The Oculus Rift
Virtual reality is an area that has interested humans for as long as the idea was presented to us. Dating back over 70 years, the notion that we could experience a simulated environment separate to our own reality has constantly reshaped and reformed to create the technology we know today.
With a handy invention dreamt up by an electronics enthusiast not that long ago, the Oculus Rift was born. This device aimed to bring a realistic and affordable virtual reality system to the masses that would enhance gaming and digital media for good.
As it experienced a hyped release in 2016 with the support of major corporations, the Oculus Rift is still a hard system for many to get their hands on. Suppliers now struggle to keep up with the back order, and fans wait patiently for their own Oculus headset.
There’s a lot more to this system than just an entertainment system, as the machinery and history behind it are quite in depth. The future of the Oculus glasses is limitless, as new improvements are made each day to the technology and science behind it, so there’s no telling what the future might hold.
The Invention of Oculus Rift
While the history of virtual reality dates back many years, the Oculus Rift’s history is quite short. Invented by a man called Palmer Luckey, the Rift was a product of a self-taught engineer’s workings.
As well as engineering, Luckey also had an interested in electronics and hacking, making him the perfect person to create the Rift prototype. Having an interest in virtual reality from a young age, Luckey wasn’t impressed with the traditional prototypes of head mounted displays and wanted something to use that was more effective and friendly to the gamer.
After studying virtual reality and its technologies, he built his own prototype. He earned money from buying broken phones and fixing them, then selling them again for an inflated price. With his earnings, he was able to have the world’s largest privately owned virtual reality head mounted display collection. Using his collection, he studied the inner workings of the devices and learned their pros and cons.
With his plans for an HMD in place, he got in contact with other virtual reality devotees and began to sell his idea. Using a Kickstarter campaign, Luckey spruiked the idea in the hopes of selling 100 devices. While on VR forums, he happened upon John Carmack, game programmer and founder of ID Software, who took a huge interest in the project.
The rest was then history, as the two then went on to promote the Oculus Rift at E3 with Doom 3 BFG Edition on a head mounted display. From there, Luckey was able to drop out of college and pursue the Oculus virtual reality dream full time.
Commercial Success with the Oculus Rift
Once Oculus Rift had a name for itself as the revolutionary device of virtual reality, it began to pick up larger commercial interests. In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook announced company plans to purchase the Rift for a staggering $2billion. Zuckerberg stated that the Oculus Rift had the chance to be the newest and largest social platform ever.
Some expressed concern that by having Facebook own the rights to this technology it will now be used as a way to mine data from gamers, much like they’ve done with members on their own social network site.
However, Zuckerberg has stated that they’re simply interested in joining in on this technological craze before it gets even bigger, and hoping to bring virtual reality to more than just the gaming arena.
His grand plans for the Rift include taking users courtside at sports games, allowing patients to consult with doctors in virtual worlds, and students learning in virtual classrooms, all with social networking and advertising included.
The news of the Rift and Zuckerberg’s plans spread quickly and a release date was announced for 2016. Both Sony and HTC announced their own plans for virtual reality systems and Google Cardboard was announced for smartphones, launching in 2014. All of a sudden it became clear that the world was fixated once again on virtual reality and the industry began to see a resurgence.
Oculus Rift Technology
The basic premise behind the Oculus Rift system is that users wear a headset or goggles connected to their desktop computer which allows them to experience sight and sound in a simulated environment. However, the technology behind this product and other modes of virtual reality is far more complicated.
The device allows users to be transported to another time and place by using a pair of screens within the Oculus Rift glasses, each displaying a different version of an image side by side. As the user views each image through different eyes, the image is focused and reshaped using a set of lenses which creates a stereoscopic 3D view.
The Oculus Rift headset has also been fitted with sensors that monitor the user’s head motions and adjust the image as you move, with newer models even having an external position tracker planned so that these movements can be followed more precisely. These head sensors allow for a more realistic experience and also help to combat dizziness.
With a 2160 x 1200 OLED display, the Rift offers 1080p per eye, along with a 90Hz refresh rate and 110-degree view. The Rift also has a built-in magnetometer, 360-degree positional tracking which has a latency of milliseconds, an accelerometer, and gyroscope.
Each Oculus Rift package comes with the headset, sensor, cables, an Xbox One controller, and a remote. While there have been some criticisms on the use of the Xbox One controller, Rift has promised a launch of the improved Touch controllers coming soon, to allow for more immersive experiences.
