The Virtual Reality Headset


You know you're witnessing bleeding edge technology when you get to play with a prototype held together with duct tape. And that's exactly what I got to do when the mad geniuses behind the Oculus Rift let me take their virtual reality headset for a spin in with 2K games' Doom 3: BFG Edition at PAX 2012.

My brief presentation was led by none other than Nate Mitchell, the VP of Oculus Rift Product, and Palmer Luckey, the young and energetic genius-wizard-inventor of the Oculus Rift device.

The current '3rd generation prototype' I was shown was surprisingly light, largely because this version of the prototype connects to an external control module.

According to Mitchell, this design-an external control sol republic tracks hd module to which the headset will connect-is probably how the final product will work. Putting all the processing power of the Oculus in an external control module makes it easier to keep the headset lighter and more comfortable.

The prototype I wore was equal in weight to (or even a little less than) an average pair of ski goggles-and despite its boxy, bulky 'alpha' appearance it was actually light and reasonably comfortable.

Bleeding edge, cutting questions

But aside from the fundamental design of the 3rd generation Oculus Rift, nothing else has been finalized. Still unanswered are questions such as whether or not surround audio will be part of the headset, and what the final size, weight, resolution, and price will be for the device.

The current prototype shown at PAX 2012 used a 1280x800 (640x800 per eye) resolution, but Oculus is looking to increase that.

"Everything is still on the table," Mitchell explains.

I also asked if a console version would be available. "We want to work with those guys, but not yet," Mitchell tells me. "We're doing PC first because it's an open platform."

The Oculus SDK has been made available to developers because to work with the Oculus a game will need to be coded to support it. Mitchell estimates the process of implementing support for the Oculus in a game would only take a couple weeks.

My Oculus experience

There's no doubt about it-using the Oculus is a pretty amazing experience, and proof that the technology not only works but offers a truly enhanced experience. The first thing I did when I played the Oculus-enabled version of Doom 3: BFG Edition was simply crane my head around and look over my shoulder for monsters. Seeing nothing, I opened the door in front of me, and set about to killing stuff.

I was still using a game controller for weapon switching, movement, and to occasionally help aim when I needed to look or turn a sharp sol republic headphones corner-movements my neck alone couldn't quite accommodate. I couldn't help but wonder what the more vertically oriented Tribes Ascend would be like-or even a classic PC game like Roller Coaster Tycoon 2, where you could make (and ride) your own roller coasters.

The only down side for me was that the headset made me feel a bit woozy or hung over during my time in it. This surprised me quite frankly-I've never experienced similar feelings playing FPS games (or any others). Mitchell explained that a small percentage of people experience a sort of 'hangover effect' in the Oculus, but that it might also be eliminated or dampened if the headset were calibrated to every user. (Unfortunately, we didn't have time to calibrate the Oculus because there were just too many people wanting to experience it.)

There is no denying, however, that the Oculus delivers an awesome experience. As it is refined, lightened, and streamlined-and as technical details are slowly pinned down-it looks like the Oculus the only trick left after the technical wizardry is complete will be the marketing wizardry. Will Oculus be able to garner enough developer support to create a library of 'Oculus ready' games-and will the Oculus be affordable?

Only time will tell if the Oculus Rift will find an audience, but I'm cautiously optimistic this young, energetic company and its cadre of youthful mad scientists can pull it off. And clearly, I'm not the only who thinks so-the Kickstarter Campaign for the Rift aimed to achieve $250,000. It achieved nearly 10 times that amount ($2,437,430 to be exact).



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