For the first time in history, the Oculus Rift has been made available to consumers in a readymade, fully functional form. While it was first developed about 5 years ago, today it is one of the leaders in the virtual reality market.
It is nearly impossible to ignore the hype that surrounds it. But what is the Oculus Rift? What does it do? Is it a passing trend or can we expect to see more of it in the future? Get the answers to these questions and more in our guide to the exciting new Oculus Rift.
What Is Oculus Rift?
The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset. The first prototype was released back in 2010 and it has come a long way since then. Virtual reality is transforming the way we experience entertainment and everyday life. And the Oculus Rift is leading the way in this transformation.
From its beginnings, it was meant to be a headset that could fully immerse you in the world of the game you were playing and it has always included the most up to date tech available in order to make that experience as immersive as possible.
Today, the device is a self-contained set of Oculus rift glasses or goggles that users strap onto their head. It’s wide enough to be worn by people who wear actual glasses as well. They have also recently released the Oculus Touch which is an Oculus Rift controller that can detect your finger movements while you hold them.
Currently, you can buy the headset and the Touch controllers separately or in a bundle. But all headsets are bundled with an Xbox One controller because most of the virtual reality games that exist today still require the conventional gamepad and are not yet ready to be used with motion controllers like the Oculus Touch.
The History of Oculus Rift
Developers have been trying to create virtual reality devices for decades. The first virtual reality “headset” came out back in the 60s. But it was so bulky and heavy that it had to be suspended from the ceiling by a giant mechanical arm. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly suitable for using at home.
The Oculus Rift developed out of this long quest for a virtual reality system that could completely immerse you in a virtual world—without requiring you to strap yourself into a giant device hanging suspiciously from the ceiling.
Palmer Luckey, at the age of 18, began tinkering with hardware in his parent’s garage in sunny Long Beach, California. His goal was to create a virtual reality headset that was better than anything currently on the market and affordable for the average gamer.
Making Its Way to the Market
In 2011, John Carmack discovered Luckey and liked his prototype. Together, they would build a new prototype combining both of their ideas that would be presented at the E3 convention in 2012. Users could explore the landscape up to 90 degrees horizontally and 110 degrees vertically—the widest range up to that point.
Luckey founded the tech company Oculus VR that same year. And after the E3 convention, Luckey and Carmack started a Kickstarter campaign which they had now given the name “Rift.” The funding from the campaign would be used to create development kits containing parts, building instructions, and information about the device. These kits would be sent to game developers so they could make their games compatible with the device.
The campaign was a success. And they decided to also start selling the Rift development kits to consumers as well. In 2014, they began selling a second development kit that had a higher resolution display and other improved features like better position tracking and a detachable cable.
In March, Oculus VR was bought by Facebook for a cool $2 billion. And later that same year, they were able to make further improvements with the release of the Crescent Bay prototype. This version of the Oculus Rift had even higher resolution, built in audio, 360 degree motion tracking, and weighed less than earlier models.
By 2015, they had decided to create a consumer version. That is, a version that was already assembled and functional for people who didn’t have the skills or desire to build their own headset using the development kit. Pre-ordering began on January 6, 2016. The company got so many preorders that they had to push the Oculus Rift release date from March to July because they simply did not have enough parts to build all the headsets that were preordered.
The Future of Oculus VR And The Oculus Rift
The current Oculus Rift headset features the most up to date and advanced virtual reality technology that exists. But, as Luckey and his partners know, virtual reality technology is developing rapidly and they are not planning to fall behind.
They are already working on creating a newer and better model and have said that the next Oculus Rift headset is slated to be released in 2 to 3 years.
To date, the company has bought a British startup called Surreal Vision that Oculus VR hopes will help it develop telepresence products. Telepresence involves technology that allows users to appear or feel as if they were present somewhere when they actually aren’t. With the use of remote controlled robotics, they may even be able to affect the other location.
As a simplified example, you can imagine video conferencing except with the most sophisticated tech possible to allow for uninterrupted audio and video that is free of lag or delay. But video conferencing is not the only form of telepresence and it will be exciting to see what kind of applications Oculus VR finds for the concept.
They have also partnered with Samsung to create the Samsung Gear VR which is another virtual reality headset that works with certain models of the Samsung Galaxy smartphone. Essentially, the Samsung Gear VR is both a display case to mount the smartphone in (like the Google Cardboard) and a controller since it connects to the smartphone using a micro-USB.
