What is the Oculus Rift?

Oculus Shmockulus, what is this Virtual Reality stuff all about anyway?438056-oculus-rift-dk2-review

Already credited by the SmithsonianPalmer Lucky, and his Oculus Rift have changed the world overnight, in fact even Facebook is willing to bet $2 Billion on what’s ahead.

“Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow,” Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg says. “Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”[1]

VR as a platform has been the “next frontier” since I can remember. The stuff of NASA, oil exploration, car design and SciFi movies is now available to anyone willing to part with the money and has the technical chops to dive in. Although there are many companies exploring VR, only Oculus has really acquired the right talent and state-of-the-art results with their early kits.

The payoff has been what was coined “presence” which is the new state of being in the VR world you will hear thrown around a lot at any Oculus event. In fact, this experience is the cornerstone of why VR is finally poised to take over after decades in languish.

Presence (a shorted version of the term “telepresence”) is a psychological state of subjective perception in which even though part or all of an individual’s current experience is generated by and/or filtered through human-made technology, part or all of the individual’s perception fails to accurately acknowledge the role of the technology in the experience. Except in the most extreme cases, the individual can indicate correctly that s/he is using the technology, but at ‘some level; and to ‘some degree’, her/his perceptions overlook that knowledge and objects, events, entities, and environments are perceived as if the technology was not involved in the experience. [2]

Today’s VR has the mobile market to thank for it’s current success. It is by the leaps and bounds of our latest smartphones that has brought about these new capabilities and the VR revolution. Personal phones today are devices so small and powerful, with fabulous displays and integrated systems, they are truly tiny computers that rival any full desktop PCs of the 90s and early 00’s. They do this all while sipping power over hours. These technological advances in smartphones –screens, batteries, low power processors, tiny integrated systems like accelerometers and GPS all working at very low power levels and incredibly small sizes–, they were the prerequisite features VR needed to make the headsets light and affordable.

Oculus was the first VR company to achieve real presence with their hardware and found the magic sauce: you must have a high resolution, low persistence OLED display in-order to eliminate motion blur and judder, two of the biggest contributors to simulator sickness. Low persistence makes the scene appear visually stable, along with precise, low-latency positional tracking opens the door to entirely new interactive and game-play opportunities. Positional (head/body) tracking is a key requirement for the future of virtual reality, and the early work done by Oculus is a key difference from the competition, as the Rift can accurately map all of your real world head movements and run smoothly at 60+ frames per second (75fps on the DK2). These are the bare minimum requirements that Oculus has included in their latest Developer Kit (DK2).

The coming first consumer version (CV1) is expected to push these specifications even further. And with the current DK2’s wide success and delight, the CV1 is expected to be out of this world. The two main issues with the DK2 many expect the CV1 will address are wider field of view and the “screen door effect”. Both issues are currently the top complaints from DK2 owners and Oculus has already started addressing these issues with the latest Oculus prototype, the Crescent Bay, which is said to not suffer from both issues to great improvement.

For many (and me included) the CV1 could not come fast enough. I love the DK2, but as stated the screen-door-effect and low field of view provide a version of presence that can best be described as swimming under the ocean with goggles on. You feel like you are truly someplace new, but you have restricted connection to that new world.

Current research is pointing to a best-of-breed experience requiring full 120 degree field-of-view, 8K UHD display in each eye, sub-millimeter full-body tracking and finally all of this while only weighing a few ounces, those are the perfect world specifications we hope to see one day. Oculus is set on that road, I am excited to see what they deliver and how many cycles it takes to get there.


I believe we are at the dawn of a new age –the blend of the information age with the virtual one– the app store to end all app stores is coming. This one will eclipse the iPhone and Android markets combined and the majority of the population has no clue what’s ahead. Once you try VR, you quickly understand why. I believe in this point of view so strongly that I am able to predict that within 3 years, the VR market will start influencing mobile handset maker specifications as they will see the success of products like Google Cardboard and Oculus/Samsung Gear VR as the market grows.

The real gloves will come off once Apple enters the market along with AAA Game and Movie makers. The future theater experience (traffic/crowds/terrorism/guns) will be Netflix like, digital UHD streaming into personal home VR headsets that will make IMAX seem like a baby toy.

Funny how it is a lot like what the character Morpheus says in the Movie The Matrix:

“No one can be told what VR is, you have to see it for yourself to believe it”

 My Oculus DK2 unboxing



[1]. Forbes: Facebook Buys Oculus, Virtual Reality Gaming Startup, For $2 Billion  http://www.forbes.com/sites/briansolomon/2014/03/25/facebook-buys-oculus-virtual-reality-gaming-startup-for-2-billion/

[2].  Mathhew Lombard, a PhD researcher who has published several papers on the topic, gives a good definition of Presence (as reported in “Research on Presence in Virtual Reality: A Survey.” Schuemie, Martin J., et al. CyberPsychology & Behavior 4.2 {2001}) http://www.roadtovr.com/oculus-shares-5-key-ingredients-for-presence-in-virtual-reality/

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