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What is the Oculus Rift?

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, fly and create in a way that gamers (or anyone else for that matter) have never done before. What was once the stuff of Hollywood fantasy has now become a reality thanks to Oculus VR, creators of a personal head-mounted display named Oculus Rift.

Here's everything we know about the Oculus Rift so far in terms of specs, features, platform support and overall potential. Also, don't forget to check out our in-depth Oculus Rift review.

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 gaming desktop or laptop. After he debuting 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 that auspicious launch, Luckey and crew went to work refining the HMD, releasing several prototypes including Development Kit 2 (DK2), Crystal Cove and Crescent Bay. 

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: Oculus VR Inventor Luckey Talks Virtual Reality's Future

How does the Oculus Rift work?

Picture a set of ski goggles but instead of miles of fresh powder, you're transported into space or underwater. The Rift accomplishes this using a pair of screens that displays two images side by side, one for each eye. A set of lenses is placed on top of the panels, 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 sensor, which helps track head movements more accurately. The end 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 smartphone's camera or the lenses in Microsoft's HoloLens glasses. While Oculus Rift lets you see a 3D world, it lacks a camera to allow wears to see outside the headset which means 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 similar to the Samsung Gear VR and the HTC Vive. Such a setup would potentially let you add three-dimensional graphics on top of the camera feed and allow for augmented reality. 

What's the latest news about the Oculus Rift?

The first consumer models of the Rift are set to ship March 30 for $599. Oculus VR has teamed with a number of desktop makers such as Alienware, Asus and Dell to offer affordable bundles feature the Rift with a VR-ready desktop. This version of the Rift is a sleeker, version of the Crescent Bay prototype which offers sharper resolution and enhanced overall performance.

Rift specs include a 2160 x 1200 OLED display which delivers 1080p per eye, a 110-degree field of view with a 90Hz refresh rate. The device will also feature a built in accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer and 360-degree positional tracking that follows six axes of movement with a latency of milliseconds. Packaged accessories include the sensor, remote, cables and an Xbox One controller. The Rift also has a pair of Touch controllers that let your hands get in on the VR fun, but those aren't slated to launch until later this year.

Do people experience motion sickness with the Oculus Rift?

With its high refresh rate and low latency, most people shouldn't experience motion sickness in theory. However, it takes some time for a person's body to adjust to the virtual reality, especially for games where your running around while your sitting in the real world. Ultimately, VR can affect people differently. The higher resolution panels have also put an end to the "screen-door effect" (the ability to see the spaces between individual pixels, so it almost looks like you're viewing the world through a grid or a screen door) has been eliminated . What are the tech specs of the Oculus Rift?

MORE: Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive: The Vive Is a Better Buy (for Now)

Is Oculus Rift compatible with my game console?

No. The Rift is exclusive to the PC, but thanks to Windows 10 cross-device compatibility, Xbox One owner will have the ability to stream some of their titles to the headset. If you're looking for a true console-based experience, you should wait for the PlayStation VR which scheduled to debut some time this year.

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. The Rift will ship with two free games: Lucky's Tale and EVE:Valkyrie, sci-fi space combat simulator, set in the same world as popular massively multiplayer online EVE Online. However other titles like Insomniac Games' Edge of Nowhere and 505 Games' Ad1ft will also be making an appearance.

What are the minimum requirements to use the Oculus Rift?

The latest version of the Rift requires a computer running Windows 7 or higher with a processor greater than or equivalent to an Intel Intel i5-4590 with at least 8GB of RAM. Regarding the graphics card, you need a Nvidia GeForce 980 desktop chip for laptops. Desktops will require at least a Nvidia 970 card or an AMD 290 graphics cardfor desktops. To plug the headset in, your system needs three USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 port and HDMI 1.3.

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 starting with connecting the headset to your PC and plugging it in.  The Rift is already tethered to the control box with a 13-foot cable. Your computer should automatically detect the Rift and install its drivers and download the accompanying software. Next you should take some time to adjust the screen distance with the slider at the bottom of the device. From there, you download a few Oculus-compatible titles and start playing.

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. However there are a number of companies exploring the medical and education applications as well as uses in retail and real estate.

Sherri L. Smith

Sherri L. Smith has been cranking out product reviews for since 2011. In that time, she's reviewed more than her share of laptops, tablets, smartphones and everything in between. The resident gamer and audio junkie, Sherri was previously a managing editor for Black Web 2.0 and contributed to BET.Com and Popgadget.