Oculus kicks off virtual reality's slow-motion revolution

By Joshua Brustein

The Oculus Rift will be the first high-end virtual reality product to hit households this year. Photo / AP
The Oculus Rift will be the first high-end virtual reality product to hit households this year. Photo / AP

The first Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets began shipping Monday, 3 and a half years after it was first launched as a Kickstarter project and two years after Facebook bought the company for $2 billion.

The launch ushers in the official beginning of a new era of virtual reality, though even the most enthusiastic acolytes recognize it won't change the world overnight.

Professional technology reviews have been mostly positive, with the most effusive proclaiming it the best new device since the iPhone.

Oculus Rift is now available for pre-order
For virtual reality creators, motion sickness a real issue

Adi Robertson of the Verge calls the first version of the Oculus a "solid foundation for what's to come." Setting up the headset is a significantly bigger task than flipping on a new smartphone, though, and games can take a long time to download, wrote Brian X. Chen in the New York Times.

Headsets continue to cause problems with nausea for some users, even though the companies making them have insisted for the past few years that they're on the brink of solving the problem. Oculus recently announced a new feature in its latest software for developers intended to reduce motion sickness. As it stands, people who use virtual reality report a range of sensitivity to the uncomfortable physical effects of the technology.

All this means that virtual reality is likely to remain a pastime of hard-core gamers and early adopters. Oculus is a US$600 (NZ$890) headset that requires a powerful computer to run, bringing the total price into at least the US$1,500 (NZ$2225) range.

About 30 games are available for the device, which can also be used to view 360-degree videos and photographs. Analysts think that Oculus's impact on Facebook's business this year will fall somewhere between a rounding error and a nonevent.

Several competing devices are expected to arrive later this year.

The Vive, a headset made by HTC and Valve, will begin shipping next month and is designed to be worn while standing up and walking around. Sony says it will begin selling its Playstation VR headset in October. The Sony device is significantly cheaper than its competitors and works with a gaming console instead of a high-end PC.

These devices join even cheaper virtual reality headsets such as Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR, which use smartphones as screens to give less sophisticated experiences.

Now that Oculus is officially out there in the world, the task of figuring out exactly what this technology is good for can begin in earnest.

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