One year later, Oculus Rift goes HD and prepares for release

Oculus-Rift-EVR-play

There’s really only one way to accurately convey in text the experience of using an Oculus Rift: look around. Oculus VR’s virtual reality headset has come a significant distance since id Software’s John Carmack showed off a janky, stitched-together prototype behind closed doors at E3 2012. The tech went to Kickstarter, got funded by the crowd, shipped out to backers, and whipped the development world into a frenzy of excitement.

We sat down with the Oculus VR team at E3 2013 for a peek at how things are coming along, and were greeted with a surprise: a 1080p version of the devkit. There’s no plan – for now – to actually sell this model in the pre-consumer release period; it exists purely to prove that Oculus Rift can deliver HD visuals well.

Oculus VR logoThe session started off with a look at the Unreal Engine 4 “Elemental” demo through the standard 720p devkit. Remember: even though 720p is technically HD, it’s split on the Rift between two lenses, so you’re essentially viewing everything at half resolution. The jump to 1080p is a huge improvement, as we soon learned.

With the demo concluded on the standard devkit, we switched over to “Elemental” on the HD model.

Wow.

This is a significant improvement, and it’s the target for the eventual consumer release. The quality is still less than what you’d see at the same resolution on an HDTV, and there’s a noticeable blurring effect when you move your head quickly, but the upgraded kit is still a prototype. What’s more, any VR headset – even the eventual consumer model – requires user-specific calibration for optimal performance, and the Oculus booth demos just didn’t afford any time for such a setup.

With “Elemental” finished, we moved on to VR Cinema, a fan-created app built on the standard devkit that also works with the HD one. VR Cinema is essentially a video player, only it drops you into a physical space that resembles a movie theater. You can sit in any seat that you like,  watch reflected light play off the floor, adjust the size of the screen as you like, and even turn completely around to check out the projector against the back wall. The goal for a more polished version of this app would allow for a sort of social “multiplayer” setup in which you share the theater with connected friends.

oculus rift header

Getting the headset running at an HD resolution is a big step forward for Oculus VR, and it’s just the beginning of what’s planned. The headset is viewed internally as a platform unto itself; now that the presentation is close to being nailed down, the team is working at coming up with cracking the problem of VR input. For now, most users are pairing the Rift with gamepads and mouse/keyboards, though some are also taking advantage of more unique control options, such as Razer’s Hydra.

All of this is part of the long-term planning. While it would be great if the input problem could be solved prior to the consumer launch, more realistic thinking sees a dedicated control scheme added to v2.0 or even v3.0 of the Rift. Much of this also depends on continued support from the development community. If more studios start building headset-only as CCP Games has with EVE VR, supply chains will have to be stepped up to accommodate the demand.

The fact remains: Oculus Rift is in a considerably stronger place than it was just one year ago when it debuted behind closed doors as a noteworthy gimmick. It continues to establish a presence as a serious contender in the gaming hardware space; we can only speculate at what the coming year’s advances might bring, but it’s hard not to put that thing on your head and feel like you’re touching upon the future of interactive entertainment.

Gaming

Dataminers discover SNES games, more emulators for Nintendo Switch Online

Nintendo Switch Online may soon launch SNES games and more emulators, according to data miners. The list of hidden SNES titles include Breath of Fire 2 and Star Fox 2, while the other emulators may be the Nintendo 64 and Nintendo GameCube.
Virtual Reality

Think virtual reality is just for games? These awesome apps will change your mind

Virtual reality isn't all about gaming. Swim with turtles, paint in 3D, and immerse yourself in some unique experiences the platform has to offer with our curated list of the best VR apps.
Home Theater

The seven best TVs you can buy right now, from budget to big screen

Looking for a new television? In an oversaturated market, buying power is at an all-time high, but you'll need to cut through the rough to find a diamond. We're here to help with our picks for the best TVs of 2019.
Gaming

These are the coolest virtual and augmented reality gadgets from CES 2019

CES 2019 had plenty of VR and AR gadgets on display, including headsets that completely change how you experience virtual reality, and some that don't even require a PC or a phone to run.
Gaming

The best VR headsets at CES 2019 could bring the technology to the mainstream

While there weren't a ton of new VR headset on display at CES 2019, the ones we saw led us to believe that VR could have a real moment soon, both from a gaming and business standpoint.
Gaming

‘RollerCoaster Tycoon 2’ ride takes 12 years to complete

A RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 player has constructed a coaster in the game that will take more than 12 years to complete from beginning to end, and is actually a tiny ride taking up a small portion of the landscape.
Product Review

'New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe' is 2D platforming wizardry

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is the latest Wii U game to come back from the dead on Switch. And wow, it’s much better than we remembered.
Gaming

‘Battlefield V’ adds Squad Conquest mode in ‘Lightning Strikes’ update

Electronic Arts and DICE have detailed what is included in the Battlefield V update Lightning Strikes. The update includes access to the mode Squad Conquest through the end of January.
Gaming

Here's everything you need to know to trade in 'Pokémon Go'

After literally years of waiting, Pokémon Go finally gives trainers the option to trade Pokémon with others. It's not easy, though, and the cost is quite high if you try trading with strangers.
Gaming

You're never too broke to enjoy the best free-to-play games

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially-popular League of Legends.
Gaming

‘Rocket League’ is the latest game to get full cross-platform play

Psyonix has announced that Rocket League now supports full cross-platform play across PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC, joining Fortnite as the only games to do so.
Gaming

Here's what you need to know about 'World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth'

World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is the latest expansion for the now 14-year-old MMORPG. It goes back to the roots of the Alliance vs. Horde conflict. Here's what you need to know.
Gaming

Latest ‘Fortnite’ update channels Halo with a scoped revolver

The latest update for Fortnite, update 7.20, is now available, and it brings a new Scoped Revolver weapon to the game alongside the returning Glider item and a limited-time Snipers-only mode.
Gaming

‘Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’ will make Blackout mode free to play this week

Treyarch and Activision are offering Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's Blackout mode as a free trial download for a limited time. The mode will be available from January 17 through January 24.