Eyes-on with the Oculus Crystal Cove prototype and EVE: Valkyrie
At CES 2014, Oculus was demonstrating their latest virtual reality headset prototype, the Crystal Cove. What differentiates this model from what we've seen over the last year is that an array of sensors on the front of the headset transmit to a camera which is connected to the computer you're using in order to provide greater positional information. This tech enables all sorts of new interactions when bobbing and weaving your head, not just rotating it around a fixed sphere of perspective. The update also includes refinements which significantly reduce motion blurring.
The game that's making the biggest splash on this early hardware is EVE: Valkyrie. This is a beautiful sci-fi dogfighting game where players climb into a realistic space fighter, and shoot it out with other players online. When I walked in to try out Oculus for the first time, I assumed it would just expand my field of view, which in and of itself is great. What took me awhile to learn is that moving your head actually enabled a second set of crosshairs aside from the traditional front-facing ones. You could be looking over your shoulder to get a missile lock while trailing bogeys ahead of you. As you can see from the video, it took me a little while to get rid of old habits, though the amazing amount of immersion also made it hard to concentrate on anything the nice Oculus guy was trying to direct me to. After playing, it's very easy to see that Oculus stands to expand user interaction, not just viewing.
It's hard to look at people using VR headsets and not see them as just a little silly, but when you strap on something like the Oculus Crystal Cove headset, you very quickly stop caring about what you look like to the outside. After taking off my headset, Joe said "welcome back", which is entirely apt - you certainly lose yourself in whatever virtual world you happen to load up. That said, the only thing that's obviously missing at this point from a feature side is hand and gesture recognition. It's hard to put such a believable world in front of someone's eyes and not expect them to try to reach out to touch it. Conveniently enough, the Leap Motion guys were right around the corner from Oculus at CES, and they've already been tinkering to get their high fidelity infrared motion sensor to play nice with the headset. Leap is also playing around with a mobile implementation, which we're looking forward to.
Oculus is still a ways out from retail, though they won't give any specifics on when or how much one of these bad boys are going to cost. Developer kits are available for $300 though, so that should give us an idea of what the retail pricetag is going to look like.
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