Palmer Luckey and the Oculus Rift crew said they had something new to show off at CES 2014, so I met up with them to try out the new prototype virtual reality headset. The revival of virtual reality has been progressing along very nicely. First came the 720p-resolution developer kits, then the company showed off a 1080p HD headset, and now Oculus Rift has hit another milestone with "Crystal Cove," the latest prototype VR headset.
Crystal Cove is a modified version of the 1080p model I saw at E3 2013. The only difference is that Crystal Cove has little dots on the front of the headset that allows a custom camera to track its movement using infrared. The other improvement Crystal Cove has is something called "low-persistence." In layman's terms, it means the motion blur found on the dev kit has been virtually eliminated.
I was treated to two demos. The first was a game demo made with Unreal Engine 4 that you viewed from a third-person overhead perspective. With positional tracking, you could lean in and out instead of only being able to look around on an x and y-axis. So lean in and out I did. There were little goblins running around the level and as I leaned in, I could see them up close. Instead of feeling like I was observing them from afar, I suddenly felt like I was right in the middle of the level, up close with a magnifying glass; the goblins ready to be scooped up in my hand. When it came time to take off Crystal Cove, I just kept thinking of how great games would be with the ability to lean in and look at things more closely. Can you imagine a game like Pikmin where you can lean in and find hidden treasures you wouldn't be able to see from a fixed camera view? Positional tracking opens up a world of new creative gaming possibilities.
The second demo was Eve Valkyrie, a first-person perspective game where you're a pilot in a spaceship. I was shown the demo with and without the low-persistence and the reduction in blur was immediately noticeable. Text that would normally have been impossible to read while turning your head left and right quickly is now readable; it's not perfect yet, but baby steps. I've tried this same demo before with the dev kit and, well, with positional tracking, I was able to finally lean in and get closer to my digital legs with Crystal Cove.
From my brief demo, I can tell you positional tracking adds realism and depth to virtual reality. It's another step towards virtual reality that mimics reality correctly. Crystal Cove is a big update to the Oculus Rift, but you won't be able to get your hands on a dev kit just yet. Palmer says it's only a prototype for now, but all of the tech should make it into the final consumer version of the Oculus Rift (whenever that happens).
Again, there's no timetable for when the Oculus Rift will launch. It'll launch when the tech is ready and there is actual content (not just demos) available. Palmer's in no rush to get Oculus Rift out in final form. Right now, it's all about spreading the word about Oculus Rift VR renaissance and what its evolving technologies will bring.
Palmer also commented on the rumored development of a 4K-resolution Oculus Rift. "It [the reports of a 4K model] was taken out of context," says Palmer. He told DVICE point-blank that there is no 4K version in development right now. That's a bummer because as good as the 1080p HD Oculus Rift looks (and it does look a magnitude better than the 720p dev kit model), its pixels are still quite large and distracting.
Posted on location at CES 2014. All photos taken by Raymond Wong for DVICE.