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Sep 02 2013

UNITE 2013: Oculus Rift Update

IMG_4472_large_verge_medium_landscapeSo you may remember last year around this time I went to PAX and got all gushy over how fucking cool the Oculus Rift was. Since then the developer version of the device has launched and while the consumer version is still a while away, both the hardware and the software of the device has grown by leaps and bounds. I was lucky enough to grab an appointment with the Oculus folks here at UNITE to get a look at their latest revision of the device and I got to say, hyperbolic as it may sound, I still think the Rift is the future and true next evolution of gaming and media in general.

So when I first saw the Rift a year ago it was really cool but also quite rough; it wasn’t HD, the audio portion of the device wasn’t set up, and just physically it was quite heavy and burdened with a number of very thick wires. The new version I got to play with at UNITE however solves almost all those problems. Starting off it’s in full 1080p and looks great, the 3D effect is even more pronounced now, more than just layers you’re seeing the edges of objects in what feels like actual physical space. While not yet integrated, the stereo 3D sound is now a part of the experience and greatly enhances the immersion factor. The device itself is also much sleeker now, weighing at least a third less than it did before, and the wires have been reduced to two fairly thin cords, one for power and one for HDMI. That said it’s still far from done and a lot of things like whether sound will be taken care of through a hardware or software solution or whether they’ll combine the two cords and go for a powered HDMI set-up are still being decided. The same goes for the actual look of the product, the current design is very much a form derived from function sort of thing and they’re still talking with design firms to figure out what the final consumer model will look like.

This may be how the final version looks but it's far from final.

This may be how the final version looks but it’s far from final.

As for how well it actually works, the head tracking still feels really smooth though it’s something they’re still improving. Right now it’s all gyroscopic tracking essentially, it can feel pitch, yaw, and roll but things like leaning forward or ducking are still beyond its capabilities. That said, that kind of positional tracking will be a part of the final consumer model, they’re just still working on it. What’s most important about that is the fact that it opens up the device for interesting games that are not first person shooters. I was given examples such as using that positional tracking to do things like looking away from the action to engage with a control panel or getting a more advanced look at the battlefield in an RTS. As the technology becomes more ubiquitous we’re going to see some very interesting uses for this tech that don’t involve shooting people in the face. On that note, did you know the Rift basically just acts as a monitor when plugged in? This means you’ll even be able to use it for basic computer tasks. It’s not the ideal for doing those things at the moment but they are work on optimizing it for desktop browsing and the like.

Overall it’s a pretty neat little device and it has the potential to revolutionize the way we interact with our computers, both inside and outside of gaming. Sadly though we all have to wait a little bit longer to get our hands on it as it’s not projected to release until the end of 2014. Keep your eyes on it though, the tech is already in the hands of many developers and trust me, they’ve got some cool ideas for it.

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