By far the dominant theme at GDC 2016 has been virtual reality. If you’re not a hardware vendor directly creating VR products, then you’re explaining how your products are a good match for VR or make for a better VR experience. And if you’re a software developer, then you’re at a minimum toying with VR, if not outright designing games for it. If nothing else, it’s the session attendance figures that demonstrate just how important VR is at GDC: after Monday’s overflowing attendance of VR sessions as part of the show-within-a-show VRDC, GDC had to move all of the VRDC Tuesday sessions to double sized rooms to accommodate the crowds.

This madness is not without good reason. For both software and hardware vendors, VR represents new opportunities in an already strong gaming market. Software developers get to experiment with new gaming paradigms on the cutting edge of tech, and hardware vendors can look forward to selling the more powerful hardware needed to drive a smooth VR experience. Today VR is a wild frontier, full of risk and rewards, and after this week’s GDC that frontier will be getting a little more civilized as the first consumer VR headsets begin shipping.

VR is not a new idea – as our readers who were gaming in the 90s can recall with mixed feeling – but Oculus deserves the bulk of attention for bringing it back to the forefront and kicking off this wave of interest in and development of VR. Since their 2012 kickstarter they have developed the industry’s blueprint for VR hardware, combining fast refreshing OLED displays with modern sensors that can both quickly and accurately track headset movement. Oculus has iterated on headsets several times now, continually refining the display, optics, head tracking, and more, as they work to bring a retail quality headset to market. And now later this month those efforts will begin to pay off as they ship their first retail headsets to eager backers and first-time buyers.

This brings us to today’s article, my hands-on session with the final, retail version of the Oculus Rift. As part of their GDC festivities, Oculus held a lengthy press demo to give us a chance to try out the retail hardware with a number of games being prepared for the headset, to demonstrate not only the hardware but the games and experiences that it will be driving. A full review of the Rift will be coming later, but for today I wanted to discuss my impressions of the retail hardware and the various titles I had a chance to try.

The Oculus Rift Hardware
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  • stephenbrooks - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - link

    If money's an issue and you already have a phone with gyros, try Google Cardboard. I played about with one recently and it's great fun even with half the resolution of the Rift. No excuse for fence sitting! Reply
  • Sven Viking - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - link

    Just be aware that there are a lot of other major differences between Cardboard and the Rift, not just resolution. It hints at what's possible, but the resultant experience is on a very different level. Ideally find a friend or public demo that'll allow you to try a Rift or Vive a few of months from now. Reply
  • stephenbrooks - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - link

    I'm basically sold on the idea, but waiting for actual retail release, user reviews and possible subsequent price adjustment (including of the HTC Vive) before buying. Also excited to see whether the Valve Source engine back catalogue all gets VR-enabled. Reply
  • Sven Viking - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - link

    Yeah, that a probably a good idea.

    You mightn't want to do this, but just mentioning that you can technically preorder one or both early to get in line and reserve the preorder bonuses, then cancel one or both before shipping (and after reviews and impressions are available) as appropriate.

    The estimated shipping date for Rift preorders is currently July. Estimate for Vive was May last I checked. Oculus doesn't take any money up-front. HTC doesn't take money for credit card orders.
    Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - link

    It looks like it may be best to skip the 1st gen VR units and wait for the higher-res ones which follow. Though hopefully enough people will buy these 1st-gen versions in order to ensure that work proceeds on the 2nd-gen...

    Was fogging a real problem? Maybe they could fit some sort of fan to very gently blow air across from one side (seriously).

    Also what happens for glasses wearers: presumably varifocals won't work well, but can it fit over single-vision lenses, or does it have a focus adjustment screw of some sort for each eye such that you wouldn't need your glasses when using it?
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - link

    "Was fogging a real problem? Maybe they could fit some sort of fan to very gently blow air across from one side (seriously)."
    I definitely remember Carmack talking it about it being a problem and adding a fan with the GearVR stuff, because of the additional hardware (smartphone) in the HMD.
    Reply
  • Sven Viking - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - link

    They actually did add a passive fan to one early version of Gear VR, though it was removed for the consumer version (possibly to cut costs?)

    I haven't personally had a problem with fogging in any HMD except in rare cases when my nose was positioned in such a way that I partially exhaled into the headset. Other people have considerable trouble, though. It's possible it depends on the climate or something, or perhaps some people are also partially breathing into their headsets depending on face shape(?)
    Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Saturday, March 19, 2016 - link

    What's a passive fan? Reply
  • zepi - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - link

    Pretty please: Develop a proper VR headset testbench / methodology to actually provide something more than just subjective analysis of the headsets coming to market.

    It is not easy, but for example figuring out a way to measure motion to photon latency and maybe actual resolution measurements etc.

    Maybe make your own application that renders ISO 12233 resolution charts at various virtual distances and locations to 3D-space and then making subjective analysis on the rendering (or maybe even capturing the output of the headsets with camera if possible etc?
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - link

    Already done. =) Reply

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