Thursday, February 20, 2014

Oculus Rift

If you are a gamer or someone who tracks the goings-on at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, you may be familiar with the Oculus Rift. If not, allow me to introduce you.

The company developing the device, Oculus VR, says, “The Oculus Rift is a next-generation virtual reality headset designed for immersive gaming.” The device is a kind of head-mounted display with motion-tracking that allows the wearer to very naturally move their head to change their view in the virtual space. Imagine looking behind you in a first person shooter game by, well, looking behind you. In this way, the wearer visually becomes immersed in a virtual space (such as a game or a virtual world).

Oculus VR initially used Kickstarter to raise a few million to build a prototype virtual reality headset. The early results were good enough to attract a lot more interest, and the company recently was able to raise another $75 million in funding, intended to take their evolving prototypes the rest of the way, to an affordable consumer peripheral for gamers and virtual world enthusiasts, perhaps by late 2014 or early 2015.

I’ve not yet had a chance to try an Oculus Rift prototype, but I’m very interested. It seems to me that there are many possible applications, with games being only the most obvious. Beyond games, the Oculus Rift could have a role to play in the user experience in virtual worlds like Second Life, where a user could use the goggles to fully see the virtual world from the perspective of their avatar’s eyes. By moving their head to pan the view in any direction rather than using keyboard commands, the immersive experience could be very much enhanced.

Another possible application might be to experience Google Earth and Google Streetview in a much more direct way. Ultimately, it could allow people to experience real world locations that they cannot get to because of practicalities or expense (think of visiting a remote rain forest), because of their physical abilities (think about the physically challenged experiencing the climb to the summit of Everest), or because of physics (shall we fly around the Eiffel Tower?).

If the goggles are too bulky or heavy, that might really take away from the natural experience. As I say, I have not tried them myself. They would appear to be somewhat large. But it seems to me that it’s only a matter of time until the technology allows for the goggles to become smaller and lighter, and for the immersive applications for Oculus Rift (and the competitors that are sure to follow) to become more compelling.

Have you experienced the Oculus Rift? Why not leave a comment and tell us about it.


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