Oculus Rift review: It felt like ski goggles with a smartphone glued to the glass

Andrew Walker asks if the new Oculus Rift can give virtual reality the consumer success that eluded it in the past

Arguably the most anticipated new gadget of the decade so far is the Oculus Rift, the oddly named, crowd-funded Virtual Reality (VR) headset.

It’s just started appearing in game development studios and is destined to hit the high street in 2014, priced around $300 in the US. They’re in desperately short supply but getting rave reviews and tipped by industry gurus to make VR the next big thing in home entertainment. 

The buzz surrounding Oculus Rift is huge but so was the hype about Virtual Reality thirty years ago.

Back in the 1980s, despite movies like Lawnmower Man feeding our imaginations, Virtual Reality failed to become consumer reality. So will anyone except die-hard geeks believe the hype and strap on a headset now? 

I tested an ‘Rift at Inition, a Shoreditch-based 3D technology studio, to see what all the fuss is about.

At about 0.4 Kg, the version I tried felt like ski goggles with a smartphone glued to the glass, more comfortable than the bulky headgear of yesteryear. The technicians positioned me on a narrow stage with a fan-powered breeze and the demo began.

They explained that the graphics I was seeing were blocky and not representative of the headset’s high resolution onboard capabilities, but I wasn’t listening because I was preoccupied with balancing between two virtual buildings on a virtual plank, experiencing a nasty dose of vertigo. 

The surfaces around me didn’t look real, but the sense of space felt real - like standing on an unrealistic real plank between two unrealistic real buildings, really high up.

The boffins say this particular Head Mounted Device (HMD) has made huge improvements in Field of Vision (FOV) and fast pixel switching, combined with ultra-low latency head tracking using Oculus’s own 1000Hz Adjacent Reality Tracker with 3-axis gyros, accelerometers and magnetometers. 

In plain English that means you can’t see the edges of the screen and each eye receives a different, sharply focused image that creates the impression of seamless real motion when you look around.

The upshot is this latest generation of VR kit partially tricks your brain into believing your eyes, stimulating the primitive parts of the brain that release dopamine and adrenaline more than looking at a normal screen does. 

That extra dose of neurochemical excitement is what makes the ‘Rift’s version of VR feel closer to a real experience than anything you’ve seen before, adding a new dimension to traditional game technology akin to adding sound to silent movies.

VR has come a long way from the blocky, tunnel vision headsets of the past, presenting a huge commercial opportunity to the games industry.  Just like the arrival of CDs boosted sales of new home entertainment hardware, so VR could boost the games hardware market, undoubtedly selling a lot more game titles when old favourites like Half Life and new blockbusters like Doom III launch ‘Rift compatible versions.

But there’s something more subtle happening too. 

The history of home computing is filled with intriguing concepts that were too underdeveloped to score a hit first time round but successfully re-emerged later on. Consider other tech flops of the ‘80s and ‘90s, like the Sinclair C5 electric tricycle, Oracle’s Network Computer and the Apple Newton PDA. 

Those concepts live on with varying degrees of success in the Segway, the Google Chromebook and the iPad. If advances in supporting technologies such as batteries, Wi-Fi, broadband, touch screens and miniaturised chips helped make those electric dreams come true, why not VR?

Considering it’s also actually very good, the Oculus Rift could give Virtual Reality the consumer success that eluded it in the past… provided they ditch the whole 'plank of terror' thing.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge face-off in the final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    Ashdown Group: Part time Network Support Analyst / Windows Systems Administrat

    £30 per hour: Ashdown Group: An industry leading and well established business...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

    £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Engineer with SQL skills

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

    Day In a Page

    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture