboy ghost pops up to give a tutorial. A six shooter then appears holstered on your right hip. I had a hard time unholstering it because the controller wouldn’t register what I was trying to grab. The further I turned to look with the Rift, the further away the gun appeared. I felt like a dog chasing its tail in circles, unable to catch it.
After this awkward moment passed and I finally made contact with the gun, the rest of the game went pretty smoothly. You end up with two guns – both six shooters that need to be reloaded by flicking your wrist to empty the chambers, then flicking back again for bullets. There are stationary targets and moving targets to shoot with the last bit of the demo providing a speeding train with targets to shoot at.
Though super fun, playing Dead & Buried felt like a warm up for Epic Games’ first person shooter, Bullet Train. Apparently the “it” demo to try, I was eager to see what the buzz was all about. This game is the reason there are no good pictures of me with the Touch controller – it was far too fast paced for me to really stand still.
Though you’re playing as an invincible character where the bullets don’t harm you, the large amount of baddies coming for you is alarming, and exciting. Epic cleverly added the ability to teleport by pressing the X button on the left Touch controller, allowing you to move around. The locations are designated spots next to different guns – shotguns, pistols, assault rifles, grenades. I’m not sure if you’l be able to teleport more freely in the rest of the game or if set destinations are all you’ve got. I’m hoping it’s the former option; the latter makes sense since it was a “training” session in the game but if you can’t move around freely, then it feels a bit too limiting.
The auto aim is pretty helpful while you’re getting used to the Touch controllers. It’s especially cool since you can pluck bullets and missiles from the air to throw back at enemies. Here’s the video of Bullet Train Oculus released at Connect 2.
Medium is the new art-focused, sculpting tool that Oculus will ship with Touch when it launches next year.
CEO Brenden Iribe said every platform needs its own Paint app during the keynote, but he didn’t say Medium is Paint on steroids. This is the video Oculus released for the program.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect during my demo so I was pleasantly surprised at how intuitive and fun it is to sculpt with Medium. The program is still being developed but there were plenty of tools to use. You start with a block of “clay” that can either be a cube or a sphere. From there, you can shape it, take out or add in pieces, smooth it and paint with a large palette of colors. Then you’re done, you’re able to take a screenshot of your masterpiece. Due to the time constraint (and I guess my lack of artistic talent), mine turned out to be a weird blob.
What Oculus didn’t mention during its keynote is that Medium is a social experience. Two people can hang out and build something together – at least that’s what I was told during my demo. This was similar to my Toybox experience where two people with Rifts could hang out in VR together. With Medium though, you can create something amazing with another person, reinforcing another concept Oculus is trying to emphasize: that virtual reality doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor.
The upcoming gaming titles prove that virtual reality is the perfect haven for gaming, Medium shows that VR can be more than gaming and increasing creation of videos and films allow even more accessibility. Essentially, Oculus and many other companies are prepping the space as much as they can before the headset launches which is exactly what needs to happen. Nate Mitchell, VP of Product at Oculus, told me that “there’s still time” before the Rift launches in Q1, and in that time Oculus will continue to tinker away on the hardware making sure it’s ready. He couldn’t specify what is still being worked on, but he’s confident it will be delivered on time.
I have to say, as much as I want my own Oculus Rift right now, I genuinely appreciate the time and effort Oculus has put into its headset. Every time I use the Rift and Touch controllers, it makes me even more excited for virtual reality. It’s apparent there are still bugs to be squashed in the games and the comfort level could be upped for glasses-wearers like me but I’m like Mitchell, I feel like the team will be prepared to deliver come 2016.
Oculus revealed a consumer release date for Q1 in 2016 but kept its lips zipped on specs and official pricing for the Rift during its big pre-E3 event. The company still doesn’t seem ready to release the info just yet but it was sure ready to show off the headset. After using Oculus Rift Crescent Bay, I made a series of mental notes to check off when I tried the consumer Rift: Will it actually be lighter? Will my glasses fit comfortably? Will the latency improve? After using the new HMD at E3 2015, I can enthusiastically say yes to all of it, and more.
Light as a feather
As the demo-giver handed me the Rift, I could barely contain my excitement because it was so incredibly light. Crescent Bay was far too heavy and wouldn’t be comfortable wearing it for hours while turning your head around to look at stuff.
