Gamers go ga-ga over Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset

A virtual-reality (VR) headset has captivated the gaming world, netting more than US$1.2 million in Kickstarter donations in a matter of days.

(Credit: Oculus)

You'd think this were the turn of the 1990s. The Total Recall remake opened in cinemas in the US over the weekend (it's not due in Australia until September), and a virtual-reality headset have ended up being up the hottest things in the gaming world this week.

The Oculus Rift headset works like a conventional head-mounted display, but packs a few features that make it ideal for gaming. For example, the Rift offers impressive head-tracking capabilities; stereoscopic 3D rendering; a wide field of view (110 degrees — most headsets only offer around 40 degrees); and several inputs (DVI/HDMI and USB). When wearing the Oculus, each eye gets up close and personal with a 640x800 LCD screen, for a total resolution of 1280x800 (720p).

Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus, believes that his company finally broke the usability and cost barrier for virtual-reality headsets. When the Oculus Rift project landed on Kickstarter, it only took a few hours for the project to shatter its original US$250,000 goal.

While some people may cast off the notion of a head-mounted display as a reoccurring fad, the Oculus carries some hefty support. Names like Gabe Newell and John Carmack might not mean much to the average person, but to the well-informed gamer, they stand as two of gaming's founding fathers.

Carmack, an id Software co-founder, worked as the lead programmer for Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein 3D and many other games. "What I've got now is I honestly think the best VR demo probably the world has ever seen," Carmack enthusiastically said in a Oculus promotional video.

Then Gabe Newell, owner of Valve (known for Steam and Half-Life), stepped up to the plate.

"It looks incredibly exciting; if anybody's going to tackle this set of hard problems, we think that Palmer's going to do it," Newell said directly into the camera. As far as we know, this marks Newell's first appearance in any video promoting a product other than his own.

A promotional video from Oculus suggests that its headset offers a much wider field of view and captures head movement faster than conventional VR systems.
(Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET)

Even the father of Minecraft, Markus Persson (aka Notch), contributed US$10,000 to the project and tweeted, "High odds our games will support it, assuming we can get it to work."

Within a few days, Oculus gained a massive following and US$1.29 million in funding, a feat comparable only to the recently announced Ouya indie gaming console.

What does the Oculus need to do to succeed? For starters, it needs more compatibility and content. An FAQ on the Oculus Kickstarter page notes that the company aims to include support for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, as well as iOS and Android devices (with no timetable). Not many games support the device (only one: Doom 3).

In addition, people with glasses may not enjoy the Oculus development kit, but the company said in an FAQ that it plans to support glasses in the consumer version.

Oculus plans to make appearances at the QuakeCon, Siggraph and Unite trade shows this year.

Gamers, would you buy a more final, consumer-ready version of the Oculus Rift if the price was around $300-400? What does it need to succeed?


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