The Oculus Rift VR Headset: One Giant Leap for World and Technology
The Oculus Rift VR Headset is the newest incarnation in the world of virtual reality, and, by the looks of it, the device will have an impact on the real world as well.
What is the Oculus Rift? Currently, this hard-mounted display allows users to immerse themselves in any number of virtual worlds that will leave one’s mind spinning long after the game has completed. This is a headset that provides users an unforgettable playing experience. Tomorrow, however, the Oculus Rift’s definition will expand to involve more.
That’s the beauty of the Oculus Rift: it has a wide-ranging application that can be used in an ever-expanding variety of venues and contexts. Regardless of its particular use, however, the device facilitates maximum immersion without distraction while maintaining a sense of comfort and pure, unadulterated enjoyment. That’s likely one reason that its application will serve positive in any number of areas—people’s attraction to it will make advances in technology an integral and desirable part of life and social interaction, not that it hasn’t already.
Facebook technology is a great example of this. This phenomenon of social media on the Internet has already garnered millions, if not billions, of users throughout the world and serves as a means of not only social interaction but also business, research, advertising and a plethora of other functions in the everyday lives of humans everywhere. Facebook has become an important and necessary part of life. Interestingly, this role will become even more so with the involvement of Oculus. The Rift will soon be a technological component to allow users a greater sense of power in their daily lives in so many ways and on so many levels. People will be able to do things on Facebook that they never did before and do so in a “face-to-face” capacity with others anywhere—without leaving home. Skype offers this capability, but, then again, Skype doesn’t have all the features that Facebook already has. “Face-to-face” interaction will be more in-depth and dynamic, so real and intimate that users will forget they are conducting their affairs via technology. Virtual realism will become a part of the real world, an ongoing science fiction movie that is not fiction.
Another thing the Rift can offer, which has been alluded to above, is a means to create whole new worlds through virtual reality. Stereoscopic 3D viewing and low-latency 360-degree head-tracking make every presentation seamless and without end. Imagine employing this sort of thing in real-world scenarios. No one will be able to discern between the real and the virtual. Where would one end and the other begin? That would seem a great consternation, but it can also be a wonder.
All this just goes to show the impact that Oculus has had on the world and human existence in such a short time. Such innovations have worked their way into every culture by means of computer graphics and video. Incorporating the virtual and the real has become an everyday thing for everyone from laypeople to professionals. Many recent films feature this kind of integration, if not to enhance story and plot than to showcase the feat itself in an attempt to show just how important it is in human development. Not only is reality influencing virtual presentation but the virtual is expanding the real. The relationship between the two has become dual.
The most amazing part of this whole thing is how and when Oculus VR and its prototype, the Rift, came about. Strangely, the company and its great conception do not have a long history.
OCULUS: THE HISTORY
The inception of Oculus VP began with a single man named Palmer Luckey who worked out of his parents’ garage as recently as 2007. The prototype for what would eventually lead to the Oculus Rift VR Headset was conceived here about that time.
When John Carmack discovered it, the prototype was operational but not yet at its full fruition. The now-legendary founder of id Software saw enough potential in the program that he was drawn to it. This was only five years after Luckey established his company and had not yet achieved any commercial successes. The whole thing was a fluke, really. Carmack had merely been conducting his own research when he inadvertently stumbled across Luckey’s prototype. He sampled the device with his own creation, a game called Doom 3, which would eventually come to be known as the BFD Edition and a sensation in its own right. The application took with the prototype, and he decidedly found the Rift more to his liking than any other marketed virtual program in existence at that time. During the E3 videogame convention of 2012, he presented the gaming public with a head-mounted display held together with duct tape. Not an impressive presentation, to say the least. Still, Carmack had a way of getting the point across regarding things in which he believed. Despite appearances, the unit featured a 5-6-inch (14 cm) LCD screen, a high-speed IMU, and dual lenses situated just right to facilitate a 90-degree horizontal and 110-degree diagonal stereoscopic 3D perspective for both eyes. This showcase was based on Luckey’s unfinished prototype, and it ultimately spurred on further developments from Oculus VR.
During this same year, Oculus VP announced the release of the Developer Kit version of the Rift and promoted it as a free giveaway to anyone submitting a donation equaling or exceeding $300 to Kickstarter.com. The affiliate was committed to the “Dev Kit,” as it was casually known, and strove to get both versions of the device—DK1 and DK2—into the public eye. Such a teaser would attract attention by many in various arenas without allowing any involved entity to lose out on profits. In the end, this strategic endeavor would benefit Carmack and his gaming products, Oculus and its various other projects, as well as Facebook. Oculus was emerging strong in both technology and business.
