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What is the Oculus Rift?

By , Michael Andronico - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 27 comments

You pull a helmet over your head, and suddenly, you're inside a virtual world that seems completely lifelike. You can run around, fight, race and fly, doing things gamers have never done before. What was once the stuff of Hollywood fantasy is now becoming a reality. A startup called Oculus VR is creating personal virtual-reality goggles called the Oculus Rift for everyone to use.

Here's everything we know about the Oculus Rift so far in terms of specs, features, platform support and overall potential.

What is the Oculus Rift?

Invented by a VR enthusiast named Palmer Luckey, the Oculus Rift is a set of virtual-reality goggles that will work with your computer or mobile device. After he showed a prototype at the E3 gaming convention in 2012, Luckey founded Irvine, Calif.-based Oculus VR with Brendan Iribe, who became CEO. The two launched a Kickstarter project in August 2012 to sell prototype developer versions of the Oculus Rift, raising $2.4 million. Since selling out of the original Oculus Rift development kit, the company has launched a revamped $350 Development Kit 2 (DK2) model while continuing to work on its eventual consumer version.

On Mar. 25, 2014, Oculus VR was purchased by social networking giant Facebook for a combined $2 billion dollars. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the headset "has the chance to create the most social platform ever," though we don't know how exactly the website will utilize the Oculus Rift. In an interview with Polygon, Luckey said that Oculus VR will continue to operate in its Irvine headquarters, and will use Facebook's backing to create a better, more affordable product.

MORE: 10 Most Successful Video-Game Kickstarter Campaigns

How does the Oculus Rift work?

Picture a set of ski goggles in which a large cellphone screen replaces the glass. The screen displays two images side by side, one for each eye. A set of lenses is placed on top of the screen, focusing and reshaping the picture for each eye, and creating a stereoscopic 3D image. The goggles have embedded sensors that monitor the wearer's head motions and adjust the image accordingly. The latest version of the Oculus Rift is bolstered by an external positional-tracking accessory, which helps track head movements more accurately. The result is the sensation that you are looking around a 3D world.

What about augmented reality?

Augmented reality (AR) involves superimposing graphics over a view of the real world, such as a cellphone's camera or the prism display of Google Glass. Since Oculus Rift lets you see only a 3D world, and not the real world, it can't do AR. However, the execs at Oculus VR have said that maybe one day, they will add cameras to the goggles, allowing you to see the real world when you're not in a game. Such a setup would let you add three-dimensional graphics on top of the camera feed and allow for augmented reality. Considering what Rift creators have indicated in the past, this is not likely to happen with the first consumer version.

What's the latest news about the Oculus Rift?

Oculus VR unveiled the new DK2 version of the Oculus Rift at GDC 2014 in March. This version has a sleeker, more compact design than its predecessor, as well as a sharper resolution and enhanced overall performance.

The DK2 is based on the Crystal Cove Oculus Rift prototype, which was introduced at CES 2014. The Crystal Cove possessed a handful of new features, including a 1080p OLED display. It could track head movement across six axes instead of three, which allowed the device to track head movement and follow a user's eyes without drifting. It also operated with a lag time of only 30 milliseconds, compared with 50 to 60 milliseconds on earlier prototypes. This creates a smoother experience for the user, and allows for more lifelike animation to make its way from a computer to the Oculus Rift.

Do people experience motion sickness with the Oculus Rift?

Some users who try the developer version experience motion sickness and headaches. This is especially true for those trying demos at conventions or other events, since the unit's screen and settings won't have been customized to that person. It also takes some time for a person's body to adjust to the virtual reality. Your brain and body get tricked into thinking you are moving, when you are not. This disparity can make some people nauseous or give them headaches.

What about the "screen-door effect" of the Oculus Rift?

Because the screen is so close to your eyes, you can see the spaces between individual pixels, so it almost looks like you're viewing the world through a grid or a screen door. This effect should be minimized or negated with the improved screen that Oculus VR plans for the consumer version.

What are the tech specs of the Oculus Rift?

The Oculus Rift DK2 packs a 5-inch OLED display with a resolution of 960 x 1080 pixels per eye and a 100-degree field of view. The headset has a refresh rate of up to 75 Hz, with an internal-tracking update rate of 1000 Hz and a positional-tracking update rate of 60 Hz. Weighing in at just less than a pound, the all-black DK2 has ports for HDMI and USB 2.0.

