Update: It's E3 2013, and it's been several months since TechRadar last saw Oculus Rift. The virtual reality headset has undergone two major changes since January: a new prototype now comes with full HD 1080p visuals, and it's now got something resembling an actual video game.
We went hands on at the show to check out what's new with Oculus Rift, and we came away extremely impressed.
Oculus VR is now using Epic's Unreal Engine 4 to demo its Rift headset. Specifically, the company is showing players the lava and snow demo that debuted in videos in late March. Wearing the standard-definition headset (similar to the one we saw at CES, but with an extra top strap for added comfort), we felt like we should be able to catch a snowflake with an open mouth when we looked up at the virtual sky.
It's that real-looking, and when we put on the brand new prototype HD Oculus Rift that sensation was only heightened.
Oculus Rift is incredibly immersive, and part of that is thanks to its true stereoscopic 3D. The two screens inside the goggles become extensions of your own eyeballs, and your brain quickly adapts to the point that you'll raise your arm and expect to see them in the game world. You can truly sense the world's depth, and despite knowing it's an illusion it feels very real.
We didn't experience any nausea, but we only used it for a few minutes. We did get a touch of vertigo as we looked down from the top of a virtual mountain, though.
The consumer version of Oculus Rift, which Oculus VR Vice President of Product Nate Mitchell said is coming in "months and not years," will likely come in HD like the prototype we saw at E3. As you can imagine it's absolutely a superior experience.
Mitchell was hesitant to divulge too many specifics, though, mostly because they're always subject to change. "We want to continue to improve the hardware," he said. "Display technology keeps getting better. Sensor technology keeps getting better. We're adding new features and things like that, a lot of which we haven't announced."
He said they want to keep the price point around $300 (about UK£191, AU$312), though.
To infinity (and beyond)
The other big development in the world of Oculus Rift came not from Oculus VR itself, but from EVE Online developers CCP Games. The first development kits for the headset went out a few months ago, and in that time CCP built an impressive demo that they showed off at E3 this week.
In it players fly a spaceship using an Xbox 360 controller while the Oculus Rift tracks their head movements. This works incredibly well because just like when you're controlling a vehicle in real life, you can look around and move independently.
The multiplayer demo - which unfortunately is just that, a tech demo - allowed multiple players to fly around in a large outer space environment while shooting lasers and missiles at one another. We could shoot lasers straight forward while targeting other players above and to the sides of our ship by simply moving our head and visually targeting them.
The sense of space in this demo (no pun intended) was simply astounding. Tilting our head down, we could see our knees in the game; we found ourselves moving our arms and expecting our in-game avatar's arms to move as well.
That sensation caused some dissonance as our brain tried to differentiate the virtual body it was seeing from the body it's attached to. That could be solved with a Kinect-style sensor that tracked your arm movements used in tandem with Oculus Rift, though Mitchell said they don't have plans for anything like that.
The dev kits are out there, though, and it's not impossible. In fact, it seems we're just beginning to explore the possibilities of Oculus Rift, and if what we've seen so far is any indication then it's time to get very, very excited for what's in store.
Original article: Oculus Rift made headlines last year for its wildly successful Kickstarter project. The enterprise to create a commercially viable virtual reality headset raised $2,437,429, and at the pre-CES 2013 Digital Experience event, TechRadar got to experience Oculus Rift eyeball-to-eyeball.
The VR headset has been through several iterations, but the one we saw at CES was the most refined. It isn't perfect (and as we found out, it might not ever be perfect for some players) but it's undoubtedly superior to any previous attempts at a virtual reality display.
Instead of a clunky skull-encompassing helmet, Occulus Rift is more like a set of ski goggles, with room inside for small eyeglasses if you wear them.
Inside are two lenses, which each feed a separate 640 x 800 image to your eyeballs. Combined, they form a unified 1280 x 800 image.
Motion tracking means it responds to your head movements, as though you're looking around an actual 3D environment.
Oculus VR (the company behind Rift) showed off its remarkable new kit with the Epic Citadel demo - a standard video game input (in this case, from Xbox 360) in first-person view.
This plunged us into a medieval marketplace populated by humble townsfolk and knights in armour, with snow softly settling around us.
Wear it well
The first time we moved was rather perplexing and disorienting. It's almost like walking for the very first time.
However, the visuals seem extremely fluid and natural. And in less than a minute, we felt that Oculus Rift really could be the new face of playing games.
Unfortunately, not long after that TechRadar's motion-sickness susceptible reviewer began to feel something else. He was only able to tolerate ten minutes before nausea spoiled the party.
The time it takes for sickness to kick in appears to depend on the game's frame rate, camera system and other factors that have yet to be isolated.
But surprisingly, while Oculus VR's representatives say this initial reaction is common among first-timers, they also report that most (though not all) players subsequently become accustomed to the experience.
There is still no target release date for the final product, let alone price. At CES, two versions were shown: the somewhat rough prototype, which is covered by black tape; and the developer kit, which looks far more polished.
But whenever it appears, Oculus Rift seems set to mark a big shift in gaming. Clearly, though, there's work to do if the headset is to fulfill its potential - we can't see it becoming truly popular if it gets a reputation for making players sick.