With weight seemingly fixed – I say seemingly because I still have yet to use the new headset for an extended amount of time – I moved on to the facial plate. Previously, it would always be a struggle to fit the Rift on my face because of my glasses. The latest Rift was much less of a struggle and was very easily adjusted to accommodate the large frames. The demo-giver fine-tuned the velcro straps for me on the sides though doing it on my own would have been a fairly simple process. The material wrapped around the Oculus Rift was also soft and sleek looking, which is a far cry from the chunky plastic. The head straps on the back look slightly different as well, and fit snugly.
As previously seen on Crescent Bay, the new headset has a pair of headphones attached to the sides that slip over your ears. However, Oculus says they’ll be removable so you have the option to use your own headphones. The built-in audio itself doesn’t sound too shabby and features 360 degree spatial audio experience. As with the Oculus Rift’s previous iterations, a constellation tracking system will determine your position in space while you’re wearing the headset.
There’s also a new sensor for desktops that users can simply plug into the back of their computers. This sensor should start working in tandem with the constellation tracking right from the get go. The sensor will be able to recognize the head motions of users whether they’re in a either a seated and standing experiences as well.
Starter pack of games
There were so many more VR games to choose from at this E3 compared to previous years but I was only allowed to pick two. Football, baseball, basketball and hockey simulator are the options you get from VR Sports Challenge but the demo on hand was hockey. I was immediately thrown into the game as a goalie after a quick screen showing button commands on the Xbox One controller. A grizzled hockey player gave me a pep talk and was far more detailed looking than I expected. As he skated away, there was no lag at all. The amazing lack of lag applied to the rest of the hockey team quickly gliding around the rink.
The gameplay consisted of turning my head to keep track of the hockey puck. The latency remained stellar as I swiveled around to make sure the opposing team wouldn’t score. The game required a press of the left or right bumper on the controller, timed to block the shot. Once your team gets closer to the other side of the rink, you take control of the player with the puck automatically. The game slows down to let you turn your head to find an open spot to score a point.
VR Sports was a simple game with mechanics that were easy to grasp, though at times it felt like I was just hanging out in the crease watching the action happen. However it still felt like an immersive virtual reality especially when the puck came straight at my face. I had the urge to move back and protect my face while yelling – until I remembered it was fake. Because of these intense moments, I’d say Sanzaru Games did a great job and I’m excited to see what the other sports games are like.
I also decided to try out EVE: Valkyrie even though I’ve played it before. It was never a good experience because the Oculus was heavy and pressed so close to eyeballs, that I always developed a headache afterwards. It was a bit different with the new Oculus Rift strapped on. This time, I was actually able to see everything clearly and it felt like I was in space shooting fools down while spinning and zooming around. I still felt woozy afterwards, but it wasn’t that bad because my glasses didn’t fog up randomly and the lenses were at a comfortable distance from my face.
The magic touch
Oculus Touch is delightful. From my earlier experiences with Rift, to Crescent Bay, I had always wanted Project Morpheus-level interaction and now, finally, Oculus Touch has fulfilled the final requirement for total immersion.
Now, that doesn’t mean Touch is perfect, but it’s far more impressive than I expected. During the pre-E3 conference, Oculus VP Nate Mitchell told me it won’t be ready to ship with the headset in Q1 but it should be out soon after – and I believe it. I honestly thought the peripheral demo would only show me I could move things around or swat at blocks – rudimentary hand tracking at best. I was completely wrong.
Apparently, the Oculus team has been working hard on developing the Half-Moon prototypes to do much more. In the aptly named Toy Box demo, I was not only able to pick up objects, I could shoot guns, slingshots, punch objects, pull heads off robots, and light sparklers on fire with a lighter.
It doesn’t sound like much but the Touch controllers barely lost tracking and consistently obeyed each grabby command. I did freeze and lose tracking three times, but it quickly corrected itself and resumed being a weird disembodied hand. The physics were also wonky at times. I placed a ping pong paddle down and it ended up pushing everything else off the table once. However, using one finger in the zero gravity mode to push a block in space made it gently float away. Again, these are all things that are fixable and should change exponentially by next year.
Each controller was lightweight and required a wrist lanyard similar to a Wiimote. It was a little confusing at first acclimating to the different buttons and triggers but after a few minutes, it became clear where each finger needed to go to pick something up. Essentially, if you’re a good multitasker, it shouldn’t be a problem to figure out. Gamers are probably used to this anyway.