The following year, 2013, Oculus VP returned to the E3 convention with a HD prototype and achieved further success. This version, which reemerged in January 2014, boasted a 1080p resolution, a special low-persistence of vision OLED, a new motion tracking system, an external infrared camera, and went by the name “Crystal Cove.” The motion tracker was devised to alleviate any feeling of nausea exhibited by users of earlier versions and other virtual programs. By March of 2014, the Rift DK1 had disappeared, but the DK2 continued on in popularity. This is what led to the company’s eventual success.
Sometime shortly thereafter, Facebook made it official: it had bought Oculus VR for 2 billion in cash with a few billion more contingent on Oculus VR’s conditional financial target success to close out the second quarter of 2014’s fiscal year. This marked the convergence of both entities in a transaction that would open doors for many other technological possibilities.
All this happened within seven years of the company’s inception—a dream that most other ventures abandon in less time. Of course, the average time for any company to get to this point is considerably longer than seven years. Technology requires time, yet Luckey was the exception to the case. Now, the world would benefit from his fortune and that of Facebook.
The first prototype—that which John Carmack initially discovered prior to 2012—consisted of a 5.6-inch (14 cm) screen. At that time, such a size was impressive as far as technology goes. Carmack apparently thought so, which explains why he was so deeply drawn to it and based his own presentation on it.
What is more important to note, however, is that such a size was only the beginning. Later incarnations would introduce several improvements and enhancements in hardware—including a larger screen of significantly better quality. This hardware not only played a role in visual appeal, such as in the case of aesthetics of presentation, but also performance. For this reason, hardware is extremely crucial in the development and success of the Oculus Rift VR Headset.
Among other features is an increased screen size: 7-inch (18 cm). This LCD display offers 1080p resolution. The pixel fill minimizes the “screen door” effect thereby rendering individual pixels far less noticeable, if noticeable at all. The resolution ratio of 1280-800, or an aspect of 16:10, corrects visual distortions through the lenses of the headset in a “pincushion” effect by generating unique and parallel spherical mapping imagery equating to an effective 640×800, or a 4.5 aspect ratio, for each eye. This visual-technical organization is essential as far as realism goes. Although the real world is made up of atoms, those miniscule elements are not seeable with the naked eye. So goes the pixel in the virtual world. In order for the virtual world to appear and function realistically to the human eye and mind, the primary elements of creation are minimized to optimize overall effect and human utility. Users engage more readily and easily with a world seen in the “big picture.” This is why seamlessness is important in creation and presentation. The screen enhancement contributes to overall performance, and so the increase in size was a necessary development. The panel pixel switching time reduced the latency effect and eliminated motion blur for the crisp, bold details for which LCD screens are known. In this case, too, the LCD has become brighter, along with a color depth to 24 bits a pixel, in order to facilitate visuals.
In conjunction with the enhanced screen and imagery mentioned above comes the stereoscopic 3D feature. The visual display is no longer limited in scope, nor is it 100 percent overlapping. The left eye can see farther to the left and the right farther to the right, upwards and downwards and diagonally. Specifically, the Rift’s field of view utilizes a 90+ horizontal range while the diagonal possesses that of 110 percent. This is more than double the case of the FDV of most other similar devices. The real world is entirely blocked out. In fact, modern virtual reality programs have a 360-degree range, which means once users enter the world of a particular program, they can turn, look and move in any direction and see no end, and that world continues to expand as the user engages with it. The Oculus Rift VR Headset has shown to be one of the most advanced in the area of virtual-realism with its low-latency 360-degree head tracking system, so every user’s experience is pure and natural and minimizes the feeling of nausea encountered with other virtual programs. The 1990 movie Total Recall showcases this virtual/real-world dynamic as the primary element of the story’s plot. The realism is so acute that apparently anybody lost within a program cannot discern the fact it is created, perhaps by the user’s own mind. This is both its appeal and drawback, as the inability to determine what is real and what is not can serve as both a technological achievement and a detriment to one’s own wellbeing if one loses all sense of reality. Any elaborate deception can and does often work that way. The Rift is similar in the way it works, which is why it is so captivating to its users and why its design has such a wide range of applications. The Rift’s stereoscopic 3D capability is that which creates a real world out of the virtual and draws extensively on human perception thereby involving the user as a primary influence in the performance of the device.
An understanding of human perception and how it works is necessary for screen enhancements and other improvements to be successful. The research needed would likely extend beyond the hardware and technological aspect of creation and development. Luckey’s experiences with virtual perception brought forth some insight in this area, so paying attention to his own reactions and the reactions of other users would be crucial to his success with the Oculus Rift and other projects he was working on.
