The Rift will be released in Q1 2016, making it one of the first consumer-targeted virtual reality headsets. Oculus has described it as “the first really professional PC-based VR headset”. It has a resolution of 1080×1200 per eye, a 90 Hz refresh rate, and a wide field of view. It has integrated headphones which provide spatialised audio. The Rift has full 6 degree of freedom rotational and positional tracking. The positional tracking is performed by a separate tracking unit, which is included with each Rift and normally sits on the user’s desk. This system allows for using the Rift while sitting, standing, or walking around the same room.
The Rift has gone through many prototype versions in the years since the Kickstarter campaign, around 5 of which were demoed to the public. Two of these prototypes were sold publicly as ‘development kits’, DK1 in late 2012 and DK2 in mid 2014, to give developers a chance to develop content in time for the Rift’s release. However, both were also bought by a large number of enthusiasts who wished to get an early preview of the technology.
Through Meant to be Seen (MTBS)’s 3D discussion forums, Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, developed the idea of creating a new head-mounted display that was both more effective than what was then on the market, and inexpensive for gamers.
Coincidentally, John Carmack had been doing his own research and happened upon Luckey’s developments. After sampling an early prototype, Carmack favored Luckey’s approach and just before the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo, Id Software announced that their future updated version of Doom 3, BFG Edition, would be compatible with head-mounted display units. During the convention, Carmack introduced a duct taped head-mounted display based on Luckey’s Oculus Rift prototype, which ran Carmack’s own software. The unit featured a high speed IMU and a 5.6-inch (14 cm) LCD display, visible via dual lenses, that were positioned over the eyes to provide a 90 degrees horizontal and 110 degrees vertical stereoscopic 3D perspective.
Development Kit 1
The Development Kit 1
Two months after being formed as a company, Palmer’s Oculus VR launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for their virtual reality headset, which was named the Rift. The main purpose of the kickstarter was to get an initial Oculus Rift prototype into the hands of developers to begin integration of the device into their games- now referred to as DK1 (Development kit 1).DK1 was given as a reward to backers who pledged $300 or more on Kickstarter, and was later sold publicly for $300 on their website. These kits sold at a rate of 4–5 per minute for the first day, before slowing down throughout the week.
The Rift DK1 used a 7-inch (18 cm) screen with a significantly lower pixel switching time than the original prototype, reducing latency and motion blur when turning one’s head quickly. The pixel fill was also better, reducing the screen door effect and making individual pixels less noticeable. The LCD was brighter and the color depth is 24 bits per pixel.
The 7-inch screen also makes the stereoscopic 3D no longer 100% overlapping, the left eye seeing extra area to the left and the right eye seeing extra area to the right. The field of view (FOV) is more than 90 degrees horizontal (110 degrees diagonal), which is more than double the FOV of previous VR devices from other companies, and is the primary strength of the device. The resolution is 1280×800 (16:10 aspect ratio), which leads to an effective of 640×800 per eye (4:5 aspect ratio). However, since the Rift does not feature a 100% overlap between the eyes, the combined horizontal resolution is effectively greater than 640. The image for each eye is shown in the panel as a barrel distorted image that is then corrected by pincushion effect created by lenses in the headset, generating a spherical-mapped image for each eye.
Initial prototypes used a Hillcrest Labs 3DoF head tracker that is normally 125 Hz, with a special firmware that John Carmack requested which makes it run at 250 Hz, tracker latency being vital due to the dependency of virtual reality’s realism on response time. The latest version includes Oculus’ new 1000 Hz Adjacent Reality Tracker that will allow for much lower latency tracking than almost any other tracker. It uses a combination of 3-axis gyros, accelerometers, and magnetometers, which make it capable of absolute (relative to Earth) head orientation tracking without drift.
The development kit 1 also included interchangeable lenses that will allow for simple dioptric correction.
