What is an Oculus Rift?

Two years ago, a guy named Palmer Luckey launched a Kickstarter campaign to build the next great Virtual Reality headset. The idea was to make a headset using modern technology to eliminate problems found with VR headsets in the past — specifically nausea and general discomfort when wearing the headset. Oculus Rift was pitched to the world as the future of VR, and it was going to accomplish this goal by being more immersive, more comfortable, and more capable than any other headset available at the time.

The Kickstarter was explosively successful, and over the last two years Oculus has been carefully refining their original design to be more capable and more featureful. There have been several developer versions of the hardware, but the final version that is now shipping is very different from the previous iterations.

Oculus Rift is the first of a new generation of Virtual Reality experiences that work hard to eliminate the problems found in previous generations, making it possible to set up in your home with ease.

Xbox Oculus

How is Oculus Rift better than normal gaming?

What makes gaming in Oculus Rift special is the ability to move your head around and have that movement translate into the game world. Being able to actually look up and glance at the rear-view mirror when driving a car, or turning around to see what monster is creeping up behind you. It's an experience that makes your feel like you're a part of the game, and that's something you can't ever get by looking at a computer monitor or television while playing your game.

It's full immersion, and the motion tracking is advanced enough to make those movements feel real as you look around or dodge or even just stare at the ceiling of your favorite building.

What is inside the Oculus Rift?

Plastic casing holds a pair of displays that you view through a pair of custom-made lenses. Those lenses take the flat images on the screen and warp them to give the illusion of filling your field of view. When it all works together, the lenses and the displays create a feeling of depth, like you're looking into another world entirely.

On the outer shell, covered in a special fabric, several infrared sensors project light in every direction. This light is recorded by a special camera, which is placed in front of you when you sit down to use Oculus Rift. As long as the camera can see those lights, the images in the headset will move as your head moves, furthering the feeling that you are somewhere else entirely.

Does this work on its own or do I have to plug it into something?

Oculus Rift needs a computer to run, and the minimum system requirements for that PC are significant. Those requirements include a video card equivalent to the Nvidia Geforce 970 and 8GB of RAM, which immediately renders most laptops and desktops under $1,000 unable to power this experience.

There are some computers that can be easily upgraded to support Oculus Rift, but in many cases a new PC or laptop will less expensive than the time and money needed to upgrade.

What's it like to use?

Using this system is almost like playing any other video game. What makes gaming in Oculus Rift special is the ability to move your head around and have that movement translate into the game world. Being able to actually look up and glance at the rear-view mirror when driving a car, or turning around to see what monster is creeping up behind you. It's an experience that makes your feel like you're a part of the game, and that's something you can't ever get by looking at a computer monitor or television while playing your game.

It's full immersion, and the motion tracking is advanced enough to make those movements feel real as you look around or dodge or even just stare at the ceiling of your favorite building.

Oculus Home

This sounds uncomfortable

Oculus Rift was designed to be as comfortable as possible, but there's only so far that can go when wearing a plastic block on your face. The headset is designed to keep the weight off your nose, and as long as you don't wear glasses you can slide the headset on like a baseball cap.

For the most part, you'll know when it is time to take Oculus Rift off. Any kind of discomfort or eye strain is usually a good indicator that it's time to take a break. Nausea in the VR headsets of old was largely the result of something called cue correction. In a nutshell, your brain interpreted a certain type of motion from your eyes but your body wasn't experiencing the same motion signals. That confusion frequently lead to nausea, which is why Oculus worked so hard to make sure head tracking in this headset was so precise.

Since your head movements sync up almost perfectly with what you're seeing in the headset, there's far fewer opportunities for cue correction to be an issue. That doesn't mean nausea is impossible, but it is significantly less likely in this headset and there are very few reports of nausea as a result.

But is it safe for kids?

Oculus makes it very clear in their health and safety information that this headset should not be worn by anyone under the age of 13. According to Oculus, the headset is not sized for children and can lead to complications with visual development as a result.

Beyond age 13, the same rules apply. Take the headset off when you start to feel uncomfortable.

What kind of games are there?

Developers of every kind have been working on games for Oculus Rift. There are racing games, shooting games, role-playing games, and even some fun adventure games that take advantage of transporting you somewhere else just to look around and solve puzzles.

If you're used to buying game consoles like the Xbox or PlayStation, you're used to seeing big names associated with the console at launch to help encourage you to buy a healthy selection of games to get started. Oculus has worked with many different companies to fill their store with some incredible games, but since this experience is wildly different from a console you're not likely to see many of those big names show up until the companies responsible for those games can figure out how to make the experience work well with the new rules.

Check out our five must-have games for the Oculus Rift!

Is there anything other than games?

There are a few things you can do that don't involve shooting spaceships or dodging cave monsters. Oculus supports several 360-degree video services to get a high resolution look at the environments captures with those special cameras. The big push with these experiences is looking at the whole world, and not just a tiny prepared window.

You can also enjoy some unique Desktop experiences, like the ability to turn your computer into a floating workstation with several screens to look at all at once. Your headset becomes your computer, and you can control it in some really unique ways.

So yeah, there's a lot more than just games here.

Oculus Rift

Okay, the Oculus Rift sounds awesome. How do I get one?

Oculus Rift is currently available to order, but getting one right this second is a little challenging. There are currently some shipping delays from Oculus, delaying the headset by months in some cases. Once these issues are resolved, Oculus will have the Rift available to purchase not only online but also at several physical retailers with demo stations for you to try before buying.