After trying on Sony's virtual reality headset earlier in the week, we had pretty low expectations for VR at CES. It was a fine experience, but inevitably conjured up images of 90s-era hype for the technology, with users "truly immersed" in a fully virtual world—conveniently leaving out the problems with motion sickness, blurry images, and lack of actual immersion. Having now tried the Oculus Rift, we actually believe the industry might be ready to fulfill that hype with a product that works just as advertised.
The first thing we noticed about the Rift was the fit. Unlike other headsets we tried at the show, the Rift fit snugly and comfortably, even around glasses. Once the demo booted up, we were blown away by the level of immersion it offered—namely that it offered any at all. First of all, the virtual screen was much larger on the Rift than other headsets we'd seen, and took up almost the entire field of view. The head tracking technology was also incredibly responsive, one of the new features of Crystal Cove (Oculus Rift version 2.0). Not only were we able to turn our heads to look around freely, but we were able to lean forward to better read monitors or see around obstacles. The device picked up even our smallest head tilts, which really did wonders for immersion. By comparison, the Sony headset desynced easily, and we had to turn our head increasingly to the side to maintain a forward-looking perspective.
We got the chance to try two demos at the Oculus Rift booth. The first was a first-person flying simulator that put us in the cockpit of our very own spaceship. Traditionally, you can only fire forward in such games, but with the Rift we were able to control a targeting reticule by looking at a target regardless of our position. The Rift enabled more varied gameplay, and we were able to fly underneath enemy ships, look up, and shoot. We were also able to strafe around enemy ships while firing. It was surprising how this different method of control could make such a familiar-looking game feel so new.
The second demo was fairly short and less involved, but showed how a tower defense game played from a third-person perspective might work. We were able to micromanage parts of a trap-laden maze by leaning forward to zoom in on different areas. It wasn't necessarily as immersive as the first-person flight game, but used the technology in a different way that definitely worked.
The only bad news: There's currently no release date slated, so we're not sure how soon we'll be able to get our hands on a production model. Until it's available on shelves, we'll definitely be watching this one closely.