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Anybody who’s anybody in the gaming world has been salivating over the Oculus Rift and the promise of virtual reality. At this year’s SXSW, Paramount Pictures promoted the digital release of Interstellar with a seven minute tech demo on the VR headset.
Featuring a 360 degree tour of the film’s spaceship, it was great way to showcase the tech as well as a fine opportunity to get my Matthew McConaughey on. Here are my thoughts on the device, the experience and the potential of the Oculus Rift.
Simply put, the ability to look around 360 degrees in a virtual environment is impressive. The Rift responded perfectly to my every head movement, allowing me to look side to side, up and down and even backwards. Not matter how fast I whipped my head around like a possessed creature from The Omen, I couldn’t fool the Rift.
The result is surprisingly immersive. Much to the delight of those waiting in line, I felt compelled to reach out and grab floating pens and books as I moved about the zero gravity environment. You really feel like you’re navigating a computer generated 3D world.
Less Than Impressive Visuals
Full disclosure: I’m not quite sure which version of the Rift dev kit I was wearing, so this may be completely inaccurate. This is just my experience based on the model I was rocking.
In my trip around space, the graphical clarity of the device left much to be desired. Tons of jaggies, artifacts and wonky resolutions marred the visual experience. While newer dev kits can reportedly run the Unreal engine, the graphics on my headset looked about two console generations old.
While I was only strapped in for about seven minutes, the device was surprisingly comfortable. My chunky glasses fit the device snugly and I didn’t experience any eye strain whatsoever. I’m not sure how I’d last in a two hour gaming session, but I had no issues with my brief time with it.
But Is It Practical?
The jury is still out on that one. While it was a fun trip, I couldn’t imagine myself having one in my home. It’s a matter of practicality. If I had a dedicated theater room, maybe it would be doable but I game in the living room. Distractions abound and with a fiance, a dog and eventually a few kids, I can’t see myself wanting to be completely closed off from the outside world; especially for the enormous price tag the device is likely to carry.
And not to sound like a nitpicking Nancy, but there’s also a question of safety. Let’s say you’re playing the latest Call of Duty on your brand new Oculus Rift. Bullets whizzing by, tanks exploding. You’re in the thick of it. But then Jason Voorhees realizes you forgot you left your door unlocked and stops by for a visit. You can’t hear him and most importantly, you have no peripheral vision to see him.
Yes, I’m being over the top, but there could be issues of too much immersion. The media got themselves in a tizzy over a GTA sex scene you had to hack to access. Imagine the headlines if a house burns down because the owner was in a VR trance.
The Bottom Line
Rumors have the Rift release date at May 2015, but during their SXSW Interactive panel, founder Palmer Luckey said that’s not the case. If my experience rambling about the Endurance is any indication, there’s good reason for that. While I’m not sure which version of the Rift I was plugged into, it’s still a fascinating bit of tech that delivers on the promise of genuine VR immersion. Whether or not it will ever be a practical home entertainment platform is another question all together.
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