Oculus Rift

The Future is On Your Face

So yesterday I finally -- FINALLY -- had the chance to dive into the future of gaming with Oculus Rift.

Let me say first of all I have a huge crush of the idea of virtual reality.  You kids might not remember this, but back in my day -- hold on, let me get out my corn cob pipe -- back in my day we went to places called video arcades to play video games.  And in one of those arcades way back in the early 90's I had the chance to play Dactyl Nightmare, one of the very first VR games.  

It had terrible flat shaded polygonal graphics, head tracking slow as molasses, and a giant helmet that weighed down your head and filled your face with moist public-utility smells.  And after I played it for the first time (for the first time, note), I totally barfed. 

It was awesome.

Well OK you had to stretch your imagination a bit.  OK a lot.  It's hard to believe it now, but back then to my fevered teenage brain it really seemed like true virtual reality was just a few years away.  

And then a few years stretched into 20 years. 

And then Oculus Rift showed up. 

If you've followed all the hype, like I have, and if you're a huge VR nerd, like I am, then Oculus Rift has basically reignited your hope that totally immersive VR gaming and entertainment is here.  Or almost here.  

We don't have a Rift dev kit here at the Unit, and I've been dying to try it.  They had it at GDC last year, and E3, but everywhere we went there was a massive line and I couldn't spare the time.  So yesterday at the Gaming Insiders Summit, I jammed over to the Oculus VR booth to try it out as soon as I could.

And I have to say -- after all the hype and build up -- I was a little, just a little, disappointed. 

The potential is so there.  It's really close.  Obviously the 3D has improved a bit since Dactyl Nightmare.  And the headset is about a million times more comfortable.

The big problem is the head tracking latency.  The demo guy told me it was about 15 ms but it felt like more than that.  What it means is when you swing your head around to look at something, it takes a little while for the view to catch up.  So every time you move your head, you're reminded that you're looking at a screen and not a world.

Latency also by the way is largely what's responsible for the motion sickness that people sometimes feel in VR.  (Remember my little issue with Dactyl Nightmare.)

The good news is the folks at Oculus VR know all this, and they have a ton of really smart (and well funded) people working to solve this and other issues.  In his talk at GIS CEO Brendan Iribe said their goal is to get the latency down below 10ms.  And oh by the way their CTO is John Motherlovin' Carmack, and HIS goal is to get it down below 5ms.  

There are other issues too, screen resolution, spatial tracking, etc.  But I think all this stuff is solvable once -- if -- they work out the latency. And while I know this is a Herculean technological task -- c'mon, it's John Carmack.

So, OK yeah I was a little disappointed.  But I had 20 years of expectations built up.  

Mostly I came away with the feeling that we actually are close this time.  And the huge amount of money and interest that Oculus is generating right now are the magic ingredients that potentially can push it over the edge.  It's just technology.  It's a completely solvable problem, and once it does get solved...

What then?