For those unaware, the Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset being developed primarily for video games, with the hope of placing you into the virtual world. The device recently finished its Kickstarter funding campaign, pulling in roughly $2.4 million. The team behind the Oculus Rift were in attendance at PAX Prime this year, and were kind enough to give us a hands on eyes on demo with the device. For demo purposes, they were showing the game off using a modified version of Doom 3 for PC.

The headset was surprisingly lightweight, yet the team assured me this prototype was quite a bit heavier than the final model would be. The prototype headset itself consisted of the VR front components, a strap from a set of ski goggles, and the whole thing was held together with duct tape. After some assistance getting the headset on and adjusting it to find the “sweet spot” for viewing, it became evident why so many publishers are excited over this device. The headset completely blocks out any outside light, so that your entire field of view is coming from the game. I took a few moments to orient myself, looking in every direction to test the head tracking. It honestly was amazing at how smoothly it tracked my movement, with little to no lag. Tilting my head essentially functioned how the right analog stick would in a first person shooter. I was tempted to use the right stick to aim but after awhile I got more used to the new style of aiming. The team at Oculus really did a fantastic job of making you feel as though you are actually in the game world.

As impressive as the technology was, there were a couple shortcomings that were tough to overlook. After placing the headset on, I was initially disappointed by the resolution of the display. The resolution in each eye is 640 x 800, which in theory is supposed to create a 3D image of 1,280 x 800. Maybe I’ve just become spoiled by HD graphics, but it was almost difficult for me to enjoy the experience because the graphics were so distracting. Aspects of the environment that would normally be crisp were instead blurry and muddled. After playing for five or so minutes I started to notice it less and less, perhaps as my eyes adjusted to the display. The team mentioned that the decision on the resolution was to ensure that games would run at a consistent 60 frames per second. The second issue that I ran into, was motion sickness. Historically, I have never developed motion sickness from 3D TV’s, 3D movies in theaters, or the Nintendo 3DS, but for whatever reason with the Oculus, I was nauseous after only a 10 minute demo. The difference between a normal 3D display and the Oculus, is that the former is essentially looking through a 3D window, while the Oculus is your entire field of view. With a traditional 3D display you can still look at your surroundings to get your bearings. With the Oculus I started to develop a sense of vertigo. I was seeing myself running down hallways, climbing stairs, etc, yet every other sensory input told me I wasn’t in that environment, throwing my equilibrium off.

For the time being, the primary platform of focus is the PC, due to its open nature. Final units of the Oculus Rift are scheduled to ship out to developers in December, with no solid release schedule for retail. So far, two games have been confirmed for the device; Doom 3 BFG edition, and Hawken. The team has assured me that there are other developers still unannounced who are working with early prototypes, and that they will be looking toward the developer and mod community to really take advantage of the technology behind the device. As it gets into the hands of more developers, I envision that some really interesting things are going to start popping up. It’s tough to say at this point if I would prefer to use this over a traditional display, but I can see where it would have its advantages. As a proof of concept, the Oculus Rift proved to me that a VR headset can absolutely work in gaming, and I look forward to what developers have in store.