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Virtual reality gets a release date: Oculus Rift pre-orders start Wednesday at 8AM

Oculus Rift
Palmer Luckey, the Founder of Oculus, wears the Oculus Rift consumer version. eVRydayVR/Flickr
The Oculus Rift will be available to pre-order on January 6, the company revealed today in a short blog post. We still don’t have details on the price or recommended specs for the new Rift, but Oculus intends to reveal all in two days.

It’is a sudden announcement, yet we still don’t know the eventual launch date for the Oculus Rift. It might be months before the pre-order units are sent to customers, especially if we see a surge in demand for the virtual reality headset.

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Pre-orders will go live at 8 a.m. PST on the Oculus store — a countdown has started for the pre-order launch. Unlike past releases, the new Oculus Rift is the first commercial version, which should mean a better hardware and software experience for all.

All pre-order customers will receive Lucky’s Tale by Playful and Eve: Valkyrie by CCP for free. Sadly, the Oculus Touch controllers demoed will not be available until the second half of the year, meaning users will need a compatible controller to play games.

Palmer Luckey, the chief executive of Oculus, has a Reddit AMA planned on Jan 6, which starts two hours before pre-orders.

The price of the Oculus Rift might make or break the product. Facebook owns Oculus, purchasing it for $2 billion last year, so we might see a reduction in the cost with the hope of engaging more virtual reality fans.

Nvidia hinted earlier today that most PCs would be incapable of running the Oculus Rift, but without the recommended specs we cannot tell if this is an elaborate move to sell more graphics cards or a real warning to customers wanting to pre-order the virtual reality headset.

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Chrome’s desktop browser now supports web-based VR on the Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift Crystal Cove hands on

Well, how about that! Someone on Reddit discovered that Google Chrome now supports the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. As of version 66.0.3359.117, you can load up the browser's "flags" settings (type "chrome://flags" in the address bar) and see the new "Oculus browser support" listing. If enabled, Google Chrome will use Facebook's VR device for virtual reality. It's typically set to default although you can manually choose to disable or enable the setting. 
"Yep, it works," one Reddit user confirms. "Had a quick look at the Google Mars surface demo. Without the flag enabled, you just get an option for a desktop 360 view. Enable the flag though and an option to view in VR is there, and it launches it straight to the headset." 
Google provides demos here created for WebVR, an application programming interface based on JavaScript that enables virtual reality experiences in a browser without additional software to download and install. WebVR can detect the virtual reality headset, determine its capabilities, get its position and orientation info, and render images at a framerate supported by the PC's graphics chip and the headset. 
The news follows Google's added support for WebVR in Chrome 61 for Daydream View headsets in September. According to Google evangelist Francois Beaufort, the browser allows users to interact with any website in virtual reality, follow links between pages, and automatically switch from 2D content to 3D-based sites that support WebVR.
Current VR headsets work with WebVR in different ways. For instance, the HTC Vive works with Firefox, Servo, and Supermedium on Windows devices while Firefox Nightly supports WebVR applications for the Vive on MacOS. With the Oculus Rift, WebVR works in Firefox, Supermedium, and now Chrome on Windows devices. 
Here is the full list: 

HTC Vive: Firefox, Servo, and Supermedium (Windows / Firefox Nightly (MacOS) 
Oculus Rift: Firefox, Servo, Supermedium, Chrome (Windows)
Samsung Gear VR: Oculus Browser, Samsung Internet, Servo
Daydream: Chrome, Servo
Google Cardboard: Chrome
Windows Mixed Reality headsets: Microsoft Edge / Firefox and Supermedium via SteamVR
PlayStation VR: no support 

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Researchers claim hackers can create havoc in the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive
HTC Vive Pro review