As far as the exterior of the device, a dial on either side allows users to make adjustments in display. This is one way the hardware plays a role in performance. Users can move in closer or farther away as necessary or desired perspective-wise so they can efficaciously engage with the world into which they have entered. This is another example of how human perspective plays a role in performance as well.
The beauty of the Oculus Rift is in its platform capabilities. The device is compatible with PCs and mobile devices, so that users can engage anywhere—home or outside. Mobile technology has come a long way and utilizes sophisticated software and hardware to facilitate use with the push of a button. Most mobile devices nowadays are more than simply cell phones and can access the Internet for a multitude of reasons, from checking and responding to email, interacting on Facebook and other social media to even playing games. Virtual reality programs are no different. The Rift has a DVI/HMDI cable adapter and USB portal plug-in, so users can use it via the mobile device to engage in programs saved on the Internet or the latter by way of its stereoscopic 3D low-latency head tracking system while blocking out the outside world to gain full effect of the experience.
Included in the hardware are VR goggles and 3 sets of original lenses for visual acuity. The headset has a control box so users can manage the Rift according to their desired parameters. Along with these is a latency tester to ensure the head tracker and stereoscopic 3D view are always maintained for the most optimum experience. That’s probably the one thing that makes the Oculus Rift VR Headset an assured device with ongoing consistency: Users have the ability to regulate program quality, function and performance, and even to customize according to personal needs and preferences.
Finally, the headset is lightweight in construction, so it is easily transportable. No longer do users need to remain at home or in designated areas to engage with the virtual world. In light of the growing mobile and USB technology, the virtual is now open to the real world.
OCULUS: RELATED PROJECTS
The idea of virtual realism has been around for a long time. Early incarnations involved photos depicting imagery that appeared convincingly real. Spiritualism, which emerged in the mid-to-late 19th century, brought forth a plethora of “ghost” pictures that many viewers thought for decades to be real. These images, which continued in production through the 1920s and 30s, played on the minds of the viewers in a way that virtual reality does today. Even then, the perception of the viewers played an active role in the process. Even a plethora of computer and mobile applications of today allow the continuation of the “ghostly” tradition. Many users create convincing “ghost” pictures by copying and pasting template imagery onto a picture of a scene to promote a spooky effect. Some are obviously fake, but countless images have stumped masses of people who are either certain what they see is real or are uncertain altogether. Some of these spectators have been experts. Virtual realism is by no means restricted to programs utilizing motion and/or sound. Human perception is engaged when it encounters anything that appears even the slightest bit real. Stills have just as much impact on human perception as video does.
Later on during the 20th century, as entertainment technology took hold, movies like The Wizard of Oz (1939), if only on a subliminal level, explored such concepts as virtual realism. Dorothy entered a world that seemed so real to her, but she awoke to discover it had all been a dream. Still, her experience in the great world of Oz lingered with her due to its profound impact on her psyche.
Television shows, too, like Star Trek (1966) dealt with themes relating to how human perception conjures up a sense of realism in scenarios that are questionable yet grab hold of the characters in one way or another. The 1967 episode, Specter of the Gun, was just such an instance. The characters knew the place in which they were trapped couldn’t possibly be real, yet the images they encountered feared them just the same. This virtual world was so persistent and profound that Spock used the mind-meld on the rest of the crew to instill in them the assurance that everything they were experiencing was imaginary. The holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) worked pretty much the same way, only more consistently and for more than mere entertainment. Quite often, this innovation served as a means of employing solutions to problems involving ship operations or social relationships. In this case, virtual reality was an integral, ongoing part of the lives of the crew and its guests.
Virtual realism has grown to become a technological cottage industry. In fact, the phenomenon is now a major aspect on 21st century technology, not only with regard to the Internet but also other areas of life like entertainment, science and business. Life in general would be incomplete without it. To this extent, countless innovators are on the move creating projects that employ virtual realism in such a way that it expands actual reality. In this way, they have discovered how to make the actual universe in which we live even larger and continuously growing. As a result, our lives are richer and boundless because we create our universe to give our existence even greater meaning.
The Oculus Rift, though a leader in virtual technology, is obviously not alone in its endeavors. Several related projects are inspired by and, at the same time, complement Palmer Luckey’s stroke of genius.
One kit, FOV2GO, another of Luckey’s conceptions devised while he was an employee at a university in southern California, consists of a simple housing and employs a system of optics to facilitate virtual activation through a mobile device by means of an inexpensive HMD. Luckey’s goal, apparently, is to incorporate the virtual into the real world by removing its restrictions and making it possible for it to exist and thrive anywhere. Only this way can it grow and flourish and expand its own parameters to include real-world elements. This is evident in the fact that Facebook intends to integrate the technology into its social media platform. This, in turn, will increase mobile parameters and capabilities as well. The virtual is both independent and simultaneously connecting multiple networks. It essentially becomes a central system of human interaction, which is both eventual and necessary.
