Ever since it debuted on Kickstarter, the makers of the Oculus Rift have promised to deliver the kind of VR experience that the late 90s and blithely promised and never created. Each developer kit or milestone has substantially improved on the underlying technology, with higher resolutions, better eye alignment, faster refresh rates, and less flickering or motion blur.
The new developer kit debuting at CES 2014 is, according to multiple sources, truly amazing. New versions of the kit are using an OLED
screen rather than the traditional LCD technology of previous variants. The motion blur that still popped up on the older units has been nearly eliminated, and the lag time is down to just 30ms, from 60ms in older kits.
The other major innovation of the new kits, dubbed Crystal Cove, is head position tracking. Right now, Oculus is delivering this via sensors mounted on the headgear and a camera, but stressed to convention-goers that the technology was an experiment and might not come to market. Integrating a positional camera means that the Oculus Rift
can track more than just your head turns -- it can also track leaning forward or backwards.
According to the hands-on report from Engadget, the latest kit creates readable displays and gauges, as well as letting the user move their head more normally for better overall motion tracking.
Oculus VR director of dev relations Aaron Davies has us pause so that he can toggle one of Crystal Cove's newest features: "low persistence." We turn from left to right, unable to read the blurred text in front of us. He flips a switch, and voila: no motion blur. Well, very little. It's a far cry from the first Kickstarter dev kit we used many moons ago and, despite the importance of positional tracking, makes a tremendous impact on the usability of the Rift.
The Rift Could Truly Rock:
Let me take off my reporter hat for a moment and be blunt: When it comes to reinventing gaming, I'm a total cynic. I've tested 3D and multi-monitor displays, enjoyed both, and seen both fail to gather more than niche acceptance. I've seen more peripherals come and go than I can remember. It's not that I'm against innovation in gaming, but that so many of the proposed "improvements" have been sharply limited. Touch screens and console controllers may make for compelling experiences in their own right, but creating a new technology that truly offers a new experience is extremely difficult. For all the improvements in resolution, color, and speed, we play games in front of glowing rectangles today -- the same way we played them 30 years ago.
I think the Oculus Rift really could
change that. The immersion difference between seeing a monitor and seeing a game fill your entire visual field is enormous. Eliminate the motion blur and the tracking issues, and you've got a peripheral that could change the entire way we game. Put that peripheral at a price people can afford, and the Oculus Rift could blow the roof off.
Obviously conventional gaming isnt' going to go anywhere; there are plenty of times when I want to be aware of what else is going on around me. There are also questions about just how easily developers will be able to support the peripheral. It's not a sure-fire thing yet -- but it's the gaming techno logy I'd bet on if asked to pick them from a list.