At a press conference in San Francisco today, the VR company Oculus revealed the consumer edition of its Rift headset, Silicon Valley’s latest attempt to have you apply electronics directly to your face. The Rift is an elaborate set of video game goggles that works in conjunction with an external sensor to plunge the user into an all-encompassing virtual world. It joins a long lineage of face-based devices like Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, Google Glass, and those fidgety electronic goggles that came with 3D TVs a few years ago, when Sony et al. were trying to make 3D a thing again.
None of those predecessor products met with much success. Perhaps people do not like attaching electric gizmos to their face. Or perhaps, as Oculus believes, users will be willing to stuff their meaty craniums into a gadget to experience the “magic of presence.” That is the marketing term that Oculus executives have developed as an alternative to the shopworn game industry buzzword “immersion,” although the presenters said “immersion” a lot at the press conference, too. They can’t resist.
To create its magic, Oculus has developed a nifty sensor that purportedly tracks your position in a virtual world with low latency (i.e., minimal lag time). This is important because dizziness and motion sickness have been common issues with virtual-reality prototypes, and those generally occur when the image going to your eyes doesn’t quite match up with your movements. “Less likely to induce vomiting!” will make for great back-of-box promo copy when the Rift finally ships.
The Rift will have a slew of other thoughtful features designed to circumvent failings of earlier VR products and experiments. It can be painful, for instance, to wear heavy electronics on your skull for extended periods of time—who knew?—but Oculus claims to have designed a cantilevered construction that will distribute the weight of the Rift comfortably. The unit will also come with spacers to accommodate prescription glasses, addressing another frequent complaint.
Scheduled to ship in the first quarter of 2016, the Rift will come with an Xbox One wireless controller, a somewhat confusing inclusion given that you won’t be able to connect the Rift to an Xbox One directly. You will theoretically be able to connect the Rift to a Windows 10 PC and stream Xbox One games through that PC to interact with the Rift, but Christ, it’s exhausting just to type that sentence.
In any case, the Xbox controller appears to be something of a stopgap until the release of the Oculus Touch controllers—also announced today—which, unlike a standard gamepad, will allow your hands to be tracked in the VR space so you can interact with in-world objects more naturally. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey said on Twitter that the Touch is expected to ship sometime in the first half of 2016, not long after the Rift itself. That’s welcome news to the slack-jawed bearded men who, judging by Oculus’ publicity photos, are the exclusive target market for the Rift.