Hands-On With the Oculus Rift at PAX Australia: Making a Skeptic Believe

I was skeptical about the Oculus Rift from day one. The headset is being touted as the true beginning of Virtual Reality experiences, yet my expectations were that the common gamer simply doesn’t want to wear a set of goggles every time they play their games.

That was before I was shown an exclusive demo at PAX Australia. Now I’m a believer. You will want the Oculus Rift.

Behind closed doors I spent some time with Vice President of Product at Oculus VR, Nate Mitchell, and the newest version of the Oculus Rift headset. Running at 1080p for each eyeball, I was walked through a highly controlled fifteen minute vertical slice of what the Rift is capable of.

The demo opened up with me standing at some ruined gates in the middle of a snowstorm. After getting my bearings, a quick look over my shoulder revealed a series of snow-capped mountains behind me, and ahead I could see the base of what looked to be a volcano. That’s when Mitchell asked me to look directly up, and I saw that each individual snowflake was falling down in full 3D. He explained that the Rift uses the same technique that allows our eyes to process items in 3D, replicating lifelike visuals in a way I have never seen before.

I was then transported to an underground cave, with rivers of lava flowing around my feet. Stalagmites protruded from the ground in a menacing manner, and then a beast arose from the rocks and looked at me threateningly. Mitchell then fired off a few sparks of light that bounced off the walls, and I tracked them with my head with no noticeable blur.

Mitchell then thrust the Xbox controller into my hand and I was transported back to where we started. I quickly rose above the snow, flying towards the tip of the volcano I spotted earlier. Floating in mid air, I looked down at the ground and realized just how amazing this experience really was.

While I definitely saw the potential of the Oculus Rift in terms of gaming, it was the final demo program that made me the most excited. Mitchell explained that the team is looking at ways to bring the Rift to mobile devices, and one of their biggest interests is movies. He handed me some headphones, and I was instantly transported into the middle of an empty IMAX cinema. Not a single detail was missing; plush red seats filled the auditorium, a virtual projector was whirring behind me, and then a tremendous amount of bass assaulted my ears. I turned to face the screen and the trailer for Man of Steel started filling the screen. I was completely immersed, forgetting that a queue of about twenty people were watching me sit in a chair, sinking into the ultimate movie experience. I had the best seat in the house, and it didn’t cost me a cent.

I immediately got excited about the possibility of watching my favorite movies on the Rift when on long flights, uninterrupted and alone with my thoughts. The idea of kids learning about history with realistic and interactive exhibits with this technology filled my mind. Of course, I would look like an absolute git wearing gigantic goggles in public, so something needs to be done about the design. Nevertheless, the prospect of such technology is certainly exciting.

Immediately after my meeting I took a stroll across the exhibition floor. It wasn’t long before I was noticing a massive line at three booths in particular: Lunar Flight, Wander and Virtual Reality Insanity. Why? All three booths had demo units of the Oculus Rift, giving consumers a brief glimpse at the future of gaming. Not only are there active independent developers supporting the hardware, but consumers are more than willing to wait almost two hours to spend just fifteen minutes with the technology.

I was once a skeptic, but I am now a believer in what the Oculus Rift brings to the table.

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1 Comment on Hands-On With the Oculus Rift at PAX Australia: Making a Skeptic Believe

Mark Hidden

On August 1, 2013 at 7:08 pm

It’s hard to believe you were not sold on the idea, I will confess I have my fears that it will not live upto my expectation. In 1998 I calculated we would not have this technology until 2015. So my prediction is looking good, but for my prediction, it has to be a pervasive technology. So I smile, when I hear that you reservation were wash away.