Oculus Rift: The Facts
Release date: Out now
Kickstartered back in 2013 to the tune of more than $2.4 million, the Oculus Rift headset has been through more prototypes - or at least visible ones - than any other on this list. A buyout by Facebook for $2 billion means the Oculus Rift has been the most talked about VR headset in the world. Plus, thanks to various iterations of dev kits being available to buy from the Oculus site, hundreds of PC games already work with the headset. Add in an incoming official version of VR Minecraft and the implementation of 360 degree Facebook videos, and there's no shortage of ways to lose your grip on actual reality.
Now we've finally got the consumer version of the headset, it's a beautiful evolution from the early days of the original dev kits. Headphones are built in and a stylish black sensor tracks your position using what’s known as ‘constellation tracking’ that covers your full 360 degree surroundings and will see you whether you’re sitting down or standing up. The Oculus Rift headset comes with an Oculus remote and an Xbox One controller in the box and a copy of 3D platformer Lucke's Tale. Those who pre-ordered were also gifted a copy of EVE: Valkyrie.
That $599 price tag might be expensive but that hasn't put off eager buyers and if you buy now on the official site, you'll still have to wait until July to get your very own Rift. And don't forget, you'll need a PC with at least a GTX 970 or AMD R9 290 graphics card to be fully VR ready.
Oculus Rift: The controllers
Every Oculus Rift headset comes with an Xbox One controller in the box, but later this year, there's something significantly more exciting inbound in the shape of the Oculus Touch. Don’t let the fact that they look a little like the Wii’s Nunchuks fool you. These controllers are without a doubt the best VR inputs of the bunch. Each controller is equipped with face buttons, an analogue stick and a magical finger sensing loop that understands the placement of your digits. As such, this means that the digital hands in front of you - which are tracked by an additional set of sensors - feel far too much like your own.
There are fewer things more joyful than cautiously raising a thumb in the real world and watching a digital version do exactly the same thing. With separate control of your thumb, index finger and then the rest of your fist, Oculus Touch literally hands you a new world of interactivity. I flicked open a Zippo lighter, picked up a pair of laser guns, and then steered a toy tank with a remote control that just happens to have an analogue stick similar to the one in my real paw. Light enough to disappear into the back of your mind but utterly intuitive, these are the controllers to beat.
Oculus Rift: The experience
If that embarrassing Time Magazine cover proved anything, it’s that there’s no way to show you what VR is like without your experiencing it. There’s no real way to tell you how it feels when someone puts the headset on you and puts Oculus Touch controllers in your hands. My demo took me to a room with a table covered in blocks and toys, with the faceless digital avatar of my host - who just happened Palmer Luckey - opposite. And no, knowing that he was in an entirely separate room behind me made me no less convinced that I was standing opposite him.
The experience was beautifully simple, a world away from dizzying rollercoaster demos. We punched a balloon back and forth with a gentle buzz acknowledging the interaction. I fired a slingshot with two hands. He shrank me with a laser gun. But it was the simplest moments that were the most incredible. The 360 degree world almost felt secondary to the fact that we could pass one another items. Luckey handed me a sparkler and without even thinking about how I did it, I took it. Having only been with the controls for a few minutes, this already felt natural. Yes, the screen is incredible, yes, I forgot I was in a dark room alone but, most importantly, I held a sparkler and happily wrote my name in the air. It will be the future of these little moments that make virtual reality truly exceptional.