The DK2 ships with a positional-tracking camera, which is designed to strengthen the Rift's ability to track your head movements. The goggles include multiple lens cups, allowing you to get a clear view of the action, whether you're near- or far-sighted.

The older DK1 model had a weaker 1280 x 800p display, though the screen was bigger, at 7 inches, and provided a 110-degree field of view.

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Where can I buy an Oculus Rift?

You can preorder the Oculus Rift DK2 on the company's website, and orders will start shipping in July.

How much does the Oculus Rift cost?

The latest developer version costs $350. Oculus VR has stated that a consumer version will be "affordable," but has not yet listed a price. Analysts estimate that the price will not exceed $499, although there will be no way to know for certain until closer to launch.

When will a consumer version of the Oculus Rift be available?

Oculus VR has not announced a hard date for the consumer-oriented Oculus Rift. Initially, enthusiasts expected the product to ship by mid-2014, but given how much Oculus VR is still fine-tuning the device, it may be later than that. The device could hit shelves by late 2014, although early 2015 is not out of the question.

What makes the consumer version different from the developer kit?

Oculus VR has said the consumer version will have a higher-resolution screen — at least 1080p. The screen will also have better pixel switching, reducing head-movement lag. It will also have a head-position sensor to track not just how the head tilts and twists, but how it moves up and down or side to side if you move your whole body. The overall latency — the lag between head movements and the screen reacting — will also be reduced. All of these differences will contribute to a better image with a more natural feel that reduces the motion sickness that some people experience, Oculus VR says. There may be other improvements that the company hasn't announced yet.

MORE: Beyond Google Glass: 5 Unique Wearable Tech Concepts

Is Oculus Rift compatible with my game console?

The developer version of Oculus Rift is not compatible with game consoles, but only with computers (Windows, Mac and Linux) and certain games. The consumer version will not be compatible with game consoles either, but Oculus VR has said it is talking with console makers about enabling compatibility. However, given that Sony will be offering its own VR headset for the PS4, currently called Project Morpheus, we wouldn't advise getting your hopes up there.

Will Oculus Rift work with other tech platforms?

Oculus VR has said that the consumer version will be compatible with Android devices, though the company hasn't nailed down a date yet. So Android compatibility may not be available at launch, but through a software update later. Because the Oculus Rift is compatible with Linux, and Valve has been working with Oculus VR since the Rift was revealed, it's possible that the consumer version of the Rift will be compatible with Valve's upcoming Linux-based Steam Box gaming PC from Valve.

What computer games are compatible with Oculus Rift?

The Rift has support for two widely used game engines: Unity and Unreal Engine. The result is that many indie titles and several larger games are compatible with the developer kit. You can find many of these listed on the Oculus VR site and in the recently launched VR section of Steam, Valve's game download service. There are also fan-made modifications to particular titles to get them working with the Rift. Third-party programs such as TriDef, Vireio Perception and VorpX allow games that are not made for the Rift to work with it. There will likely be many more game announcements when the consumer version is launched.

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"EVE Valkyrie" is a sci-fi space combat simulator, set in the same world as popular massively multiplayer online "EVE Online." At present, the game is likely to launch alongside the Oculus Rift as the platform's first exclusive title. Another developer has created unofficial mods for "Skyrim" and "The Elder Scrolls Online."

What are the minimum requirements to use the Oculus Rift?

The latest version of the Rift requires a computer running Windows 7 or higher, Mac OSX 10.8 or higher, or Linux Ubuntu 12.04 LTS or higher. The computer should have a processor with a minimum of 2.0 GHz and 2GB of RAM. The computer must have an HDMI or DVI port and 2 USB ports with which to connect the Rift's control box. Its graphics card must be compatible with Direct3D 10 or OpenGL 3, with the ability to play games at 1080p at 75 frames per second or higher. But the Rift is designed to work with 3D games, which could require even more processing and graphics power than the Rift itself requires. Be sure to check the minimum requirements for the games you are interested in playing.

How do I get the Oculus Rift to work with my computer?

Oculus VR has designed the Oculus Rift to be relatively simple to get up and running. Once you own the developer version and have unpacked it, you plug its control box into a power outlet. The goggles are already tethered to the control box with a 10-foot cable. Your computer should automatically detect the Rift and install its drivers, but you should then download the Oculus SDK (software development kit) to try some demos. You should then take the time to adjust the screen distance, find the lens cup that is best for you and run the configuration utility to adjust the image based on the actual space between your eyes (interpupillary distance). You can also adjust the brightness and contrast of the Rift's screen from the control box on the DK1, though the DK2 eschews the control box in favor of making adjustments from your computer. From there, it's just a matter of starting up a Rift-compatible game or one of the programs that makes a non-Rift game compatible with the VR headset.