As an interesting and consequential aside, the FOV2GO kit is currently available as a template to assist in customized creation. Users can employ its use to individual projects to actualize concepts. With virtual technology, everyone is involved in creating. Every user adds ongoing pieces to a vast puzzle of a realm of existence that never ends.
In response to the aforementioned holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Project Holodeck integrates Razer Hydra Motion controllers, ‘PS move’ positional tracking and the Oculus Rift HMD to allow users to experience a complete virtual world. The dynamics of Project Holodeck are likely to comparably follow suit with the holodeck on Enterprise E so that the user’s interaction will be much more universal in terms of application and capability. Combined efforts such as these are not unusual, but the practice suggests an eventual creation of technology that will both unify components and simplify systematic operations for virtual production. The best things are the simple things. This collaboration merely foreshadows what is to come and alludes to how pioneers such as Palmer Luckey are already thinking ahead and wants the public all to know it.
Sony’s now-famous Project Morpheus is close in conceptual proximity to that of the Rift, and it also provides seamless, real-life virtual presentation. This is no surprise, considering Morpheus is one of the many inspirational offshoots of Oculus. This device allows users to enter worlds that are both profound and realistically convincing without detracting from the Rift. It offers its own insight and uniqueness as far as virtual technology goes.
Another inspirational alternative is the Samsung Gear VR. This unit offers an overall ergonomic design that ensures personal comfort to users. Well-placed cushioning replaces the hard, cold plastic or metal against skin with softness and gentleness while not negating firmness of construction. As far as the programming goes, the Gear VR serves as both a gaming venue and a cinema that features movies for hours of entertainment. Can anyone imagine seeing characters in your favorite movies in 3-dimensional form with a sense of depth, boldness and well-roundedness? Well, here it is. This device is also powered by Oculus technology, so it doesn’t possess anything that Luckey hasn’t already conceived, although it takes off with the technology and does its own thing.
These efforts are a few of countless projects related in some way to the Oculus Rift VR Headset. What is apparent as well as significant here, of course, is that each one of these is either made by Oculus or based on Oculus technology, so Oculus is at the center of it all.
OCULUS: FUTURE PROSPECTS
The future holds many great things for Luckey, Oculus and the rest of the world . . .
The great thing about the Rift is that, although it has grabbed the world by storm and has caught the eye of Facebook, it has not reached its full potential, even with The Oculus Rift VR Headset sales reaching over 85 thousand and counting. That’s exciting. Why? That’s the point of the whole Oculus story: There’s more than meets the eye. In only seven years, the company has set itself in stone and become a billion-dollar venture. That doesn’t happen very often, so when it does, the world has to take notice and respectfully say “Okay, there’s something wonderful and substantial going on here.”
Many things are expected in the near future for both business and public benefit. Probably one of the most significant developments is the eventual release of the consumer version of the Rift. So far as can be discerned, only demonstrative versions exist that the public has seen and heard about. Business-oriented applications, too, have emerged. These particular versions provide greater leeway for the upcoming the consumer-friendly device, and the succession of this order of release would make sense for that reason. There would be no surprise or confusion at play in that regard. Still, no official release date for the consumer version has yet been established, but from what has transpired so far, such foresight is reasonable. Needless to say, a lot of people will be waiting for it with anticipation.
Of course, what is distinctive about the consumer version of the Rift that makes it unlike the earlier versions? For one thing, the device would be easy to manage and operate. Users like things simple in fashion. Another distinction will likely be the inclusion of alternative program options and extras like lenses for the headset. A compatibility with a greater number of game applications seems feasible as well, so users can get ultimate enjoyment out of their use.
Palmer Luckey expects a wider future for his applications. He knows that gaming is not the extent of it, and he embraces the possibilities, especially since he is aware of the fact that his applications will have a significant impact on technology and society in general. Areas such as healthcare, medicine, education, science, even sports can and will likely benefit from the fruits of his labor. That’s quite daunting but also flattering. The question is: How will he live up to it? If the past is any indication, that question is already answered. Everything has been progressing quite nicely. The only unexpected development is that his time table leapt forward and he is ahead of schedule, not that he’s complaining. He’s sitting in the catbird’s seat and enjoying it. Good for him!
What else does he see coming up?
