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To Oculus and beyond: Peering into the future of virtual reality at GDC 2014

Hayden Dingman | March 24, 2014
It's hard to believe it was barely a year ago when the first Oculus Rift prototypes shipped to developers. Shortly thereafter, the first tentative games arrived, more stabs in the dark than real products--experiments in this untested frontier. Where would the limits come? Who would develop the first mass-production game for virtual reality? No one knew.

It's hard to believe it was barely a year ago when the first Oculus Rift prototypes shipped to developers. Shortly thereafter, the first tentative games arrived, more stabs in the dark than real products — experiments in this untested frontier. Where would the limits come? Who would develop the first mass-production game for virtual reality? No one knew.

But you wouldn't know virtual reality is still in its infancy if you wandered the Game Developers Conference show floor this week.

Scattered around Moscone Center in San Francisco were no less than four — and maybe more? — VR headsets, a plethora of different input methods, and even a shot-for-virtual-reality film. Yes, virtual reality's future is dizzying, both figuratively and (occasionally) literally.

VR headsets: Oculus Rift still reigns, but competition's brewing

As of last week, there was only one virtual reality device worth paying attention to: the Oculus Rift. And you know what? When it comes to the PC, that fact hasn't really changed.

Chalk it up to the Oculus team's head start. Chalk it up to the research they receive from Valve. Chalk it up to the fact that the company has attracted some of the top virtual reality talent in the entire nation. Regardless, Oculus is still the company to beat.

The new Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2 (DK2) looks nearly identical to last year's model — same flat-black case (ditching the Crystal Cove prototype's white-dots-on-front look), similar shape and size. Were it not for the "Development Kit 2" emblazoned on the front, you might not realize it was new at all.

Until you put it on, that is. DK2's vastly upgraded resolution, with 900-by-1080-pixel screens for both eyes, makes the original Dev Kit seem like a toy in comparison. The new OLED panel is also low-persistence, so you'll experience less motion blur and judder, two of the key factors that made people feel sick with the original model.

There's also an external camera, which is used for DK2's newest feature: positional tracking. The original Dev Kit tracked head motion, so you could turn your head in real life and your gaze would shift change in-game. DK2 makes use of an external camera to add another range of motion: leaning. Lean forward to read some text in EVE: Valkyrie, or lean side-to-side to peer around corners, and the camera picks up your motion and translates it to the game.

Add in the bed of developers Oculus has built up, its support for others in the community (even competitors), and its price — $350 for DK2, which Oculus's vice president of product Nate Mitchell told me is "aggressive" — and yeah, Oculus is still the company to beat.

 

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