Get Me In The Rift
I have been preparing myself for this day for a long time-- the moment where we can finally insert ourselves inside the digital third-dimension, vividly walk through a beautifully rendered street and look up and over the elusive thirteenth floor. The Oculus Rift is the closest this world has ever come to making that a public reality and we are soon approaching a real-world VR headset that could be financially obtainable and available to the masses.
The man behind the Oculus Rift is Palmer Luckey. He is a VR guru and at the age of only 20, already claims to hold the world largest VR collection of over 40 different types head mounted units. He previously worked at University of Southern California in their mixed reality lab which has financial backing from the DOD. The features of the design and development of the Rift, while launching off of age old concepts, are being referred to as both ground-breaking and revolutionary.
Currently preorders are available for the development kit only. But Oculus already has 10,000 headset purchases in the queue and a $2.4 million dollars of reported financial backing thanks to the website Kickstarter. Although the estimated shipping does say March the website has not released the SDK yet and there is no confirmed word on consumer versions, but expect to wait until at least to 2014 before a retail version is available. The Oculus team recently traveled to their Hong Kong manufacturer to confirm they are still on-track to begin shipment of the development kits in March 2013. The website currently states any orders placed now can expect delivery in April 2013.
If you’ve seen any of the videos, read the reviews, heard any of the informational interviews, it is clear that this is a project that already has accolades from many of major names in the gaming and entertainment industries such as Cliff Bleszinski, a former game designer at Epic Games, Tim Sweeney, founder of Epic Games, John Carmack, programmer with ID software that received a prototype and took the concept to E3 to code the optical correction piece of the Oculus to work with Doom 3: BFG Edition
, Michael Abrash/Gabe Newell from Valve, and Jaron Lanier, Godfather of VR development in the 1980s.
Members of the Palmer’s Oculus team are huge names in the industry as well. Individuals like Jack McCauley with his twenty-five year history with companies like RedOctane, Atari, and Microsoft. They also have Laird Malamed, a former Senior Vice President at Activision Blizzard. I’ve heard it referred to as “the ultimate VR fantasy draft”. Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, IGN, CNET, PCMAG, PCWorld, Engadget and many more top companies have seen and supported the Oculus and it was recently featured on the late show with Jimmy Fallon to a great and well-received audience. Clearly, the project is gaining some major exposure.
The idea for a wearable VR device has been around for decades and has been employed by the military for a long time. But for the true consumer it has only been fantasized in film and television going back to the original Twilight Zone. But now, we are closer than ever before. Our technology is fast enough to process head movements in real-time, the graphics capabilities can render the highest levels of quality, cloud computing allows us to experience high-end systems without having to purchase our own setups, data transfer is fast enough to provide 1080p content wirelessly. But most importantly thousands of developers have already ordered and will soon be working with a single Oculus-ready SDK.
Current Tech Specs
Technical specs of the Dev Kit (March 2013 subject to change)
Head tracking: 6 degrees of freedom (DOF) ultra-low latency
Field of view: 110 degrees diagonal / 90 degrees horizontal
Resolution: 1280x800 (640x800 per eye)
Inputs: DVI/HDMI and USB
Platforms: PC and mobile
Weight: ~0.22 kilograms
Currently, the Oculus operates in conjunction with a PC controller. Having a full-immersion headset that responds in real-time is incredible, although our consensus is that the 360 degrees of motion could be improved by one key component—gloves. You can control your mind’s perception to a point but having gloves fully wired to the headset that function in a way where when you squeeze the trigger or grab an object, the fingers on the gloves would increase their tension, giving you the feeling that you are actually holding something.
Or, place this in an arcade while you are strapped onto the seat of a motorcycle. As you pull the throttle the fans on the sides of you blow harder, and the front end of your two wheeled monster lifts up off the ground. Your view quickly shoots to the sky as your bike presses down hard on the asphalt and you are back on the street. Think that’s amazing? Just wait until you take a corner. Let’s upgrade this to Zero-G, up and over walls, holding on sideways or in vertical loops, or better yet, maybe build your own personal amusement park and ride your own futuristic rides.
There are an unbelievable array of ideas that are in the works. But one thing is for certain, we are in the midst of a brave new world and a lot hangs on the shoulders of one man and his incredible team. There is a day coming that we may remember throughout history; the day we all entered the Rift.