The Touch controllers are cable-free and contain natural-feeling haptic feedback. An analog stick, two buttons and an analog trigger – which is capacitative to touch – round out the two controllers. Each time I wanted to grab an object, the haptics would kick in to let me know it was OK to press the trigger to pick up the object. The quick vibration wasn’t always necessary but was a nice indication that the controller “made contact” with something.
VR isn’t as solitary as you think
The person leading me through the demo was in another room while a disembodied head a set of disembodied hands were in the VR world with me. Every time he talked, the mouth area of the head would glow, and I’m assuming that’s what I looked like too. This probably won’t be the final look of the avatars, but I was still impressed by the quality and capabilities.
For most of my experience, the demo-giver was virtually in front of me passing me items or instructing me on what to pick up. One portion however, moved him “next” to me – the avatar visually shifted to my right while with the 360 degree audio emitted primarily from my right side, giving the sense that he was literally standing next to me at a shooting gallery. It was completely surreal and threw me off because I wasn’t expected that level of immersion and interaction with another person in a VR world.
The consumer Oculus Rift is in short, well worth the wait. I don’t think the masses will take to it right away considering it’s going to be expensive all around and many people don’t have PC rigs set up. Then there’s the waves of people who will likely face waves of nausea despite the near perfect latency. This is the most obvious problem but seems like a hurdle the team is getting closer to fixing.
Games are also increasingly being developed directly for VR meaning there will be plenty of content trickling out. Whether they’ll be any good is another area that will continually be improved through trial and error.
The Oculus Touch controllers are the icing on the VR cake. I’ve used various peripherals before, but the software and hardware always felt a bit off, or simply weren’t ready. The Touch is something I can see truly immersing you in the VR world, and it’s only a prototype. I’m genuinely excited to see how much better the next iteration will be.
The company has come a long, long way from the days of the barf-inducing DK1 so it has a lot to be proud of with the impending release of the consumer Rift build. But as founder Palmer Luckey stated during the Oculus conference, “this is only the beginning” and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
We have a consumer Rift release date! Sort of.
Oculus revealed it plans to start shipping the Rift to the general public in early 2016. It also teased what Rift will look like when it starts arriving for customers. Pre-orders open up later this year, though we still don’t have a price for the VR viewer yet. Even more details are due in the coming weeks, so stay tuned to this space for more on Oculus Rift.
Oculus didn’t announce a new SDK or final build of the Rift during GDC 2015, but there was a new demo on the show floor that we tried out. Still focusing on immersive experiences, the Rift took us into a scene from The Hobbit where Bilbo meets the fearsome Smaug for the first time. Except you’re Bilbo. With the dragon still hidden underneath the piles of gold, you can take the opportunity to get closer to the shiny trinkets all around you, like a conveniently placed helmet on a treasure chest nearby. Of course prodding it means you’re just crazily poking the air in real life.
Oculus Rift vs Microsoft HoloLens, ready? Fight!
Then all of sudden, Smaug starts shifting causing rivulets of gold to fall towards you. At this point, not only are the VR visuals stunning making you want to greedily pocket the goods, but the sound of the clinking coins coming at you with 360 degree audio is starting to make you think twice about sneaking into a dragon’s chamber – especially when Benedict Cumberbatch/Smaug starts telling you he can smell you.
The quick demo ends with you getting fried in a fiery inferno of dragon breath. The flames burst up from all directions making you really feel the heat and then the scene goes black. Morbid. But so deliciously fun. It’s not the awesome shoot out we experienced with Move controllers and Sony’s Project Morpheus but if watching movies on the Oculus will be anything like this in the future, count us in.
We went hands on with the Oculus Rift Crescent Bay prototype during CES 2015, however the demo was the same one revealed during Oculus Connect. The company has also continued to remain mum on the spec details of the latest audio equipped HMD.
Though the audio itself has a few new things under the hood. Specifically, a new Oculus Audio SDK will be part of the CV1 package. This means devs will be able to incorporate 3D positional audio for an even deeper immersive experience. The same SDK will be available for the Samsung Gear VR, another virtual reality venture Oculus is part of.
We’ve included a few photos of the CES experience and an interview with Oculus’s Head of Mobile, Max Cohen where he explains the significance of adding sound to VR.
There has been a recent 0.4.3 release of the Oculus PC SDK, which features Linux support, a number of performance and stability improvements and support for developing Rift content with Unity Free. Another PC update will be released this month, perhaps to coincide with the impending release date of the head mounted display.
