Yes, I just dropped the C word in June, but after the announcements at E3 it’s fair to say there’s already more than one or two people wishing away the days to get closer to Xbox One and PS4 launch.
With Microsoft’s decision to abort DRM restrictions and always-on check-ins and Sony’s cheaper price tag, the next generation console war will be a fascinating one. But it wasn’t the only hardware on show at the LA gaming expo that created something of a buzz. If anything the Oculus Rift could prove to be a more exciting prospect not just for gamers, but for TV and movie lovers too.
It was actually from behind closed doors at the Bethesda booth at E3 last year that legendary Doom and Quake creator, John Carmack, blew away the fortunate few that got to try out an early prototype version of the virtual reality headset we now know as the Oculus Rift.
Despite its home DIY appearance, the device that resembles a pair of heavy-duty ski goggles and is made up of an LED display, can deliver low latency images with a field of view that creates the kind of immersive experience that puts Vuzix, Zeiss and Sony's recent efforts to shame.
The Oculus Rift was back on show at E3 2013 and Etoo, a London gaming event set up for those unable to get to the LA gaming expo. The appearance of a 1080p full HD resolution prototype instantly makes the Rift all that more desirable.
If you’re ready to dismiss the Rift as a gimmick, then consider the growing game support surrounding it. Team Fortress 2, Half Life 2, Doom 3 and 4 have already been optimized to work with the Rift, while Epic Games announced its Unreal Engine 4 will also support the device, which could open up the possibilities of the Rift being used for mobile devices. Gaming will make or break the Oculus Rift and the strength of support bodes well for its success. While Oculus is sticking firmly to its guns to perfect the PC-compatible version, it will be exploring other areas.
But it’s not just software that’s backing up the Rift. Peripheral manufacturers Razer with its Hydra PC Motion sensing controller that works with the Rift, as it does the Leap Motion and the Virtuix Omni-directional treadmill, sounds a bit like the VirtuaSphere and also deserves a special mention. It has soared past its pledge total on Kickstarter by some margin, all before consumer versions are even been available.
Carmack, along with Valve’s Gabe Newell, are among a host of influential figureheads in the games industry who have endorsed the Oculus Rift, both in its early stages or to help the project gather the kind of momentum it needed to reach its Kickstarter pledge total on day one, racking up $2.4 million in total.
Developer kits priced around the £180 mark have already been making their way to pledgers and also into the hand of Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida who said he ‘loved it’ when he had a play. That’s a massive endorsement for the Oculus Rift, but the fact that companies are now exploring the possibility of embracing the technology beyond gaming is perhaps the most exciting prospect.
Next3D are one of the companies doing just that and have developed a live action virtual reality concept it is currently calling, ‘Full Court’. It hopes it will mean people who can’t stump up the cash for a ticket to a game can still feel like they are part of the action. Using a setup that combines the Rift with 4K cameras and 180-degree fisheye lenses, you’ll be able to literally follow a tennis ball from left to right as it flies over the net on Centre Court.
The creators of the Oculus Rift still point to consumer-ready devices being set for release some time in 2014, and the latest investment of £16 million from Spark Capital and Matrix Partners could help accelerate development. This could bring it to market sooner and help make the device look less like it’s been hatched in a garage by the A-Team
The Oculus Rift is painting an exciting and innovative future for gaming. It’s one that I want to be part of even if my only means of doing it is hooking it up to a PC. It’s probably the closest I have ever felt to that sense of truly being inside our favourite pixelated worlds, but the potential to open up the immersive technology to live broadcasting and even movie production that means we really should be shouting about the Oculus Rift it as much as we are about the Xbox One and the PS4.
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