Does the Oculus Rift have any non-gaming applications?

Filmmakers have begun to experiment with the Oculus Rift to make an audience member feel like he or she is part of the film — from being onstage at a recorded concert to seeing a whole film from a single character's point of view, complete with the ability to look around and explore each scene. Films like this could blur the line between cinema and gaming.

Does this mean virtual reality will finally become practical?

Whether the immersion and the quality of the experience live up to your definition of virtual reality is up to you. But the concept of an inexpensive 3D unit with head tracking means viable virtual reality has finally arrived, at least for computer gamers.

More companies are jumping on the VR wagon, too. Sony's recently announced Project Morpheus aims to bring virtual reality to living-room gaming, as the device will eventually let gamers become immersed in their PS4 experience.

Follow Kevin Ohannessian at @khohannessian and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Add your comment Display 27 Comments.
  • 5 Hide
    Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer , December 26, 2013 11:43 AM
    For some reason, until I read this article, it didn't really sink in for me that you could just BUY an Oculus Rift. And now, the only thing holding me back is the fact that a newer version could be released tomorrow.

    From all the material I'm reading, I'm not sure where the author is getting "a new developer version...will be released a month or two before the consumer version". If I had some assurance that the new version was, say, at least two months out, I'd order the current one today, but it seems like it could be released at any time...
  • 0 Hide
    neilquan , December 26, 2013 11:17 PM
    Unless youre a developer why would you bother until a consumer version is readily available and compatible for more games? Of course the limits of the tech could just die like 3D for tv's. Then youd be stuck with a 300 dollar paper weight. That isnt to say that the tech wont refine and become better at a later date, but it could very well be some other company that picks up the baton after these guys fold. It isnt always that the person who comes up with the idea or prototype is the same company that brings it to the masses.
  • 0 Hide
    virtualban , December 26, 2013 11:57 PM
    Xmas 2014, nuuuuuu!!!!
    I was hoping for some love sooner, maybe Feb 14? :) 
  • -8 Hide
    hog , December 27, 2013 5:06 AM
    low res, we have tablets with fullhd screens, this deserve a couple of fullhd at least
  • -1 Hide
    Gasek , December 27, 2013 8:42 AM
    I know these are 2 different (Sony Personal 3D Viewer and Oculus Rift) animals but I would like to see a comparison between these 2 by someone who has used both.

    I have the Sony Personal Viewer and despite all of its shortcomings (not comfortable, no head tracking, first version has so so audio) think it is absolutely fantastic, specially if you travel a lot or live in a small apartment by yourself. It seems to me that the Oculus Rift will not be like a regular monitor either, where you can just plug in a Blu-ray DVD and watch movies?
  • 1 Hide
    Bloob , December 28, 2013 12:15 PM
    Very much looking forward to seeing games designed for this.
  • -1 Hide
    Pailin , December 28, 2013 9:10 PM
    @hog

    If it has too high a res you will isolate most of the gaming market. Only a Very small % of gamers have budgets allowing use of 1 or more high end GFx cards that would be required to run multiple 1080 screens at respectable refresh rates.

    Maybe in the future once more high res Small screens become available that also satisfy other gamer related requirements Oculus will offer a range of models.

    As it is sourcing screens that were suitable and of the given current consumer res was not such an easy task.
  • 1 Hide
    hog , December 31, 2013 4:01 AM
    @Pailin
    I understand what you mean but, those old machine gamers could just lower the resolution and I don't think that someone who pay 300-400usd for a VR Google's is budget on his machine. What I mean is that would be a good choice to make this stuff future proof giving it FullHD res witch is becoming norm as day pass by. Another great option is launch 2 versions an HD and a Full HD one. I will go for 1080p all the times
  • 0 Hide
    Alcatraz Z , December 31, 2013 3:47 PM
    @hog you really don't need high res that much. Actually "quality" can be lowered compared to what we have now. Once it convinces your brain it's a reality (which it does) you quite stop noticing "quality" of image and you start noticing objects as a whole.