The entire source for the Rift DK1 was released to the public in September 2014, including the firmware, schematics, and mechanicals for the device. The firmware is released under a simplified BSD license, while the schematics and mechanicals are released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
In June 2013, a prototype of the rift that used a 1080p LCD panel was shown at Electronic Entertainment Expo. This step forwards to twice the number of pixels as DK1 significantly reduced the screen door effect and made objects in the virtual world more clear, especially at a distance. The poor resolution had been the main criticism of the DK1.
This HD prototype is the only prototype of the Rift shown to the public which did not turn into a publicly available developer kit.
Crystal Cove Prototype
In January 2014, an updated prototype codenamed “Crystal Cove” was unveiled at Consumer Electronics Show, which used a special low-persistence of vision OLED display as well as a new motion tracking system that utilized an external camera to track infrared dots located on the headset. The new motion tracking system would allow the system to detect actions such as leaning or crouching, which was claimed to help alleviate sickness experienced by users when the software did not respond to these actions.
Development Kit 2
The Development Kit 2
In March 2014 at GDC, Oculus announced the upcoming Development Kit 2 (DK2) which began shipping in July 2014. This is a small refinement of the crystal cove prototype, featuring several key improvements over the first development kit, such as having a higher-resolution (960×1080 per eye) low-persistence OLED display, higher refresh rate, positional tracking, a detachable cable, and the omission of the need for the external control box.
A teardown of DK2 revealed that it incorporates a modified Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone display, including the front panel from the device itself.
In February 2015, Oculus announced that over 100,000 DK2 units had been shipped up until that point.
Crescent Bay Prototype
In September 2014, during the Oculus Connect conference in Los Angeles, Oculus once again presented an updated version of the Rift, codenamed Crescent Bay. This version has a greater resolution than the DK2, a lower weight, built-in audio, and 360-degree tracking thanks to the presence of tracking LEDs in the back of the headset. Oculus has also licensed software library RealSpace3D, which is expected to provide the Rift with HRTF and reverb algorithms. During a panel at SXSW 2015, titled “Explore the Future of VR”, it was publicly announced for the first time that the prototype uses two screens instead of one as previously thought.
On May 6, 2015 Oculus VR announced that the consumer version of the Rift will ship in Q1 2016 with pre-orders starting in late 2015.
The consumer version is an improved version of the Crescent Bay Prototype, featuring per-eye displays running at 90 Hz with a higher combined resolution than DK2, 360 degree positional tracking, integrated audio, a vastly increased positional tracking volume, and a heavy focus on consumer ergonomics and aesthetics.
In June 2015, Oculus revealed that due to the rapid innovation in the VR industry, it intends to release a successor to the Rift in around 2 years from the Rift release, and that it is already being worked on.
In order to work, the Rift must be connected by a cable to a PC running Microsoft Windows that will run the software (it is not a standalone device). This computer should be equipped with a powerful GPU at least equivalent to a NVIDIA GTX 970 or AMD 290, and a CPU at least equivalent to Intel i5-4590.
The Rift uses an OLED panel for each eye, each having a resolution of 1080×1200. These panels have a refresh rate of 90 Hz and globally refresh, rather than scanning out in lines. They also use low persistence, meaning that they only display an image for 2 milliseconds of each frame. This combination of the high refresh rate, global refresh and low persistence means that the user experiences none of the motion blurring or judder that is experienced on a regular monitor.
It uses high quality lenses to allow for a wide field of view. The separation of the lenses is adjustable by a dial on the bottom of the device, in order to accommodate a wide range of interpupillary distances. The same pair of lenses are used for all users, however there are multiple facial interfaces so that the user’s eyes can be positioned at a different distance. This also allows for users wearing glasses to use the Rift, as well as users with widely varying facial shapes.
Headphones are integrated, which provide real time spatialised binaural audio. This was developed from technology licensed from RealSpace 3D Audio, by Visisonics.
The Rift has full 6 degree of freedom rotational and positional tracking. This tracking is performed by Oculus’s Constellation tracking system, and is precise, low-latency, and sub-millimeter accurate.
