The news that Facebook snapped up the VR startup Oculus Rift this week brought the tech into the limelight and kicked off a heated debate over the social giant’s plans.
Thanks to the media frenzy, a brand everyone had heard of brought one very few knew existed into mainstream conversation. I didn’t need to Google ‘Oculus’ or ‘Rift’, I had one on my desk.
When I say Oculus Rift isn’t new to me, I’m not being dismissive. Far from it – it’s my job to know about this stuff, assess the relevance of future platforms and create stunning content for it.
Rift has been on our radar (and our heads) at Brandwidth since its original Kickstarter campaign and we’ve had plenty of time to consider incredible possibilities for the future. The concept and rudimentary equipment has been around for decades but the whole platform fell out of favour until recently when Oculus reignited the flame of innovation in this area, along with Sony’s intention to compete with their Project Morpheus.
Virtual Reality (VR) is back, helped in no small measure by Google’s own efforts to tempt consumers to strap technology to their faces and massive advancements in CGI and screen resolution.
OK, it’s not back just yet but the technology is. Oculus Rift content and the delivery platform it requires haven’t launched yet but 2014 is the year it finally hits homes as well as developers’ desks.
So what is it? Well, it’s a black box with a screen over each eye to simulate an immersive 3D environment and motion sensors to track head movements. It’s this experience of looking around the digital landscape that truly transports you to another world. Add a set of stereo headphones and the effect is complete... or is it?
The moment you dip into this virtual world, you’ll be hooked. From rollercoaster rides to epic space battles to eerie haunted houses, the virtual feels real. But what’s missing? You are.
The next big steps will come from the ability to place yourself within these incredible environments. Using Leap gestural units, MYO armbands or bluetooth-connected smartphones, you’ll be able to see your virtual body parts in front of you. At Brandwidth we’re already using iPhones as light sabres – who wouldn’t want to get their hands on one of those inside Rift?
Surely there isn’t another step? Actually, there is. We now have the opportunity to add other people to your virtual world to share the ultimate storytelling experience, explore epic worlds like Disney’s Infinity, or meet in virtual shopping malls, showrooms or conference facilities. Social plug-ins are an obvious move.
Yes, I can see why Mark Zuckerburg wanted to add Oculus Rift to his growing portfolio. but also, if you’ve got the billions to invest and you love technology, why wouldn’t you?
There’s a business case here but there’s also a chance for Facebook to add scale and creative potential through investment dollars that may never have been achieved had they not come on board. The development units (even the new MkII) aren’t yet truly mobile. Freedom from cables and a computer will really move the game on, but we may need to wait for the second generation consumer model for this.
Instantly visit the four corners of the earth, relive history as you walk in the footsteps of astronauts, Presidents or dinosaurs or allow surgeons to operate from within a body. That’s progress.
No, the future’s not all white and shiny if many will sit in a darkened room in their underwear with a pizza on their laps, immersing themselves in virtual worlds... but the technology is undeniably awe inspiring.