    In real world your brain doesn't evaluate every detail again and again and again. Once you recognize someone you actually get very little info from your eyes. And until something unexpected happens you keep noticing him as one object doing "normal" things.

    Low res textures and even low res polygons are quite a less concern with VR. High and stable FPS, perfect motion response and no overall screen defects are much more important. Consumers version of displays will be ok. And with that FOV it has you actually get much larger screen then is display resolution.
  • 0 Hide
    Pgooch , February 18, 2014 2:50 PM
    i didnt realize you could buy one either =/
  • 1 Hide
    Nolonar , February 18, 2014 3:32 PM
    One of the weirdest experience you'll have with the Occulus Rift: When you move your hands to - for instance - adjust the Rift, it'll feel really weird not to see your own hands in front of your eyes.
  • 3 Hide
    mman74 , February 18, 2014 5:08 PM
    Needs a rifle gun controller for FPS. That would be cool.
  • -3 Hide
    AndrewMD , February 19, 2014 8:45 AM
    This is something that has taken and is taking too long to release. What is the point of announcing this vaporware a couple years ago when it was no where from being complete. For all I know it is that idiot Carmack that is destroying this device just like he did with ID software...
  • 0 Hide
    Grandmastersexsay , February 21, 2014 10:17 AM
    There is no way this thing will sell for $300. To put that in perspective, that's half the price of a new smartphone. The hardware is too complex and the sales volume will be too low.
  • -1 Hide
    jkflipflop98 , February 22, 2014 9:11 AM
    Quote:
    There is no way this thing will sell for $300. To put that in perspective, that's half the price of a new smartphone. The hardware is too complex and the sales volume will be too low.
    You can go buy the DK1 right now for $300
  • 1 Hide
    skasucks478 , February 25, 2014 8:25 PM
    Quote:
    @hogIf it has too high a res you will isolate most of the gaming market. Only a Very small % of gamers have budgets allowing use of 1 or more high end GFx cards that would be required to run multiple 1080 screens at respectable refresh rates.Maybe in the future once more high res Small screens become available that also satisfy other gamer related requirements Oculus will offer a range of models.As it is sourcing screens that were suitable and of the given current consumer res was not such an easy task.
    If I remember correctly, the signal is split. So you're not running two sources to headset (ie: dual monitor); you are running the same images offset for each eye.
  • 0 Hide
    Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer , March 21, 2014 3:43 PM
    Quote:
    For some reason, until I read this article, it didn't really sink in for me that you could just BUY an Oculus Rift. And now, the only thing holding me back is the fact that a newer version could be released tomorrow.From all the material I'm reading, I'm not sure where the author is getting "a new developer version...will be released a month or two before the consumer version". If I had some assurance that the new version was, say, at least two months out, I'd order the current one today, but it seems like it could be released at any time...
    I'm kind of glad I didn't buy the original Rift dev kit, but I sure did preorder the new one as soon as I heard about it. July feels awfully far away... :/ 
  • 0 Hide
    KosherGrimace , March 21, 2014 4:35 PM
    Is it possible to use the DK2 solely as a wearable general-purpose monitor?
  • 0 Hide
    coolitic , March 22, 2014 9:13 AM
    How many more times are they gonna make these articles. Seriously, they make 1 every 2 months and it's getting annoying.
  • -1 Hide
    Jason Mackay , March 22, 2014 10:39 AM
    Quote:
    This is something that has taken and is taking too long to release. What is the point of announcing this vaporware a couple years ago when it was no where from being complete. For all I know it is that idiot Carmack that is destroying this device just like he did with ID software...
    How is this Vaporware? DK1 has been available to buy for a YEAR for only $300 and DK2 is now available to pre-order for $350 (I ordered mine the morning it was announced) and you can always pick up a bargain on ebay or the likes.As for the length of time to launch the Retail version, they could have launched DK1 or DK2 as retail versions and people would have bought them then quickly realised there were not many quality games available and gotten pissed off, it takes on average 3-4 years to develop a AAA game so if Oculus take 3-4 years to launch the retail Rift then at least there will be some AAA titles available at launch.Why did they announce it so early? To get the industry to take note of how much buzz and media/consumer attention the concept of a VR headset is getting, with Sony just showing Project Morpheus out of nowhere I'd say they have achieved that goal, the world knows and is excited, big industry players are forming a line and signing up to support this new (Again) format and throwing development behind it.If you are so desperate for the Rift then bug one, if you don't care for it then why are you commenting here?
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