The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset that become increasingly popular in the past few years. But first, what exactly is virtual reality? Virtual reality means using computer technology to simulate real life experience. It uses computer programs to create three-dimensional, lifelike worlds that the user can manipulate and explore as if they were physically present. Virtual reality has wide-ranging applications from gaming to healthcare to architecture to engineering. In this article, we look at the Oculus Rift VR Headset, primarily focused on VR gaming.
Palmer Luckey, founder of the Oculus Rift wearing the DK1
The History of Oculus Rift
Oculus started out as an independent company started by Palmer Luckey. Even when he was merely a teenager, Palmer had fallen in love with virtual reality and head mounted displays. He furthered his hobby by collecting VR head mounted displays from far and wide and tweaking and modifying them. However, he still was not satisfied with the head mounted displays of the time. Most of them had issues such high latency, restricted field-of-view and other display related problems which hampered the fuid experience of virtual reality. This prompted him to start building his own virtual reality head mounted displays. He built his prototype and posted pictures of it on the the forum Meant To Be Seen 3D(MTBS3D).
Soon, he crossed paths with John Carmack, founder of id Software, the brain behind games like Doom 3, Wolfenstein and Quake and a regular at MTBS3D. Carmack was interested by Palmer's design and requested a prototype. Palmer instantly gave him one and Carmack was extremely impressed.
He demonstrated the Oculus Rift at the E3 conference in 2012 to a group of journalists. Suddenly, the news exploded all over the internet about this new virtual reality project. This was the defining moment in Palmer's career and he realized this. He dropped out of college in 2012 and formed Oculus VR.
KickStarting the Rift
In order to bring the product into the market, Palmer who had teamed up with his friend Brendan Iribe (who was also a college dropout), turned to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to fund their project. They set a goal of $250,000 to cover development costs and to sell a few hundred units at $300 each. Palmer himself said, “I won’t make a penny of profit off this project, the goal is to pay for the costs of parts, manufacturing, shipping, and credit card/Kickstarter fees with about $10 left over for a celebratory pizza and beer.”
The Kickstarter was a massive success. Gaming giants such as John Carmack of id Software and Gabe Newell of Valve Corporation contributed generously and poured their support for the project. Within 3 days, the project had raised a million dollars! The major problem of funding was now gone. Soon the first Oculus Rift developer kit was released. Since then, 4 different versions of the Rift have been released, each with its own improvements.
Initial Models: Dev Kit 1 and Crystal Cove
Dev Kit 1
Oculus started accepting pre-orders for the Dev Kit from September 2012 at $300 apiece. It was a massive success and developers flocked to get their hands on the Rift. The first developer kit or DK1 showed people what the Rift was capable of and even though it had a lot of flaws, it was already better than the competition and those that came before it.
At CES 2014 in January, Oculus showcased its improved prototype. The Crystal Cove prototype featured a better motion tracking system that made motions more fluid and helped alleviate the problems of motion sickness and nausea that users of the earlier version had.
The Control Box of the Dev Kit 1 housing all the ports and connections of the Rift
Dev Kit 2 and Crescent Bay
Dev Kit 2
In March 2014 (Just before Facebook acquired Oculus for over $2 billion), Oculus announced the Dev Kit 2 which would start shipping from July of the same year. The Dev Kit 2 vastly improved upon its predecessor's flaws and shortcomings. It featured a higher resolution screen, an OLED screen instead of a LCD display, higher refresh rate, reduced latency and better motion tracking.
The Crescent Bay prototype was announced in September of 2014. It was an updated model of the Dev Kit 2 and and further improved upon its predecessor providing higher resolution, 360 degree tracking and built-in audio and much more.
The improved and updated Oculus Rift Development Kit 2 (DK2)
What's next: Consumer Version and Support for Games
A consumer version of the Oculus Rift is in development as we speak and is expected to release sometime in early 2016 with pre-orders starting from late 2015. The consumer version of the Rift will feature a 1080p(possibly more) OLED display, wireless connectivity, improved head and position tracking among other improved features. The consumer-friendly Rift will also be lighter in order to provide a comfortable virtual experience. It is likely to be priced at around $300.
Support for Games
Oculus have developed a software development kit(SDK) to help programmers provide support for the Rift with their games. Team Fortress 2 was the first game to add support for the Oculus Rift. Since then, many developers have added support for the Rift in their games. Games playable on the Rift include popular titles such as Skyrim, Portal 2, Half Life 2, Left 4 Dead and Bioshock.
The Oculus Rift is all set to capture the virtual reality market when it releases for consumers in early 2016 despite competition from other companies and their VR counterparts such Samsung's Gear VR, Sony's Project Morpheus and HTC's Vive.
The Oculus Rift truly has come a long way even in its brief journey. The Rift has the potential to completely turn the VR market on its head. Only time will tell how the Rift fares when it hits the shelves in 2016.