Oculus held its first ever Oculus Connect virtual reality conference in Hollywood on September 20, and the growing company used the opportunity to show off its newest Oculus Rift prototype: Crescent Bay. The lighter, more comfortable Crescent Bay Rift prototype has beefed-up specs and, for the first time, integrated headphones designed by the engineers at Oculus VR.
But unlike with past prototypes like DK2 or “Crystal Cove,” Oculus is being less than upfront about Crescent Bay’s specifications. They bumped the last headset up to 1080p, and Crescent Bay certainly appears to have an even higher resolution, but the company won’t confirm as much.
That’s because they want to focus on the Oculus Rift as a full package rather than as a simple amalgamation of its various components, all of which will no doubt change by the time the consumer version Rift – CV1, as the company refers to it – is finally ready.
“It’s the combination of the resolution with the optics, with the mechanical engineering and industrial design of this thing, that allow for it to look like it’s a higher resolution, even though it may or may not be,” Oculus Vice President of Product Nate Mitchell told TechRadar. “The synergy of all the components together is what takes it up a notch.”
What Oculus instead focused on with the Crescent Bay demos it showed off at Oculus Connect was the level of “presence” the Rift can make users feel under optimal conditions and with content designed specifically to be as immersive as possible.
Down with the Bay
Whereas every past official Oculus Rift demo took place with users seated, this time the company had journalists and other Oculus Connect attendees standing up and walking around with the headset strapped to their faces.
In interviews afterward, Mitchell and Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey emphasized that the stand-up Rift experience is not the experience that they’re stressing for consumers, but was simply meant in this case to crank up the immersion as high as possible. Mitchell called this demo “conceptual,” and Luckey said “the Oculus Rift is a seated experience. It’s very dangerous to stand up.”
As true as that may be – you probably shouldn’t try walking blindly around your home while the Oculus Rift is tricking your brain into thinking you’re on a different planet or in a submarine – the stand-up experience demonstrated with Crescent Bay at Oculus Connect was undoubtedly the most immersive and impressive virtual reality demo ever.
The experience consisted of about a dozen demos developed by Oculus’s new internal content team. Luckey said these demos are the cream of the crop as far as what Oculus has developed, and many more experiences were scrapped or sidelined. Over several minutes they showed off a variety of potential Rift applications, eliciting a number of very different responses.
The Crescent Bay demos took place in a highly controlled environment: a small, empty room with four plain, grey walls. A camera – larger than the one used with Crystal Cove – was mounted on the wall, tracking users’ positions as they walked around a small, black mat on the ground.
By tracking the Crescent Bay prototype’s white-studded surface (these nubs are now located all around the headset, including on the back of the strap) this camera can accurately understand your position in the room, allowing you to walk around freely in virtual space. Not to get too dramatic, but it really is a mind-blowing experience.
The demos themselves consisted of several non-interactive environments, from a creaking submarine chamber to a sunny museum in which a life-sized (looked that way at least) T-Rex sniffs around and ultimately steps directly over you.
These short experiences lasted less than a minute each. One highlight took place at the top of a skyscraper in a steampunk, BioShock-inspired city. Standing up in that grey room, you could walk to the edge of the virtual roof and look down hundreds of feet to the traffic below. And as with the T-Rex’s roar, the Crescent Bay Rift’s attached headphones – technically stereo, but with simulated surround sound – made the experience seem all the more real with traffic noises, hissing wind and more.
That demo called to mind the Game of Thrones “Ascend the Wall” Oculus Rift experience designed by visual effects firm Framestore. Used by HBO at promotional events like the premiere of Game of Thrones’ fourth season, Ascend the Wall put users inside an actual metal cage – replicating the elevator from the series – that rumbled and blew cold air at them as they virtually ascended to the top of the show’s fictional 800-foot-high Wall.
The more points of feedback these demos are able to simulate, the more “presence” users feel, Oculus contends. These feedback points range from that feeling of cold air being blown in your face – which is not very practical – to ambient sound, which is practical – to something as simple as standing up, which is not ideal for every situation but nevertheless ramps things up considerably.
“You stand up, and suddenly your balance kicks in, and you’re like, ‘woah!’ and you feel your weight shift subconsciously,” Mitchell explained to us after the demo. “When you stand up suddenly [your subconscious] is totally engaged.”