Oculus’s positional tracking system, used to track the position of the user’s head as well as other VR devices, is called ‘Constellation’,consisting of an external infrared camera which optically tracks VR devices.
The Rift, or any other device being tracked by the system, is fitted with a series of precisely positioned infrared LEDs under or above the surface, set to blink in a specific pattern. By knowing the configuration of the LEDs on the objects and their pattern, the system can determine the precise position of the device with sub-millimeter accuracy.
Constellation can be used with a single tracking camera or with multiple cameras working together. One tracking camera will be included with the Rift, and users will be able to purchase additional cameras separately and position them to gain a higher total tracking volume, including tracking the volume of an entire room.
Oculus will allow third party peripheral manufacturers to create devices that are tracked by the system, providing an API for them to use.
Main article: Xbox One Controller
As a result of a partnership with Microsoft, every Rift sold will include an Xbox One Wireless Gamepad. The purpose of this inclusion is that, according to Oculus, the majority of games in development for the Rift require a gamepad and do not use motion controllers such as Oculus Touch, so this will allow all users to play those games.
Oculus is also releasing a pair of controllers to be used with the Rift, called Oculus Touch. The controllers are sold as a pair, and are mirrors of each other- one for each hand. They are lightweight, wireless, handheld motion controllers featuring a joystick, buttons, and two triggers- one for grabbing and one for shooting or firing. The controllers are fully tracked in 3D space by the Constellation system, so that the user sees them in virtual reality responding to their real world counterpart, giving the user the sensation of their hands being present in the virtual space.
Oculus Touch also features a completely new system for detecting finger gestures made when holding the devices. This allows the user to perform actions like giving the thumbs up or pointing to objects or other users in virtual reality.
Oculus Touch will not be included with the Rift, and will instead be sold separately, released a few months after the Rift.
When the user puts on the Rift, as detected by an internal proximity sensor, and no other content is being outputted to the headset, they are presented with Oculus Home. This is the default environment of the Rift, allowing the user to launch VR applications they own, see if their friends are using the Rift, and purchase virtual reality content on the Oculus Home store, all without ever taking the headset off.
Oculus Home’s store will be curated to only allow applications that run smoothly on the recommended hardware and experiences will be given ratings for their comfort (such as causing motion sickness or jump scares), however developers do not have to use Oculus Home to distribute content for the Rift, it is entirely optional.
A key feature of Oculus Home will be to allow users to buy an application while inside a VR environment preview of that application, instead of simply a 2D store page.
The Rift does not appear to the user’s operating system as a typical monitor. Instead, custom Oculus drivers and a runtime service are used to allow applications to output directly to the Rift, bypassing the operating system and allowing for high refresh rates and low latency regardless of the user’s setup.
The user must have this Oculus PC runtime and the drivers installed in order to use the Rift. The runtime service facilitates stereoscopic separation, lens optical distortion, and the advanced rendering and driver techniques needed to deliver a high quality VR experience.
Content for the Rift is developed using the Oculus PC SDK, a free proprietary SDK available for Microsoft Windows (OSX and Linux support is planned for the future). This is a feature complete SDK which handles the difficult aspects of making content for a virtual reality headset for the developer, such as the optical distortion and advanced rendering techniques.
The Oculus SDK is directly integrated with the popular game engines Unity 5, Unreal Engine 4, and Cryengine. This allows for developers of non-VR content to create content with little to no VR-specific code.
The Rift is an open platform, and thus developers do not need any approval or verification to develop, distribute, or sell content for it, and do not have to pay any licensing fees. The SDK however cannot be modified or reused for other purposes without permission.
Content developed for the Development Kit 2 will be compatible with the Rift, however content developed for the Development Kit 1 will have to be upgraded to the latest SDK version to be compatible.
Oculus has stated that the Rift is primarily a gaming device and that their main content focus will be gaming.
Existing games with a first person or fixed-camera perspective can be ported to VR with some development effort, however Oculus has stated that the best virtual reality games will be those that are designed for the Rift from the start.