As the Rift is only compatible with PC, you’ll need a computer that matches the required specifications to play. If you own a Xbox One, you will be able to stream some games over to your headset, though. Rift developers have teamed up with some big name computer companies to provide bundles that are virtual reality ready, adding to the cost of the device.
All of these advances in virtual reality have meant that the technology can now be enjoyed by home users, as well as becoming more widely available in other areas where it’s seen a lot of success.
Clinical therapists already use VR to treat their patients with exposure therapy, aviation and military officials train their recruits with simulations, and adult entertainment has found a way to pair VR with virtual relationships and sexual encounters. These are surely just the tip of the iceberg for what this amazing technology can offer in the future.
The Release of Oculus Rift
The initial Oculus Rift release date was March 28th, 2016, however, orders have been slow to arrive. The in-store release date has been pushed back even further to May, with some who pre-ordered still not receiving their systems.
Before its launch, there were rumours surrounding the cost of the Rift, sparked by a statement released by Oculus CEO Brendan Bibe. Initially, customers thought the Oculus Rift MSRP would be $1,500, however, this was not the case.
The price of Oculus Rift depends on how you purchase it, especially if you want an Oculus Rift package that comes with a virtual reality ready desktop. For the Rift on its own, complete with headset, sensors, and everything else you need to game it will cost $599.
However, if you want to take advantage of a bundle with a desktop, the Oculus price jumps up to around $1,500. This is thought to be where comments were misconstrued by Bibe’s statement in 2015, as it included an Oculus Rift PC as well.
Although there have been criticisms about the Oculus Rift cost, the system sits mid-range when compared to other high-end virtual reality systems launching in 2016. The HTC Vive retails for around $200 more, and when launched later in 2016, the Sony PlayStation 4 VR will sit at about $200 less. Considering how much it can offer users, the Oculus Rift price seems fairly placed in the middle of the scale.
How to Buy Oculus Rift
You might be wondering where to buy Oculus Rift to ensure you don’t need to go through a hefty waiting period or pre-order process, however, it seems that these waits are inevitable. While selected stores are set to release the systems in May for public consumption, there were many rumours that the supply wouldn’t come close to meeting the demand.
Best Buy is the exclusive in-store retailer for Oculus Rift, with systems released to the public on 7th May. However, If you’d prefer to buy your Rift online, Amazon is the best place for deals as well as bundle packages that come with virtual reality ready desktops.
Entertainment on Oculus Rift
One of the biggest selling points for the Oculus Rift is its impressive range of gaming titles available for download. While the product is marketed as a gaming device currently, the company hopes to offer so much more eventually in the way of entertainment and other everyday uses.
With a current selection of games available from the Oculus Store, there seem to be many titles which were available for the Samsung Gear VR now adapted to meet the higher resolution of the Rift.
Games currently range from $5 to $90, with over 30 titles being available at the initial launch. As developers make updates and release new titles, this selection will expand rapidly. Some titles have already earned the reputation of best in the show, with others not meeting the mark of what virtual gaming should look like.
This one comes as a gift with preorders of the Rift, and it’s clearly one of the better games available. Eve: Valkyrie has you navigating your spaceship around foreign galaxies and battling with other ships for glory. It’s a truly spectacular way to make use of the immersive feel of this gaming system.
Easily one of the complex games made for virtual reality so far, Chronos is a third person fantasy RPG. This game offers players to chance to explore modern VR like no other, playing on a hero’s mission to save their homeland, and also features a few in-game references to the virtual world.
An oldie but a goodie, Darknet is a classic VR game that’s been adapted from the Samsung VR for use with the Oculus Rift. This arcade game sees the player solving puzzles and hacking to try and bring down a computer system.
3D movies have been a debated point in the entertainment world, with some not enjoying the virtual feel that these titles give. This type of immersive viewing is also available with the Rift, and not just for selected titles. There are now free apps available that make it possible to view any movie through your rift, giving a 3D experience.
For the next level of cinema viewing, though, Rift owners can watch a number of shorts and trailers available that give a truly interactive experience. One particular film titled Henry, brought to your by Studio Short, lets viewers not only watch this cartoon hedgehog in action but also interact with him.
This type of production will open up a whole new world of interactive media that is already being experimented with by many, even creators of adult entertainment.
Criticisms of Oculus Rift and Virtual Reality
As with any first generation gaming system, there are bound to be areas of improvement. Oculus Rift isn’t without its own criticisms, as gamers and reviewers picked up a few of their potential flaws with suggestions for how they could be fixed with the next model.
