*Update: Oculus Dev. Kits (DK2) are now available for $5999.99
Virtual Reality Is Finally Becoming….Reality
There has been a steady trickle of buzz over the development of a premier virtual reality headset over the last few years called the Oculus Rift or just Oculus VR (VRstanding for Virtual Reality). This is no surprise as the Oculus Rift hype was initially sparked when it launched its Kickstarter campaign in 2012.
The public’s enthusiasm for full-fledged virtual reality headset was evident when the Oculus Kickstarter campaign raised almost $2.5 million dollars, far exceeding the original requested amount of $250,000 (and this all occurred after just 36 hours at that!). The total raised for this privately held company was in the order of $91 million for the just the development of the Oculus Rift project .This goes to show the public interest in this product. Perhaps disproving the Vulcan proverb, nothing unreal exists
A Brief Explanation of Virtual Reality Headsets
A full edged virtual reality headset has for a long time been the dream of avid gamers and video enthusiasts alike, especially those of us growing up watching Star Trek and visiting omni theater. The idea of visiting any far off land, of fact or fiction from the safety of a couch has been at one point or another every young millennials dream. Sure, wearing the Oculus Rift won’t get any awards for style, as it is reminiscent of Geordie LaForge with his VISOR (Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement) from Star Trek Next Generation. But that’s not the purpose, it’s different from general smart glasses in that it’s not augmented reality, it’s virtual reality, meaning it’s 100% synthetic.
Put the Oculus rift on your parents or grandparents head and blow them away with peak into a future phosphorescent jungle like that of the movie avatar, or perhaps just a stroll along the beach. Virtual reality is definitely cool, whether you’re a died-in-flesh Trekkie or my grandma.
Who’s Behind The Glasses?
The Oculus Rift headset are manufactured by Oculus VR. This company, still in its virtual nappies was started in 2012 with its kickstarter debut. Palmer Luckey is the founder of Oculus VR along with various proven designers and developers. They come from RedOctane, Guitar Hero and other well-known products. Most recently the Oculus team recruited Valve veteran Atmin Binstock to work as Chief Architect. This is a very interesting development as it has also recently been disclosed that Valve VR is working on its own virtual reality technology.
As a side note, recently a test user claimed that the Valve VR prototype was “light-years ahead of the original Oculus Dev Kit”. Of course, Oculus VR has advanced a lot since releasing its first Developer Kit, which has long since been officially sold-out.
Virtual Reality Will Revolutionize Gaming
The people at Oculus VR insist that the Rift will renew both games and the gaming industry, not that it needed it, as the worldwide video game market was valued at over $93 Billion in 2013 (Garter Inc). It thus easy to presume this technology will go beyond anything ever previously imagined.
Some of the factors that contribute to the popularity of the VR headsets such as the Oculus include:
- Wide field of view
- High resolution display
- Ultra-low latency
- Positional head tracking
The newest version of the Oculus Rift smart glasses is also able to track the position of your head. The glasses communicate with a camera installed close to your monitor. The camera monitors infrared LEDs that are mounted on the viewer itself. Previously only up/down and left/right movements were picked up. This all makes for a much more realistic interaction with the virtual world being displayed before the user.
The new version can also track all upper body movements and translate it into actual game play instantly. This means, that as in real life, you can lean in closer to get a better or clearer view of something small or obscured.
The positional head-tracking capability together with the ultra-low latency of the Oculus Rift reduces to a great extent motion sickness experienced by some users of the earlier versions. This was a result of motion blurring. No doubt Mr. Binstock will also have a hand in polishing this motion tracking aspect of VR play.
The Nitty-Gritty: Technical Specifications
The Oculus Rift features a 1080p AMOLED display. The AMOLED display has various advantages over previously used displays. The colors are more accurate and vibrant. The blacks are also blacker and not a variation of faded gray. (Still, this is not quite up to standard with Geordi’s VISOR, which covered a range from 1Hz to 100PHz, allowing him to ‘see’ even when someone lied.)
The 1ms latency of the AMOLED display is another step forward. The previous displays had 15ms latency. The new low latency display is quick enough to create seamless motion. This means that your eyes are convinced that there is no motion blur, although technically it is still present. All this culminates in creating a more “live” experience.
An Innolux HJ070IA-02D 7″ LCD unit is used in the Oculus Rift. (Innolux is one of the biggest LCD manufacturers.) The device offers a 110° field of view. Weighing in at around 380 grams the device isn’t the lightest in the smart glasses world, but considering its functionality, it cannot be considered bulky either.
The Oculus’s computational heart consists of a 32F103C8 ARM Cortex-M3 microcontroller with 72 MHz CPU. The Invensense MPU-6000 six-axis (gyro + accelerometer) motion tracking controller and the Honeywell HMC5983 three-axis digital compass, are used in to track movement in order to translate it into gameplay.
The Oculus does not have any speakers or sound outputs. This is probably for the best as quality speakers would only make the headset bulky. Also, serious gamers prefer investing in stand-alone quality sounds systems anyways, so built in headphones may be redundant.
When Can You Buy One For Yourself?
The Oculus, which is rumored to be priced in the order of $300, is one of the most eagerly awaited devices out there, and like most eagerly awaited devices, the Oculus VR has not yet issued a precise delivery date.
If you are a developer then you might still have a chance to snag a next-generation developer kit, or DK2 for short, later this year as officially reported by the Ben Lang of RoadtoVR.com. Consumers on the other hand will have to continue to stifle their excitement (or befriend a developer).
Still, both developers and gamers alike are trying to get their hands on the headset any way possible. On Amazon, the original price of $250 has already spiked to over $1000 per unit. We expect a release announcement sometime this year, as it’s widely speculated that Sony will also announce a VR headset of its own later this month at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Stay tuned to SmartglassesHQ as we watch the evolution of this fascinating technology play out.