Anyone who grew up playing video games in the last 20 years remembers the poor attempts by gaming companies to make virtual reality headsets. Its one of the first and most appealing inventions these companies began working on when video games took off. It seems like theres finally one that has some promise.
A VIRTUAL REALITY HEADSET FOR THE FUTURE
The headset your looking at is called the Rift, made by Oculus, named after a particular type of round window on building’s, itself named after the Latin word for eye. Oculus is the company of Palmer Luckey, who started working on VR headsets in his parents garage. He too remembers these early attempts to make immersive VR headsets and decided to have a go at it himself. It turns out that was a very good idea. Only a few months after starting a Kickstarter campaign, Oculus has millions of dollars in backing, and the blessings of some big names in the gaming industry.
The big appeal of the Rift are that its comfortable, affordable, and of course that it works incredibly well.Most previous attempts have small horizontal fields of view, they throw off the user’s sense of place and dislodge them from the experience. The Rift on the other hand has a stereoscopic 3d display and 90 degree horizontal field of view. The also tend to suffer from high amounts of latency, which is basically a time delay between an action trigger and the resulting action on screen. Most audio and visual systems are subject to some sort of latency, and the less latency you want, the more computer power must be used. A lot of latency and there will be a delay when you move your head and when the display “catches up”. The Rift tracks head movements in real-time with super-low latency. This makes for an unprecedented virtual reality experience that users have called surprisingly natural.
Oculus has a developer kit out now for $300 that can be bought from their Kickstarter page, but they urge consumers to wait just a bit longer for the consumer version, which they think can be out by 2013. The developer kit allows developers to see the Rift in action and work on games and adaptations, which many have already done. I’m most excited about Hawken, a mech simulator (video below).
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Virtual reality is one of those concepts of the last 40 years (particularly during the 80’s and 90’s) that was described as being wholly futuristic, something that we’d have “in the future”. Well we may be on our way to seeing it in reality (ha) soon. When the Oculus hits the public market, it will confirm for a lot of people that we are indeed “living in the future.” So long as the praise is legitimate (and I’d say it is considering the names who are backing it), the Oculus Rift will have a major impact on the gaming industry, similar if not more than the motion-capture devices like the Xbox Kinect, Playstation Move, and the Wii have had. The major gaming companies will likely start developing their own headsets, Sony already has. Game developers will develop games to be compatible with them, and VR will probably become a somewhat regular part of gaming. This is good and bad; good for gamers, bad for people who don’t like technology. I’m stuck in the middle. I was promised virtual reality as a kid, so the 9 year old in me is super stoked.
However, the traditionalist in me is wary. With VR at their fingertips, the damn kids are just going to stay inside all day playing with the Nintendos. Considering most gamers won’t break eye contact with their flatscreens even if you wave a live grenade in front of them, what will this do to us? A CVG.com team got to use the headset at E3 this year and they said it was “sobering” to take the headset off and come back into “bland reality” of the room. No doubt it was and thats a bit unsettling to me. I suppose it doesn’t matter, virtual reality or not, video games are a fact of our future and we’re already on the path to becoming increasingly attached to screens as it is. Might as well make it as enjoyable as possible.