How Does The Oculus Rift Work?
The device you can buy today includes two screens (one for each eye) and built in headphones that are capable of simulating real time 3D audio effects (meaning the ability to make it seem like sounds are coming from different locations around you—like hearing a car come from behind and zoom past you).
The display screens work with rotational and positional tracking software and sensors which means that the view on the screen will reorient itself with the movement of your head. If you turn your head to the left, the image on the screen will pan, matching the exact degree that you turned your head. If you look down, the image will pan down.
This requires extremely advanced Oculus Rift software because now, an image is not just what it is on the screen right now but also everything off screen that you might decide to turn and look at. That means the software needs to be able to render new images that logically fit with the previous image.
It also needs an extremely high refresh rate which requires your computer to bypass its operating system and input information directly to the headset itself. At the moment, it’s still recommended that you have a relatively powerful gaming PC to get the full experience of Oculus Rift video and Oculus Rift games but the company is working hard to make the device self-sufficient enough that it can be used with more affordable PCs without sacrificing quality.
They do offer a hardware testing application to let you see if your PC is up to the task and they also have started to promote certain computer models that they have found to be “Oculus Ready” so if you are shopping for a new computer and you want it to be capable of handling the Oculus Rift, you can get their constantly updated recommendations.
What Can You Do With The Oculus Rift?
Ok so with all that talk about how it was developed and what it does, what does it really mean for you? Getting the Oculus rift isn’t like getting a new smartphone or a new gaming system, it’s a whole new kind of device that allows you to experience games and other media in a whole new way.
As with anything that is that new, it can be a little confusing to know exactly what you’re supposed to do with it. So now it’s time for the really fun part where we talk about all the best Oculus Rift games and all the different kinds of things you can do with the brand new Oculus Rift virtual reality headset!
There are dozens of games that are now compatible with the Oculus Rift in some way and more games are coming out all the time. That’s because the company has created a software development kit that is directly integrated into already popular game engines so developers who are already familiar with any of the 3 popular game engines can easily adapt their code to be compatible with little or no new changes to make virtual reality specific code.
Even better, it is an open platform so developers don’t need to get any kind of approval before they start to develop or distribute their Oculus Rift games.
So, as you might guess, the main application of the Oculus Rift is as a gaming device. While a lot of games that were originally released without virtual reality capability are now being modified to be compatible with the Oculus Rift, the best games are those that were designed from the beginning to be played with the Oculus Rift.
There are 3 main categories of games based on how they incorporate the Oculus Rift: natural locomotion, cockpit locomotion, artificial locomotion:
- Natural Locomotion: Games in this category use only the motion and rotation of your head. You do not change perspective or turn your avatar using a thumb stick or keypad controller. By syncing motion directly with head movements, these games minimize the risk of virtual reality sickness (a form of motion sickness that users can experience while wearing the headset).
- Cockpit Locomotion: In these kind of games, your character is inside of a vehicle with a cockpit (think car, airplane, etc.). You are able to look around using head motions but navigation (moving the vehicle) is done with a thumb stick, keypad, or steering wheel. It can cause virtual reality sickness in some players, especially when your vehicle starts to move very fast.
- Artificial Locomotion: In these games, the perspective moves artificially. That is, instead of head rotation, you change perspective and location using the thumb stick, keypad or other controller. They allow for a wider range but they also have the highest risk of virtual reality sickness and tend to make you feel less immersed in the virtual world.
Cool Games For The Rift
In addition to the many games that are being developed by third party game developers, Oculus VR also funds the development of some games. In 2016, some of the most promising releases included Edge of Nowhere, Keep Talking and No One Explodes, and EVE: Valkyrie:
Edge of Nowhere
This is an innovative attempt at using virtual reality to do horror. You follow behind the protagonist as they navigate an unsettling and super creepy virtual world filled with giant monsters and other dangerous things.
It could also easily be a non-virtual reality game since it isn’t in first person view and doesn’t make full use of the virtual reality features. But it does experiment with them and being fully immersed in the world does make it that much more creepy.
Keep Talking and No One Explodes
This game takes a new look at how to use virtual reality in a way that is more interactive. You wear the headset and look at a bomb that you need to defuse. Meanwhile, your friends who can’t see what the bomb looks like have to use a complicated manual to help guide you through the process of defusing the bomb.