The advances in virtual technology are endless at this point, and Luckey has proven that fact. What he likely expects is an open door to virtual development where before such widespread possibilities were questionable at best. The foreseeable future holds a greater degree of creative movements by a larger number of people. This is no doubt one conscious intention behind his work and his business decisions. What he has done already and continues to do benefits everybody. That is why his company is deemed substantial. Innovations such as the Oculus Rift VR Headset, FOV2GO and Project Holodeck not only inspired others but are also devised with enough flexibility that others can take off in various ways without restrictions.
The Project Holodeck, for example, offers insight as to the possibility of achieving greater heights in creativity and human interaction with elements of the virtual worlds. Just as was the case in Star Trek: The Next Generation, such elements will produce smell, taste and texture along with the current visuals and sounds. One should consider, too, the ability of users experiencing feelings and sensations that accompany their interaction with certain characters and objects: the warmth of a woman’s skin, the softness of a bed, the aroma of a meal cooking in a virtual kitchen and the taste of spices in the stew being prepared there, the fresh air blowing on one’s face while running through a field of flowers or standing on a beach, the soothing coolness while swimming in the water, the taste of an Espresso and croissant while relaxing in a café, the putridity of rotting flesh and subterranean dampness while exploring an underground dungeon, the pain of an opponent’s stinging punch while engaged in a boxing match, even the tanginess of a kiss while being intimate with another . . . These scenarios and many others were featured in the holodeck of the Enterprise E—some more than once—so their eventualities are not impossible. One can imagine putting on the headset to immerse into another world to find a solution to a technical problem or social issue. Capabilities like these are absolutely necessary for virtual realism to be complete. As far as he has come, going all the way would not make any sense at all. It’s just a matter of time, and Luckey has paved the way for all this to happen.
In fact, with the FOV2GO emerging and its customization option in constant play, users will eventually be able to create their very own realities that generate sensations indigenous to their own personal experiences—sensations never before conceived or pre-programmed into an application. This is where and how the virtual world will expand the real one and vice versa. Influences from each will filter into the other, a crossover, an interconnection or bridging that will allow two realms to complement one another.
As for the business end, Luckey has started on the process. As stated before, Facebook bought Oculus, so the application of his virtual concepts and components will provide the public a variety of ways to employ them on a daily basis once initiated. The extent of applications Oculus will achieve in the context of this social media platform are boundless.
As fantastic and daunting as all of this may seem, the process will take time. True, the universe was supposedly created in a microsecond, but, for humans, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Patience brings results. The challenge lies in how to do it, and Luckey and Facebook are already involved in the task.
In the meantime, we should all put on that headset and enjoy the ride!
IN CONCLUSION . . .
No one can say enough about the Oculus Rift VR Headset, but everything shared so far has been promising. That’s a good sign for great things to come.
Virtual realism is in its infancy, but it is growing at a tremendous rate. Every year, new advances on old developments emerge, even new innovations all together. How far can it go?
That’s the key question at the heart of all of this: How far can virtual technology go? To what extent should we strive? That’s the question at the root of motivation—to find that answer.
What can be said about discoveries? That depends on the nature of the discoveries that are made. Are they beneficial to technological and/or human growth? Do they offer insight never before known? Do they provide flexibility for further advancement? The Oculus Rift accommodates these considerations and more. This cannot be said often enough, but the more it is mentioned adds further emphasis to its importance: Oculus technology benefits society on so many levels and in so many areas. Sometimes the greatest discoveries are those that remain indistinct and undefined.
What does this mean?
The possibilities allow one to conceive of things undiscovered. In this way, what is discovered in the mind extends beyond the concrete and specific. Virtual worlds work that way. Each program viewed brings with it a whole new set of sensations and insights that allow users to experience virtual reality in whole new ways. This, in turn, triggers inspiration for yet something new. Devices like the Rift, FOV2GO and Project Holodeck prompt us to think of things that are beyond what we are presently experiencing. We make new discoveries, yet they are in constant flux because they are not yet totally realized, but they are there just the same. The best discoveries are those that bend and flex and mold into anything we wish. They are the most exciting because we don’t know yet what they are or what they could be , and they motivate us to move forward to find out. I presume pioneers like Luckey have proceeded the same way. The indistinct shadow lurking in the distance captures our attention and our imagination more profoundly than the solid figure standing in the open. We see the latter, know what it is. The former, however, intrigues us infinitely more and compels us to go after it, to determine its identity, its essence. This kind of discovery is never concrete or defined but filled with vivacity. Although it possesses a sense of intelligence and is in a 3-dimensional form—that is, virtually realized—it is also quite real.
The Oculus Rift VR Headset is the next big thing for the ever-expanding digital world.