All of these demos showed off the ways that standing up can enhance virtual reality. For example, within environments that appear small, like a tiny cartoon city or a sci-fi terrain map that could be used for a strategy game, walking around makes you feel like you’re playing an Ender’s Game-like simulation.
But one of the most fun demos involved simply standing and facing a curious alien on a distant planet. As the user bends down and moves around to better examine the alien, it does the same to the user, clucking in a strange tongue. You actually get the sense that it’s talking to you, and it’s easy to see how this type of interaction could be used to make video games better.
Yet another demo had you staring into a mirror, with your head represented by a floating mask. No matter how hard I tried or how fast I moved, I couldn’t detect a shred of latency as the mask in the mirror reflected my every movement. Again, the grey room in which this took place was a more controlled environment than most people’s homes, but it was nevertheless impressive.
The final experience – and the most game-like – showed off exactly how cool an Unreal Engine 4 Oculus Rift game might be. Futuristic soldiers shot at a hulking robot as it fired right back, explosions sending cars flying in slow motion as the point of view crept slowly down the street toward the machine. It felt natural to physically dance around, dodging incoming bullets and ducking under flipping vehicles, no matter how ridiculous I might have looked to onlookers who couldn’t see what I was seeing.
This could legitimately be the future of gaming – if Oculus can figure out the input problem. Although many Oculus Rift demos have used an Xbox 360 controller, there’s still no standard input device for Rift games. Like Crescent Bay’s integrated audio, though, this is a problem Oculus is actively working on.
“There’s a very real possibility that we would have come to the conclusion that audio is something we were going to leave to third parties,” Luckey told us at the conference. “We came to the conclusion that we had to do it ourselves, and we had to do a good job, because it was so important to get right. I think input is in that camp.”
That’s just one of the problems Oculus needs to solve before the Rift is ready for consumers, and given that Crescent Bay is just the latest of many prototypes it’s unclear when it will be. But when Oculus Rift CV1 is ready, it has the potential to change entertainment forever.
Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2 is on its way to game makers and it’s being used for by movie studios. We revised our hands-on review and added facts about its Galaxy Note 3 screen and Mac support. As Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2 starts shipping to pre-order customers, we got more face time with the virtual reality headset at PAX Prime and Comic-Con. Codenamed Crystal Cove, the updated Oculus Rift DK2 costs $350 (about £207, AU$373). That’s $50 (about £30, AU$53) more than the first-generation developer kit.
However, the improved specs make it well worth the price bump if you’re a developer with a passion for cutting-edge technology and the patience for beta hardware. The face-worn display outfits developers with an HD screen that’s 1080p or 960 x 1080 per eye. It finally meets our next-generation gaming needs. Believe it or not, the Oculus Rift DK2 display actually uses the 5.7-inch Super AMOLED panel from the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Behind its rubber casing is same exact front panel, “Samsung” logo and all.
This makes sense. Oculus was rumored to be working with Samsung on the South Korean electronics giant’s own virtual reality headset. Whether or not that pans out remains to be seen.
Despite both the physical and theorized Samsung ties, Mac compatibility has been added to the Oculus Rift DK2, making good on the start-up company’s promise to support Apple machines. All five OS X game developers are rejoicing right now.
Oculus Rift DK2 drops the first interation’s control box in favor of integrating the guts into the headset itself. Only a single cable – HDMI and USB woven together – dangls from your face.
The new kit also comes with a motion-tracking camera, which allows for greater movement within the world of the Rift. It looks a bit like a webcam, and a lot like a PlayStation Eye camera from the PS3 days.
It features a blue “on” light and an Oculus logo, but its true power isn’t visible to the naked eye. It uses forty infrared LEDs on the headset to track your head movements and integrate them into the game. These LEDs were visible on the version we tried at CES 2014, but not anymore.
In the demos we saw at GDC 2014, this meant players could lean in for a closer look at in-game objects and characters. These were the same demos we saw at CES, with the exception of a new one by Epic Games, which integrated the player into the game a unique way.
The game was a one on one battle between two sword and shield wielding avatars. It takes place in a living room, where players can see representations of themselves seated in the room, controller in hand. To keep an eye on the fight we had to swivel our head and crane our neck.
The Rift was a surreal experience as always; when our opponent turned his head or leaned forward it gave his neck a stretched, snake-like appearance. And when one of the battling avatars leapt up onto your lap, you half expect to feel his little feet on your legs.