You have to quick before the time hits zero and you all explode! It does a great job of recreating those intense scenes in films where someone has to talk their agent through the process of dismantling a bomb without being there to see what it actually looks like. It’s a great way to make it more interactive and social.
This is one of the best known games for the Oculus Rift. In it, you pilot a spaceship who has to fly through space shipyards, asteroid fields and other locations. Meanwhile, you will need to maneuver to dodge asteroids and other obstacles while shooting at enemy ships. It really takes full advantage of the virtual reality concept but it can make some users feel a little sick due to the rapid movements.
Using the Rift For More Than Just Gaming
So the Oculus Rift is primarily a gaming device and the creators have assured the public that it will always be that (despite concerns that the Facebook buyout would transform it into something else). With that said, it can be used for other things and in the future, its uses will continue to expand and become more diverse.
For example, the Oculus Cinema app allows you to watch normal movies in a virtual cinema environment. Ever wanted to know what it would be like to watch Casablanca on the silver screen? With this app, you can simulate that experience.
Soon the app will have a network mode which will allow multiple users to sit down in the same virtual cinema and watch a movie together. That means you can still go to the movies with your friend who lives on the other side of the country!
But that’s not the only use of the Oculus for film. With the new technology, there are now 360 degree 3D videos being made so that you as the viewer are able to turn around and see what’s happening all around the scene. It’s like watching a movie while standing in the middle of it.
This 360 degree filming technology is already being used to create short films and film live sporting events. So expect to see more and more options here in the next few years—including virtual reality TV shows.
Later on down the road, Oculus VR will move into social media apps. They are currently developing a few different apps in this sector. Basically, try to imagine if Facebook was an actual place.
Imagine putting on the headset and walking into a room full of your friends (anyone else who is online). You’ll be able to talk to each other, share videos on virtual movie screens, play board games or chess together and so on. This will make maintaining long distance relationships and friendships way easier since you can meet in a virtual world in much the same way you would meet in real life.
Oculus Rift Specs
Here are some key specs and details to give you an idea of how the Oculus Rift looks and feels:
Oculus Rift resolution is currently at 1080×1200. More importantly, it has a refresh rate of 90 Hz and can globally refresh (instead of just going line by line). And they have decreased lag to prevent blur and pixilation.
- 1080×1200 Resolution
- 90 Hz Refresh Rate
This refresh rate and decreased lag are two of the ways that the developers have managed to eliminate or at least decrease the amount of virtual reality sickness (motion sickness) users feel while wearing it.
The integrated headphones use licensed tech from RealSpace 3D Audio which is able to produce sounds in a way that makes it sound like they are coming from different locations around the user. But you can also use your own headset, too, if you prefer it.
The device uses Constellation which is a positional tracking system that uses infrared lights on various points of the headset which are then tracked by sensors that are located on a stand that you place in front of you. You can choose to use the single tracking sensor or get multiple to increase accuracy and to track the entire room.
The device itself is relatively light and ergonomically designed to fit easily on your face. It also has fabric coating to make it softer and more comfortable. You can also adjust the lenses to suit your eyes.
Since they are partnered with Microsoft, the Oculus Rift is compatible with the Xbox One. It will also work with Windows 10 and it is recommended that you have Windows 7 or newer.
This is the virtual reality portal that you see when you first turn the device on. It displays all of your games and apps. It’s also where you can buy new games and see what other people in your network are playing and doing. It also has a 2D version that you can use on your PC when you’re not wearing your Oculus Rift so you can navigate it the traditional way as well.
These are a set of motion controllers that you hold in each hand. They come with their own sensor stand and allow you to navigate control games with more natural motion (instead of using a gamepad).
As time goes on, we can look forward to more and more features and capabilities. But for the time being, you’re probably wondering how much does the Oculus Rift cost? Well, it’s not cheap but it’s definitely one of the more affordable options in the virtual reality headset market. And they are striving to make it more and more affordable for the average consumer.
The Oculus Rift is one of the coolest new pieces of tech out on the market today. The name itself sounds like something straight out of the future or a science fiction story. Considering the fact that it will only be capable of doing more and more as the years go by, the Oculus Rift cost is an investment worth making—especially if you’re an avid gamer.