The first major area of contention comes with the Oculus Rift controllers or lack thereof. Currently, gamers using the system will require a Xbox One controller to play, coming standard when you buy Oculus Rift. However, when using this bulky controller it is hard to immerse yourself fully in the virtual world.
Another area which concerns gamers is the lack of space they’re given to game with, as some comparable models use sensors to allow for room-scale VR which gives the user a wide berth and more realistic experience. When gaming with the Rift in its current state, you’ll need to stay seated or stand up where you are, meaning there isn’t much room to move.
As the Rift connects your headset to the computer and provides two side by side images which create the virtual reality illusion, it uses a camera to track the movement of your head. Because the technology is not yet available for eye tracking, having to move your head to see things that your eyes could normally view on their own, this can cause nausea and dizziness with some gamers.
Some have argued that Oculus Rift is too expensive, but that is subjective on each user. While it does retail at more than the yet-to-be-launched Sony PlayStation 4 VR system, it also costs a couple of hundred dollars less than HTC Vive. As a system that sits about mid-range, it can certainly offer users a lot.
Problems that aren’t exclusive to Oculus Rift include the potential for physical and mental side effects that come from experiencing virtual reality. As this area is still relatively new in terms of health effects, it’s difficult to say what the long term damage may be, if any.
Physically, many gamers have complained about feeling nausea or dizziness as their shift in perception changes when wearing VR goggles. Due to changes in your inner ear, this is the same sensation that people receive from travelling in a car or on a boat. According to the Virtual Reality Society, this is called ‘cybersickness’ and doesn’t affect all users.
Oculus Rift and other VR systems can affect your psyche as well. As these devices allow users to travel to a simulated environment, it can create a disconnect between your visual and vestibular systems, causing confusion and sensory conflict.
These criticisms are likely founded, and will be used to improve Oculus Rift for future generations. If developers can address these few areas and work with health professionals to lessen the potential side effects, this system will improve significantly.
With the future of virtual reality and technology so limitless, the future models of the Rift could completely differ from this first generation.
The Future of VR and the Oculus Rift
As virtual reality has come so far already in the last 10 or so years, it’s difficult to imagine where to next for this technology. As developers look to take on suggestions and criticisms from the current generation Rift and researchers work with the latest in immersive technologies, virtual reality looks set to change the world.
If Mark Zuckerberg gets his wish, virtual reality could be used as a way to connect people from all over the world in more than just gaming. Doctor’s visits, sporting events, virtual classrooms, the options are seemingly limitless with this technology.
However, anything that has the potential to change so much is not without its societal concerns. As with any new technology, the fear that humans will rely too much on escapism is common. If these virtual worlds become more and more realistic, there may some who have problems disconnecting from simulated environments.
On the other end of the scale, virtual reality could again fizzle out as we’ve seen happen in recent history. While the idea is enticing to gamers and other users, the technology may not yet be strong enough to support a fully immersive experience.
Some have cautioned that this latest virtual reality resurgence may be a passing trend as the gaming world has seen many attempts to bring this technology to life. The most memorable being Nintendo’s attempt to make mainstream virtual gaming possible with the launch of their Virtual Boy device.
While the hype was certainly there, once the product arrived users were underwhelmed at the graphics and capabilities of this device. The reality of this happening with Oculus Rift is still a very real possibility, especially in a more modern age where gamers expect a lot from virtual reality systems thanks to science fiction books and movies.
However, If Oculus Rift enjoys continued success and becomes a more mainstream device, there are hopes that its affordability and accessibility will improve so that it can be utilised by the general public.
For an idea that started from one electronics-obsessed man and blossomed into one of the biggest acquisitions so far from Facebook, Oculus Rift has certainly progressed in leaps and bounds.
As the first generation model of Oculus VR, customers appear content with what they’ve seen so far. Although there are areas for improvement, there’s no denying that using the Oculus is an experience most have never had before.
Never before have people been able to experience such immersion in the comfort of their own home, with a device that hooks up to their desktop computer. Oculus video allows viewers to escape completely into a virtual world of movies and games with technology that promises to only get better.
Developers will continue to work with the issues to ensure that this generation of virtual reality systems doesn’t fall flat as some have historically. Whether it’s good enough to engage the mainstream will only be told in time.
Although seen primarily as a gaming device in 2016, Oculus Rift hopes to offer much more to its users in years to come. With movies, interactive experiences, adult entertainment, and more, virtual reality may finally be able to offer what science fiction has been promising all along.