Imagine stepping into a realistic virtual world generated by your computer. That’s the goal of virtual reality (VR). The concept’s been around for decades, but the technology never managed to break into the mainstream. That may change with the upcoming Oculus Rift, a lightweight personal VR headset soon to hit the market. We got our hands on a developer’s preview model, which provides a good insight into the future of personal computing.
The Rift is designed primarily with games in mind, but plenty of developers are taking it further. You can already take a virtual holiday to Tuscany without leaving your couch, or you can enjoy a movie in your own private theatre. Even simulation and medical training programs are in development.
When you slide the Rift over your eyes the first thing you’ll feel is a sense of immersion. The ultra-wide field of view and stereoscopic 3D offers a similar visual scope to real-life vision, giving a real sense of depth to the high-definition environments. After a little use, your body starts to respond to the virtual world – we felt a touch of vertigo when peering over a cliff!
It’s the accurate motion sensing that sets the Rift apart from the VR headsets of the past. The headset can precisely respond to your head movements and recreate them in the virtual world. When you look to the left, your field of vision within the virtual world turns as well, so you can look around without having to use a controller.
The relatively lightweight headset is surprisingly comfortable to wear, held on by adjustable head straps. The final build will be similar in size and weight to a pair of ski goggles. Oculus VR is working on adjustable focus, so those who wear glasses in the real world can take them off and still have 20/20 vision in the Rift.
The technology isn’t quite ready for market yet - and it’s certainly not ideal for those who suffer from motion sickness. It requires a PC to run, and you’ll need a keyboard or controller to “move” around.
You can expect a consumer version of the Oculus Rift in 2014, but no specific release date has been announced.