I had the chance to check out Rafael’s Oculus Rift this week and—wow–it really does deliver an impressive and immersive virtual reality experience. The only disappointment is that it leaves me wanting more.
I previously wrote about Google Cardboard, a budget VR experience for anyone with an Android smartphone or iPhone. Oculus Rift, with its heady PC-based requirements, is much more muscular and expensive than Google VR, of course. And it holds greater promise, not just as a game machine, but as an interactive learning tool as well.
For now, much of the Oculus Rift experience is what I’d call demoware, things that look like games but are in fact technology demos, or advanced versions of the immersive videos and still images I’m familiar with from Cardboard. There are of course a few actual games, including a few space shooters—Eve Gunjack and Eve Valkyrie—that take place in the Eve universe.
Gunjack, for example, is basically a VR version of the old Atari Battlezone, except that you can’t move around: Instead, you man a turret and attack anything that comes at you. Rafael described it as a first person Space Invaders.
But what I’m looking for, of course, is a VR first person shooter—a Call of Duty VR, if you will—that will let me move through interactive environments in real time, shooting at enemies, diving for cover, and so on. And then, sometime even later in the future, multiplayer with live VR-capable opponents.
Those experiences are not available today. But what is available is still pretty impressive. And impressive enough that you can tell the future I imagine is coming soon.
Some of it is cartoony, but nice-cartoony like a Pixar Movie. Some of it is HD video quality, where you glide through low water in what I take to be Viet Nam, and you can look all around, in 360 degrees, as the world unfurls around you.
Unlike HoloLens, the view is immersive, and complete, with a 360 degree field of view that mimics real life nicely. I recall having motion sickness issues with the prototype Oculus Rift a few years back, but there were no issues this time around. Some of that might be attributed to the adjustable lenses in the shipping unit, but I suspect that my limited time with the device—under an hour—was a factor as well.
Like HoloLens, Oculus Rift is aided by positional sound, but because it includes an Xbox One controller, navigation and the general user experience are immediately familiar and easy to use. My years of Xbox are finally paying off.
But gaming aside, some of the more impressive Oculus Rift experiences are quiet, immersive video walkthroughs. If someone could just make one where you sit in a Paris cafe as the world happens around you, I would sit there with the Oculus headset on a just … be there.
Oculus Rift isn’t cheap: It will cost $600 sans PC when it launches at Best Buy next week. But it requires about $1500 worth of gaming PC to work adequately, and some of the Oculus/PC bundles exceed $3000. I’ve spent less than that on cars.
I only tried several games and demos, and it’s way too early to deliver a meaningful verdict. And for now Oculus Rift is clearly catering to enthusiasts only. But the promise is here, and I have no doubt that VR will go mainstream in the next few years. It’s just too awesome not to.