12 May 2013, 01:42

Is Oculus Rift the future?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer:

I backed the Oculus Rift project on KickStarter last year. The team were promising an order of magnitude improvement in head mounted virtual reality goggles, along with very low latency head tracking.

A couple of weeks ago my Oculus Rift developer kit arrived. Here’s my thoughts following a couple of weeks of playing with it.

1. This is the future, no doubt

It’s not an IF, but a WHEN, that this type of technology replaces certain usages of computers. I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately while chilling out – think bigger than just gaming, this has the chance to really change everything. Look at Google Glass, a similar bit of technology in terms of head mounted display (not head tracking or virtual reality, more a heads-up-display for your life).

My guess: We’ll see a bunch of companies doing cool stuff in this space and then one day somebody will pull an Apple and release something that takes the best of all of them and we get a collective ‘Ah ha!’ moment (to complete the scene, I’m talking about the iPhone. No one part was particularly unique per se, but the way it was done was magnificent and changed everything in the phone space).

2. The Oculus Rift isn’t perfect

And neither was I expecting it to be. For one, this is the dev kit — I have no idea if higher spec’d units are planned for the consumer space. 

The Oculus Rift has a flat screen in front and then these lenses that sit in front of it. They help curve the image to your eye and create a better VR experience. The dev kit ships with three sets of lenses: Those for near sighted people, long sighted people and those with perfect eye sight.

This is where I think the resolution of the Oculus Rift suffered a little. Effectively these lenses act as magnifying glasses for each eye and that means if you pay attention you can actually see black lines between pixels. It also means you need to very carefully calibrate the headset so your eyes are perfectly aligned. If you’re not perfectly aligned the image becomes blurry and not as impressive.

The lenses are really fricken close to my eye ball. I’ve been cursed with beautiful long eye lashes and this means getting the lenses to be close enough to be immersive but far enough away for me not to just smear them every time I blink is quite a challenge.

The Oculus Rift does allow adjustment to push the distance of the lenses out further but I equally found that the maximum distance from my eye, while best for my eyes, lowered my immersion. Time to trim the eye lashes me thinks.

3. It won’t feel awesome to begin with

Everyone in the Mindscape office gave the Oculus Rift a test drive. Even people not in our office came to check it out. Universally there were comments about feeling sea sick and the feeling that the wearer was going to fall over.

I seemed to suffer the least from this, but I did get it slightly.

4. Wonderfully packaged

The team at Oculus did a fantastic job packaging this tech. Strong beautiful case, all the possible cables you’d need, lots of padding. Really felt like I’d spent a lot more than $300 USD to get this. Great work.

5. Head tracking latency is really good

I’ve used a few VR headsets many many many moons ago. The head tracking in the Oculus is really good. There’s still some minor lag, but it’s significantly better than anything I’ve used before. The bigger issue is the screen quality I mentioned in point #2.

6. You’ll want a lot more

This isn’t a fault of Oculus, but as soon as you start wearing this thing you’ll start feeling what the future will be like:

  • Why isn’t it wireless? I can’t turn around a lot without binding myself in cables and ripping my pc off the desk.
  • I can’t see my hands? That’s clearly the future. It’s a little off putting to throw your hands up and not see them. At Mindscape we’re playing around with connecting the Oculus Rift with a Kinect so we can show your hands in the VR world. Seems like a logical next step.
  • I still have to use the WASD keys to move in my game? Seems logical to have an omni directional treadmill here. That would be amazing immersive and WoW players would be the fittest people in the world. Also see: Why isn’t the Oculus wireless?

7. It makes you look super sexy


Not really.

In conclusion dear reader

We’re on the edge of another great round of innovation in the world of human computer interaction. I recommend grabbing an Oculus Rift just to experience some of this as well as helping back an innovative player in the market.

I, for one, look forward to spending my twilight years in the Matrix being Superman.