The promise of virtual reality was all the rage in the 90s, but didn’t go anywhere because the headsets were laggy, low-resolution, had small fields of view, and made their users sick.
Today, the Oculus Rift is ushering in a new wave of virtual reality technology, with over 17,000 development kits already in the hands of video game designers. The Rift has been receiving rave reviews from everyone in the gaming industry, and from folks outside it, as well, like our own architect Jon Brouchoud.
In fact, the only bad review I’ve read so far was from one guy complaining about the “screen door effect” caused by the low resolution in the development version of the Oculus Rift, a problem which has been fixed in the latest, higher-resolution version.
I used to think that the mobile trend was a distraction from the move to virtual reality. A quick side trip. But it turns out that, in fact, mobile devices were a key stepping stone. The mass production of smartphones has created an all-out war for the best screens and accelerometers, both of which are key components for successful virtual reality goggles. Previously, the screens were too slow, too big, and too expensive, as were the accelerometers, resulting in headsets that were heavy and cost tens of thousands of dollars each.
The Oculus Rift, by comparison, costs just $300 for the development version, and prices will likely drop with mass production, competition, and continuous improvement of the technology.
The Rift seems set to usher in a new age of virtual reality.
But it’s also ushering in a new age of experimentation with interface hardware design. Not minor improvements to a mouse or joystick, but dramatic new types of hardware.