When it comes to virtual reality, Oculus is one of the very first names that come to mind. While modern VR is still in its infancy, Oculus has arguably established itself as a de facto leader, though competition continues to stiffen with the HTC Vive playing a close second, and the Sony Playstation VR preparing to launch soon with what is arguably the most mainstream setup of all “major” VR headsets so far.
Still, Oculus Rift is the original, and there’s a lot to like about it. But what exactly is the Rift, and what makes it stand out?
What the Rift is, and how it got started
Oculus was a little company that came out of nowhere, originally raising $2.5 million as part of a Kickstarter project to develop a VR headset. Soon the caught the attention of Facebook, which gave Oculus a much needed financial boost. Oculus’s vision for VR has been through various prototypes since making its debut on Kickstarter, around 5 of which have been displayed to the public.
Two of these public facing prototypes were made available to consumers to purchase as development kits: the DK1 in late 2012, and DK2 in mid 2014. On May 6, 2015, Oculus VR announced that the consumer version of its VR headset, the Oculus Rift CV1 (Commercial Version 1), was on its way.
The Rift uses an OLED panel for each eye and a high global refresh rate with low persistence, which allows for reduced motion blurring or judder that is experienced on regular monitors. Headphones are integrated to provide a 3D audio effect and there are multiple facial interfaces, which allows for the Rift to be used even while wearing glasses.
Content for the Rift is developed using the Oculus PC SDK, which is integrated with popular game engines Unity 5, Unreal Engine 4, and Cryengine, allowing for a familiar developing environment with the VR engine.
What are the requirements to use it?
When it first debuted, the Oculus Rift had some massively high requirements, but thanks to some breakthrough software improvements, Oculus now has lowered its required specs to get started with the Rift.
- GPU: NVIDIA 960 or greater
- CPU: Intel i3-6100 / AMD FX4350 or greater
- RAM: 8GB+
- Outputs: HDMI 1.3 video, 1 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0
- OS: Windows 8 or newer
In addition, Oculus has added a number of new laptops and desktops to its “certified for Oculus” program – with prices starting as low as $500. Looking for a good desktop or laptop that’s ready for VR? Check out the following lists:
What are its standout features?
The Oculus Rift has a number of special features when it comes to the hardware involved including:
- 1080 x 1200 per eye resolution
- 90 Hz refresh rate
- Integrated 3D audio headphones
- 360-degree rotational and positional tracking
- Xbox One Wireless Gamepad support
- (optional) Oculus Touch controllers
What is Constellation?
The positional tracking system used in the Rift to keep track of the user’s head movements is called Constellation. This solution involves a combination of external infrared tracking sensors specifically designed for VR devices and can be mounted on a desk or stand to look a like a desk lamp.
The Rift in turn is fitted with precisely placed infrared sensors that are being tracked by the system that are set to blink in a specific pattern. By knowing the configuration and pattern of the LEDs, the system an determine the precise location of the device to sub-millimeter accuracy with near-zero latency. This allows for the position of the physical body to be accounted for in the virtual world, which ultimately reduces the nauseous feeling most VR headsets are susceptible to.
What about games?
While there are tons of use cases for VR in media and more, gaming continues to be a big part of the VR experience. Thankfully, Oculus has quite a few solid games. Some of these include:
- Project CARS
- The Assembly
- Damaged Core
- Edge of Nowhere
Since Rift is also open-source, it has allowed for developers to retro-fit popular titles including Minecraft and Flight Simulator X to have VR support. At launch there were a full thirty titles, with the full list of launch titles available here. Since then, the library has expanded greatly, with over a hundred titles on offer and more to come.
For those interested in what VR Source thinks are the best titles currently on offer, you’ll want to check out our best Oculus Rift games guide. Also be sure to check out our post looking at the best upcoming Oculus Rift games.
What can I do beyond gaming?
Gaming is clearly a big deal for the Rift and other VR headsets, but there’s plenty of other great things to do with the Rift. This includes watching 360-degree videos from a number of sources, including YouTube, which has a growing library of great VR content. Facebook also is seeing a rise in such video content. Of course there’s also a number of apps for 3D modeling, entertainment, social networking, and the list goes on.
Beyond that? There’s porn (enough said, right?), VR social apps, and even ways to use your entire PC’s desktop UI within VR. That’s just what already exists, and the potential continues to grow more and more each day.
What’s the controller support like?
As a result of a partnership with Microsoft, the Oculus Rift comes with an Xbox One Controller and the purpose of including the gamepad is that a majority of the VR games that have been in development over the past few years require a gamepad. Including one free, and especially an established well known and tested one like the Xbox One Controller, allows users to get started right of the box without the need to buy third-party hardware.
Oculus is also preparing to release a pair of motion controllers for the Rift call Oculus Touch. There are two of them, one for each hand, and they are a lightweight, wireless, and handheld motion controllers. The Oculus Touch controllers feature a joystick, buttons, and two triggers – one for grabbing and one for shooting. They are fully integrated with the Constellation system for accurate tracking and include a second tracking sensor out of the box.
Many of the Oculus Touch control games are designed to be played standing up, and there’s even room scale as an optional feature, though it requires a third sensor which will set users back an additional $79.
See also – Hands on with the Oculus Touch
Here’s just a few of our favorite Oculus Touch games that we recently had hands-on time with at Oculus Connect 3:
Should I get it over the Playstation VR or HTC Vive?
That’s a great question, and mostly a subjective one. That said, we highly recommend the Rift if you are looking for something that has more advanced tech than the console-based Playstation VR and a more curated and controlled app store (with more critically acclaimed titles) than you’d find with the HTC Vive. Basically, the Rift doesn’t have quite as good tech out of the box as the Vive, and doesn’t have quite as good of a game library as the PSVR — but meets in the middle of these two realms.
Pricing and release date
The Oculus Rift formally started hitting hands on March 28th of 2016 at a price of $599.99. This price point includes the Rift VR headset, 3D positional sensor, remote, cables, a single Xbox One controller, EVE: Valkyrie, and Lucky’s Tale.
For a long time, the Oculus Rift was hard to get a hold of, but more recently it has become easier to find via Oculus and its retail partners, which include Amazon. As for the optional Oculus Touch controllers? Pre-orders have already begun, priced at $199. The controllers are set to ship on December 6th, just in time for the holidays.