A number of AAA games have already added Rift support (and can be played with the Development Kit 2), including Project CARS, Elite: Dangerous, Euro Truck Simulator 2, and Dirt Rally, as well as a number of indie games such as Aaaaa! and Ether One. Fans and hobbyists have also modded support for the Rift into several popular titles which allow for extensive low-level modding, including Minecraft and Flight Simulator X.
In June 2015, Crytek announced a VR game called Robinson: The Journey, the first third party AAA VR exclusive game announced for the Rift.
At the release event for the Rift in June 2015, Oculus announced 9 launch titles for the Rift, including EVE: Valkyrie by CCP and Edge of Nowhere by Insomniac Games. It also announced that it was working with other developers including Final Fantasy developer Square Enix , Guitar Hero developer Harmonix, and The Order: 1886 developer Ready at Dawn.
In July 2015, Oculus revealed that it was fully funding more than 20 second party high production value games made exclusively for the Rift, one of these being Insomniac’s Edge of Nowhere.
Oculus is including Oculus Cinema as a free application , which will allow the Rift to be used to view conventional movies and videos from inside a virtual cinema environment, giving the user the perception of viewing the content on a cinema sized screen. There are also a number of third party virtual cinema applications that offer extensions of this concept such as multiple users watching the same movie in the space virtual space.
The Rift also offers the opportunity to view new types of media that are difficult or impossible to view on regular monitors; 360° 3D videos and ‘virtual reality movies’ (an entirely new medium).
Spherical videos (commonly called 360° videos) can be viewed simply by the user moving their head around, and the Rift opens up the possibility for stereoscopic spherical videos (commonly called 360° 3D videos). In September 2014, NextVR announced that they would be using a $200,000 camera rig to produce 360° 3D content for the Rift, incluing short films, as well livestreaming live events such as sports or concerts in 360° 3D. In July 2015, Oculus announced a deal with Canadian film company Felix & Paul Studios to produce 360° 3D videos for the Rift.
The Rift also supports new medium of entertainment experiences, which Oculus calls ‘virtual reality movies’. Oculus has established Oculus Story Studio to develop this type of content for the Rift, a team which has multiple former employees from major VFX companies such as PIXAR and ILM. Oculus Story Studio showed off its first VR movie, Lost, at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, gaining positive reviews from attendees.
The studio intends to have 5 VR shorts released with the Rift at launch, including Lost, Bullfighter, Henry, Dear Angelica, and Kabloom.
Oculus believes that social applications will be the most popular virtual reality experiences in the long term. A number of social applications for the Rift are in development, and it is expected that there will be significant competition in the sector.
In May 2015, AltspaceVR launched a public beta for DK2 owners to try out their social VR platform. AltspaceVR allows people to inhabit a shared virtual space with spatial voice communications, cast content from the internet on virtual screens, interact with objects (allowing activities such as playing chess or other board games), and supports extra hardware like eye tracking and body tracking.
In 2013, Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life, left Linden Lab to work on a new virtual world designed for the Rift, called High Fidelity, which will link thousands of user-hosted virtual environments together into a consistent virtual world.
In May 2015, Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, announced that they too were working on a new virtual world, codenamed Project Sansar, built for virtual reality headsets such as the Rift and Gear VR. Like Second Life, Sansar will be hosted on Linden’s servers and lease virtual land to players, on which they can build and sell virtual items and services (which Liden will take a cut of). Linden Lab hopes to release Sansar by the end of 2016
As well as consumer uses, the Rift has attracted significant interest from industry and professional spheres for productivity enhancement, visualisation, and advertising.
A number of architecture firms have been experimenting with using the Rift for visualisation and design. With the right software, the Rift allows architects to see exactly what their building will look like, and get an understating of the scale that is impossible on a traditional monitor.
In early 2015, Audi started using Rift Developer Kit 2’s at dealerships to help customers configure the car they are interested in, as well as to see what driving a race in the car would be like.
The Norwegian Army has been experimenting with the Rift Development Kit 2 to allow for a greater situational awareness of armoured vehicle drivers and commanders.