Virtual reality headsets produced by Oculus VR and HTC are open to hackers according to a recent paper published by researchers from the University of New Haven in Connecticut. Their proof-of-concept attack targets OpenVR, an open-source software development kit created by Valve Software and supported by the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift PC-based headsets. The result? Changing what the viewer sees and thereby causing physical harm. 
The problem with the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift is that you can't see the surrounding physical environment. The setup process includes defining your movement area in the real world while inside virtual reality, this space is defined by a grid that suddenly appears if you get too close to the playing area's edge. Typically, the edge is an actual wall, a couch, or simply an area where observers can watch from a safe distance while you swing wildly with the controllers. 
But hackers with access to a compromised PC could alter that space. If, for some reason, headset owners were playing near a staircase, they could trip over the steps or fall down to the next floor. If a group of family members is watching from the couch, headset owners could get too close and start swinging the controllers at their heads. The physical dangers are certainly possible. 
With the proof-of-concept, the research team attached malware to an email to see what would happen once it infected the targeted PC. "It was created with little security in mind, and they're completely relying on the security of the operating system and the user," says Ibrahim Baggili, director of the university's Cyber Forensics Research and Education Group. 
Naturally, there are already safeguards set in place to prevent the infection, such as antivirus software and firewalls. But the experiment targeted the VR platforms themselves to see what would happen if the typical safeguards failed. The software powering the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive failed to block the malware as it infiltrated through the OpenVR crack. Not only could the researchers change the boundary, but everything seen through the headsets. 
Both HTC and Valve Software wouldn't comment on the findings, but Oculus VR pointed out that the majority of the Oculus Rift experiences are served up on the Oculus Store without OpenVR. Even more, adding encryption to Guardian would introduce bugs and "unnecessary complexity." If your machine is compromised, all data is at risk, not just the VR experience. 
But a closer look at the report shows there is more to the issue than just altering the headset's view. For instance, a deep dive into Steam discovered two authorization files hidden in the Steam folder that could be used to bypass two-factor authentication. Other files include the person's name, port details, IP addresses, and data associated with specific apps. Researchers also found accessible "artifacts" with a number of applications such as Rec Room, AltspaceVR, Facebook Spaces, and Big Screen. 
The full disclosure will be presented in May during the 39th annual Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Symposium on Security and Privacy. 

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Oculus Rift re-enters virtual space after bad software caused a global blackout

Oculus Rift Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Oculus VR issued a software update early Thursday morning, March 8, after the Oculus Rift VR headset went dark for every owner across the globe on Wednesday. Instructions to download the patch can be found here, and covers users who still have the Oculus app installed (patch), and those who uninstalled the app while troubleshooting the blackout problem (setup).  
"This was a mistake on our end, and we apologize," said Oculus VR co-founder Nate Mitchell. "Folks impacted by today's downtime will be provided with an Oculus store credit. More details to follow soon. Thanks again for everyone's patience as we worked through this one." 
If your license plate expires, you can still drive the car. But when a software-based certificate expires, you can't drive the Oculus Rift to any virtual realm. Owners of the Facebook-owned virtual reality headset for the PC discovered this harsh reality on Wednesday when they booted up the headset and faced a warning message, blocking use of the device: It couldn't use the Oculus Runtime Service. 
The problem had nothing to do with PCs or the Oculus Rift hardware; the issue was on the Oculus VR side that only the company could fix. More specifically, the OculusAppFramework.dll file had an invalid, expired certificate, preventing Windows 10 from running the software needed to power the Oculus Rift.  
"We're aware of an issue affecting Rift on PC, and we're working on resolving now. Stay tuned," Mitchell said on Wednesday.
A certificate is essentially a certified digital signature by the developer confirming that said software is genuine and distributed by the company. It's a guarantee that the code isn't altered, and is untouched by hackers. But because this certificate is certified, developers must pay for the certification. In the case of Oculus VR's Oculus Runtime Service file, recertification likely fell through the cracks. 
That said, rebooting the PC, rebooting the Oculus Rift, and reinstalling the software couldn't solve the problem. Instead, Oculus VR had to renew the "invalid" certificate and redistribute the software with the new certificate intact. After that, Windows 10 should be pleased with the update and allow Oculus Rift owners to return to their virtual realms. 
The Oculus Rift global blackout follows news that the headset became the most popular VR device on Steam for the first time during the month of February. It commanded 47.31 percent of Steam's VR headset market last month followed by the SteamVR-powered HTC Vive with a 45.38 percent share. Trailing very far behind were the new Windows Mixed Reality headsets with a 5.36 percent share, which began rolling out over the last several months. 
For $400, the Oculus Rift kit comes with the VR headset, two motion-tracking sensors, two controllers, all the necessary cables, and seven free VR apps. Meanwhile, the HTC Vive kit costs $600 and includes the headset, two controllers, two motion-sensing base stations, all the necessary cables, and a digital code for Bethesda's Fallout 4 VR.
The Rift's rise in popularity on Steam is undoubtedly fueled by the lower price tag. But on Wednesday, HTC Vive could jump into their virtual experiences at any time while Rift owners faced a global blackout. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that the issue won't happen again for either VR headset.
Updated on March 8: Added news of patch release and store credit.

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