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Carmack Demos HMD, Talks Long Next-Gen Console Future

id Software Technical Director John Carmack said this week during E3 2012 that the next-generation consoles -- namely the Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4 -- should have a really long lifespan. He made this prediction as he demonstrated Doom 3 BFG Edition running on a customized Head-Mounted Display that he's been working on since the release of RAGE back in September 2011.

Typically when Carmack wraps up development on a game, he turns to rocketry and aerospace engineering. But this time he wanted to experiment with HMDs and virtual reality (VR). He dumped money on a $1,500 HMD, dismantled it, and began to study its weakness in optics, tracking and processing. He fooled around with the gyros and then supplied the data to motion sensing tech firm Hillcrest Labs which in turn wrote new custom firmware that doubled the refresh rate.

Ultimately his goal was to reduce the latency between the game, the computer or console's video processing, and the motion tracking tech in the HMD. He set out to build a new screen using cellphone sized displays, but then came across PalmerTech's Oculus Rift. The firm thus sent him a prototype and he began integrating Doom 3 with the display.

"I actually think it is better than anybody has done in terms of VR demos," he told USA Today. "Over the last few weeks of playing with this I have probably had some of the more stick-with-me moments in a game that I have had over the last two decades. Projected into there and having the subtle little bits about looking around and having things come out at you, it is a different experience."

Now the headset is slated to be sold in a limited edition of Doom 3 BFG Edition for the PC that will be sold in limited quantities for around $500. Technical difficulties prevent the headset's resolution from matching current HD graphics, but the movement is reportedly so fluid, it's life-like. Carmack is hoping to have a large number of kits thrown together by the time QuakeCon 2012 launches in August.

This week as he showcased Doom 3 running on his new headset, Carmack admitted that it would have been a lot easier to make the HMD edition happen on the consoles. "Unfortunately, you can't just plug a USB device into a console and have it work; you have to have it certified and go through a whole process," he said. "And that's a little bit of a shame because even though the PC is ten times more powerful, sometimes getting something done at the exact right point is easier on the consoles - it's a place where you know what scanline you're on at any point, and so on."

He went on to add that console gaming might actually morph into a niche product. "You can certainly see cloud gaming being built into every display device and traditional consoles could become more like the audiophile niche of people who want the extreme experience there," he said. "I hesitate to predict anything five, six years into the future, but the next generation should last a long time."

Still, Carmack seems rather dazzled over his new project, saying that until now, there couldn't be a case made for HMDs being fundamentally cool. "With it integrated into the game -- it has all of the axises on there and I got out all the latency out -- it's really pretty damn cool," he said. "You can see an inkling of where it is going."