If you’ve used the previous Rift, know that Crystal Cove is a night and day difference. The higher resolution makes all the difference in the world; it’s like going from Skyrim on a four-year-old PC to one from last year.
Note that we say last year; the Oculus Rift still isn’t sporting visuals that you could call next gen. There are still jaggedly rendered objects, but the immersive nature of the experience trumps graphics any day, and is one you need to see to believe.
Movies come to Oculus Rift at Comic-Con
Comic-Con 2014 provided a different sort of experience – with entertainment at the forefront – and maybe one we can expect more of now that Facebook owns Oculus VR. Both Twenty Century Fox and Warner Bros. were backing new Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2 units at the cosplay-filled San Diego convention with demos for their X-Men and Into the Storm films.
The X-Men Cerebro Experience provided the more surreal experience as attendees slipped into the wheelchair and saw through the eyes of mutant leader Professor Charles Xavier. He, fittingly, donned the just-as-snug brain amplifying mutant detector Cerebro on his own head. The concept involved seeking the shapeshifting mutant Mystique by looking 360 degrees in any direction. She was hiding in a Comic-Con crowd that was fictitious and barren – it would have been cooler if it used augmented reality here.
The actual hunt was automated and fairly boring, but Professor X’s replica wheelchair at the Fox booth provided developers with the opportunity to predict the location of our limbs and torso. It accurately overlayed his body onto our own. Obviously, this demo didn’t call for much movement and that worked to the movie studio’s advantage. It could easily trick your mind into thinking that the Professor’s subtle finger tap on the armrest was your own with a “Wait, I didn’t just do that!”
Into the Storm upped the energy level with simulated tornado winds inside a small glass both built by Warner Bros. Through the first-person perspective, we saw three characters hunker down behind a gated sewer entrance, truck-sized debris smash against its ironclad bars and pipes burst with gushing water.
It didn’t have the advantage of a stationary wheelchair-bound character to map our bodies and there was no interaction whatsoever, but Warner Bros did aptly demo its new disaster movie with this terrifying scene recreation. It also messed up our hair. Both X-Men Cerebro Experience and Into the Storm also gave us insight into how big-name movie studios intend to use Oculus Rift to invent new ways of enjoying theatrical experiences. Video games were just the beginning.
Oculus Rift gets more impressive every time we see it, and the futuristic virtual reality headset’s appearance at CES 2014 was definitely no exception. Since E3 2013 Oculus VR has gained impressive talent and raised an extra $75 million in funding, and the result is the Oculus Rift Crystal Cove prototype (named for a state park in southern California). It’s significantly easier on the eyes than older versions of the headset and, by extension, closer than ever to the Rift’s final, fully functional, consumer-facing form.
The two game demos Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell showed us in a private meeting room at CES were designed to showcase two new features: positional head-tracking and low persistence, both of which help make the virtual reality experience more immersive and address some users’ complaints with the headset, including motion blur-induced nausea.
The head-tracking is the most obvious improvement. The new white studs on the Oculus Crystal Cove prototype’s face are indicators that communicate your head’s position to a new external camera, mounted near your monitor. As a result the full movements of your upper body, not just the sideways and up/down movements of your head, are detected and translated to the game world.
That means you can lean forward while playing CCP Games’ extremely impressive 3D space-shooting game EVE: Valkyrie, bringing your in-game face closer to your space ship’s various monitors and switches so you can better read their warnings and instructions. Since the very first demo Oculus Rift has inserted players into virtual worlds, and with this addition it’s a more immersive experience than ever.
Get low, low, low, low
Second and more subtle is the low persistence, which makes the Oculus Rift’s somewhat notorious motion blur a thing of the past. Now the graphics remain more clear and sharp even when you move your head around rapidly. There’s still a tiny amount of blurring, but it’s a massive improvement over the previous version of Oculus Rift. To prove it Mitchell turned low persistence off and then on as we moved around, and although the image became darker with it on, it almost totally alleviated what was previously one of the Rift’s biggest issues.
The tech behind the low persistence is somewhat complex, but Mitchell explained the gist of it. Essentially the new “Crystal Cove” Oculus Rift’s OLED display has zero latency, so it takes the pixels no time at all to change color. Even then, Mitchell said, there was some blurring, but Oculus alleviated it even further by programming the pixels to consistently but imperceptibly flicker on and off, only turning on when they have “good” data to display. That new OLED display is also full HD 1080p, just like the prototype Oculus showed off behind closed doors at E3 2013. That of course helps as well.
