The explosive popularity of the Oculus Rift headset has launched a revolution for virtual reality, promising to make it more immersive than ever
I SHOULDN'T have looked down. I'm balancing on a narrow stone beam between two buildings, with a drop either side that plunges into the tree canopy far, far below. The wind howls. My legs feel shaky. The room I'm edging towards is just a tantalising few steps in front of me. Arms outstretched for balance, I'm almost there when I suddenly wobble and fall, head spinning, into the jungle.
This is what it is like to experience Oculus Rift: the headset that is poised to single-handedly resurrect virtual reality, a technology that seemed to have fallen by the wayside years ago.
The Rift burst onto the scene last August as a Kickstarter project that went massive. More than 9000 backers raised $2.4 million in crowdfunding to develop the headset – eclipsing its $250,000 goal. Some 5000 people who pledged $300 or more were rewarded with the Oculus Rift developer's kit, so they could craft apps for the rig. The first of them are being delivered now.
The device itself provides two separate images, one for each eye, that together give the wearer a 110-degree field of view that fills their peripheral vision. Coupled with a head-tracking sensor and a high frame rate that prevents the image "dragging" as you whip your head around, you can really get the feeling of immersion.
"In the past, there have been too many things standing in the way of successful VR," says Palmer Luckey, the hardware hacker who came up with the idea for the Rift in his bedroom. "We now have extremely powerful computers, lifelike game engines, high-resolution displays and high-precision motion tracking technology."