Ever since Palmer Luckey came on the scene with his Oculus Rift VR headset, it's always been agonizingly out of reach to the average consumer. After testing out iteration after iteration of the device, the answer for when I could expect a consumer-ready product was always the same: soon. The wait seems to finally be over as Oculus VR has revealed the consumer model of the Rift. It is, for lack of a better word, amazing.
Hey There, Good Looking
The consumer-ready Rift's design has undergone a transformation from what it looked like when it was little more than a hopeful Kickstarter campaign. Approximately five prototypes later, and the Rift is lighter and more defined. It's worlds apart from Crescent Bay, the last iteration before the consumer line was previewed last week at a press event in San Francisco.
The Rift's faceplate is made of a matte black plastic that's rounded off at the sides. A small Oculus logo sits in the center of the plate as an unobtrusive decoration. The headbands connecting the faceplate and the tracking sensor along the back are made of stretchable cloth that extends enough to fix over my hair (more on that in a second).
The lenses, the most important part of the Rift, have a resolution 2160 x 1200 each which translates into 1920 x 1080p per eye with a 90 Hz refresh rate. The headset's interior is full of thick, yet comfortable foam so consumers can wear the device over long periods of time.
Overall, the Rift has a clean, non-intimidating look that will still appeal to the tech-savvy without scaring those who are new to the technology.
Let Me Slip Into Something More Comfortable
OK, the new Rift looks great and all, but just how comfortable is it to wear? The short answer is pretty darned comfy. However, the Oculus staff and I had to first overcome my faux afro. I miscalculated how voluminous my new 'do actually was, discovering this the hard way when I struggled to get the Crescent Bay version of the headset over my head for another company's VR presentation.
The Oculus team looked a little worried about the fit, but I refused to be deterred. After loosening the straps as far as they would go, I held the Rift over my eyes, while the Oculus rep began maneuvering the rest of the setup over my hair. Once we got it sort of into place, I told the rep to start pulling my coils through the open spaces. After about five minutes of gentle tugging, the Rift was in securely in place, although it looked a little funny as evidenced by the above picture.
Reach Out and Touch Someone...Virtually
Once my hair issues with the Rift were sorted out, I was ready to rock and roll. My first demo, called Toybox, was designed to introduce me to Oculus' latest gadgets, the Touch Controllers. A pair of elegantly designed peripherals, the controllers track your hand movements and let you use them in the demo. Unfortunately, the peripherals are still in the prototype testing phase, so it will be a while before they're ready to launch.
However, the controllers weren't the biggest surprise of this demo. Once the demo began, I was joined in what looked like a kid's play area by another Oculus rep. That's right, Oculus can now support multiplayer! After a quick tutorial on how to use the controllers to make a fist, point and grab stuff, we were off to the races.
I started small, grabbing and stacking blocks. From there, things got a little advanced, with me picking up a few sprinkler fireworks and allowing the rep to light them for me. Next, we started flinging virtual M80s at each other, because why not? After that, we had an impromptu skeet-shooting session with a pair of guns that appeared out of nowhere. I was quickly knocking down targets and dual-wielding like your favorite action hero.
The controllers were very light and comfortable to grip. The tracking technology is extremely quick and accurate -- if there was any lag, I didn't notice it. However the best thing about the controllers is how easy they are to use. It took less than five minutes to confidently get the hang of manipulating the buttons and triggers on the peripherals.
My Date with Lord Cthulu
After reconnecting with my inner child in the ToyBox, it was time for some more adult fare. For that, I went into another room to check out two of the eight games that can currently be used with the Rift and an Xbox controller. Speaking of Microsoft, since Oculus is compatible with Windows 10, gamers will have the ability to use the Xbox One's new backward-compatibility feature to stream Xbox 360 games to the Rift, greatly expanding the headset's game library,
My demo started with Chronos, an action-adventure title that placed me in the shoes of a warrior at the entrance of a strange ruin. With sword in hand, I charged into battle and quickly dispatched my foe with a few well-timed sword strikes.
I noticed that the game doesn't allow the user to control the camera, opting for a fixed perspective. If Chronos was a regular third-person title, I'd knock it immediately as the ability to completely explore your surroundings is greatly limited by a fixed camera. It's something I'm willing to forgive in VR, though, since the fixed camera is an attempt to stave off any of the nausea potentially triggered by virtually running and jumping while you're still in a set position. However, I'm hoping that game developers will find another way around this as VR technology becomes more mainstream.
The second game I demoed was by far my favorite. Edge of Nowhere, developed by Insomiac Games, places players in 1920s Antarctica seemingly searching for a lost love. As you look at her picture, a voice intoned, "Let me go my love, for going forward is a road into madness." From then on, I realized that I was playing a game based on H.P. Lovecraft's story "At the Mountains of Madness," and I had a date with Lord Cthulu.
So I started running down the icy trail. No sooner did I start running, then the nausea I talked about hit me. Although Edge of Nowhere also uses a fixed perspective, I definitely felt my stomach turn a little bit. But I soldiered through it and the feeling quickly passed, which was great as I noticed I was being pursued by dark, threatening shapes with eyes that glowed pink with malice.
I sprinted through the ice cave and found myself in a cozy study with a roaring fireplace. I walked toward the picture hanging from the mantle of the woman I was trying to find. "You shouldn't be here," she whispered. "I know," I replied before the tentacles of the forgotten one enveloped me in its slimy cold embrace. Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.
At long last, the Oculus Rift is ready for mainstream consumption, and I'm genuinely excited for the new kinds of experiences that the technology can create. The experience still isn't perfect, but this is something that can be chiseled out as more people begin interacting with Oculus. But for now, the consumer edition of Rift is the first solid step the world is taking toward virtual reality.
Ready though the Oculus Rift may be, it's still unclear exactly when you'll be to strap one on and see virtual worlds for yourself. Oculus is still sticking to a first-quarter-of-2016 release date; the company has not set a price on the Rift.
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Sherri L. Smith is a Senior Writer at Tom's Guide. When she's not reviewing the latest headphones and speakers, you'll find her gaming on her Xbox One, PlayStation 4 or PC. Follow Sherri at @misssmith11. Follow us @TomsGuide and on Facebook.