By July 24, 2013 Read More →

The coolest booth at Siggraph

Oculus is showing off the next version of its Rift virtual reality gaming goggles by appointment only.

In a back corner of the exhibition hall at this year’s Siggraph conference in Anaheim sits a 10×10 white box with a door, a temporary private office used at trade shows. To knock on the flimsy aluminum door causes the entire booth to rattle. “I was told to ask for Joe,” I said when someone opened the door. “This must be what entering a speakeasy during Prohibition was like,” I thought to myself.

The coolest booth at Siggraph 2013 does not have giant signs, flashy devices or an army of marketing people. (Source: JPR)

The coolest booth at Siggraph 2013 does not have giant signs, flashy devices or an army of marketing people. (Source: JPR)

Inside the poorly lit, cramped space is one tiny table, four chairs, one computer, and a rigged-up prototype of a visual device gamers can’t wait to get their hands on. It is the second generation Oculus Rift, a headset that provides gamers with an immersive 3D experience, a virtual reality view into the fantasy worlds created by today’s leading games.

The first generation Rift is currently on sale only to developers; Oculus has sold more than 18,000 units. The two guys staffing the Oculus booth/box are both developers looking to encourage other developers to take a look. It’s not a hard sell. To put on the headset is to be transported into the middle of whatever fantasy world is loaded up as a game. The player becomes completely immersed inside. Turn your head left or right, look up or down, or twist around and look behind you; the game is all around you.

Oculus began life as a Kickstarter project, and was wildly oversubscribed. The founders are now using the money to develop the second-generation Rift, which will display in 1080p HD resolution. The prototype I wore for the demo at Siggraph was assembled from off-the-shelf electronics, a couple of 3D printed plastic parts, and homemade straps. “As you can see, we have a lot of industrial design work ahead,” said Palmer Luckey, co-founder and one of 30 Oculus employees.

Oculus is being shy about a release date for the commercial version, saying only it will be months, not years, before the product is generally available. The first release will be for PC-based games; compatibility with consoles is a future possibility. The company knows seeing is believing, and will probably work with brick-and-mortar stores to fan the flames of desire in the gaming community. But after my few minutes wearing the Rift, as a non-gamer I can tell you word of mouth is the only advertising Oculus will need. I found the experience utterly fascinating, if at times a little overwhelming. I flew to the top of an active volcano and walked around a 20-foot tall monster. When you play a game on a flat screen, you cannot even come close to appreciating heights and distances as you can when wearing the Rift goggles. Oculus has an absolute hit on its hands.

Do not disturb; the writer is busy flying to the top of an active volcano. (Source: JPR)

Do not disturb; the writer is busy flying to the top of an active volcano. (Source: JPR)

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About the Author:

Randall S. Newton is Managing Editor of GraphicSpeak. He has been writing about engineering and design technologies for more than 25 years.

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