We played EVE: Valkyrie at E3 2013 as well, though on the older, lower-resolution Oculus Rift. In 1080p, and with minimal motion blur and the new positional head-tracking, it was even more immersive now than it was back then – and that’s saying something, because even that first time it was totally mind-blowing.
Piloting a space ship with an Xbox 360 controller while you look around the cockpit and target enemies with the motions of your head is one of the most impressive gaming experiences ever created. It feels like the first time you played Super Mario 64, or Halo, or Wolfenstein – completely fresh and like it has the potential to change the world of gaming. And right now it’s only a demo.
The other software Oculus had at CES was a very basic defense game built by Epic Games in Unreal Engine 4. It’s an evolution of one of the original Oculus Rift demos Oculus showed around – the one where users simply walked or floated around several beautiful but interaction-light Unreal Engine 4 environments, including a snowy mountain and the lava-filled lair of a scary-looking demon lord.
Now, that demon sits on his throne across from you, the player, he being your apparent opponent. Around you is his cavernous, fiery lair, and before you is something like a 3D board game with moving pieces. He sends tiny dwarves marching inexorably toward your goal, and you press buttons on the Xbox 360 controller to fire arrows, cannonballs and flamethrowers at them.
There are two views: one overhead and one from closer to the game’s level, almost like you’re leaning down toward it to put on your thinking cap. And thanks to that positional head-tracking you can actually lean forward to peer into the game and examine the little dwarves up close. You can look into their faces as they’re pinned with arrows and crisped with fire.
The experience of playing a game inside a game world is not unique to Oculus Rift. This little game, though still very basic, could conceivably be a mini-game within some epic, sprawling RPG. But like with everything else, playing it on Oculus Rift makes you feel like you’re really there.
Mitchell said the camera that enables the positional tracking may be only a temporary solution. But whatever Oculus settles on to make sure the final version of Oculus Rift features full six-point head-tracking will be included with the unit, whether that means bundling a camera in or something else.
There’s still no projected release date or final pricing for the consumer product that the Oculus Rift Crystal Cove prototype will eventually become, despite rumors of a Christmas 2014 goal that Mitchell would neither confirm nor deny. And the conspicuous indicator lights on the Crystal Cove’s front aren’t final either, Mitchell revealed, even if they do look kind of cool.
Mitchell and his colleagues at Oculus VR seem to think the Rift still has a long way to go. That may very well be true, but the fact is the Oculus Rift is the coolest product in the world right now, and it gets better every time we see it.
Alex Roth and Matt Swider also contributed to these hands-on previews
Update: It’s E3 2013, and it’s been several months since TechRadar last saw Oculus Rift. The virtual reality headset has undergone two major changes since January: a new prototype now comes with full HD 1080p visuals, and it’s now got something resembling an actual video game. We went hands on at the show to check out what’s new with Oculus Rift, and we came away extremely impressed.
Oculus VR is now using Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 to demo its Rift headset. Specifically, the company is showing players the lava and snow demo that debuted in videos in late March. Wearing the standard-definition headset (similar to the one we saw at CES, but with an extra top strap for added comfort), we felt like we should be able to catch a snowflake with an open mouth when we looked up at the virtual sky. It’s that real-looking, and when we put on the brand new prototype HD Oculus Rift that sensation was only heightened.
Oculus Rift is incredibly immersive, and part of that is thanks to its true stereoscopic 3D. The two screens inside the goggles become extensions of your own eyeballs, and your brain quickly adapts to the point that you’ll raise your arm and expect to see them in the game world. You can truly sense the world’s depth, and despite knowing it’s an illusion it feels very real.
We didn’t experience any nausea, but we only used it for a few minutes. We did get a touch of vertigo as we looked down from the top of a virtual mountain, though. The consumer version of Oculus Rift, which Oculus VR Vice President of Product Nate Mitchell said is coming in “months and not years,” will likely come in HD like the prototype we saw at E3. As you can imagine it’s absolutely a superior experience.
Mitchell was hesitant to divulge too many specifics, though, mostly because they’re always subject to change. “We want to continue to improve the hardware,” he said. “Display technology keeps getting better. Sensor technology keeps getting better. We’re adding new features and things like that, a lot of which we haven’t announced.” He said they want to keep the price point around $300 (about UK£191, AU$312), though.