Oculus unwraps Rift VR headset, plans to ship it by March

The future of gaming is closer than you think. Or at least, the future of gaming as envisioned by Oculus VR.

The company’s Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that lets users play epic games with an immersive 360-degree field of vision, will ship by March of next year, and will include an Xbox One game controller. Oculus is also developing two ring-shaped controllers that will let players interact with objects in games like they might in real life.

Each hand-tracking controller, which Oculus calls Half Moon, will include buttons and triggers to let players, say, pick up a gun inside a first-person shooter game and use their fingers to fire it. Allowing people to interact with content inside virtual reality applications beyond just looking at it is a big challenge in VR development.

Oculus VR executives showed off prototypes of the Half Moon controllers during an event on Thursday in San Francisco in which they revealed many more details about the Rift. However, the company did not specify when the Half Moon controllers will ship to consumers.

During the event, the company unveiled the final version of the headset, a sensor for tracking players’ movements, a Rift interface and a selection of games that will be made available at launch. The Rift will be compatible with Microsoft’s Windows 10, and users will be able to stream Xbox One games to the Rift.

It was known that Oculus planned to launch the Rift commercially early next year. Oculus had also released some recommended specs for a Rift-compatible PC. But few other details had been disclosed.

Facebook bought Oculus VR last year for US$2 billion in a surprising move to own a piece of what the social network sees as the next big computing platform. More than 170,000 early development kit models of the Rift have already been shipped to developers around the world.

The final consumer version of Rift, shown Thursday by Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe, looks like a black shoe box you wear over your face and has custom display and optics systems with two OLED screens. It will ship with a sensor users plug into their computer for tracking their movements. This is what will translate users’ physical movements outside of the game into actions inside the game.

The Rift will include integrated headphones, but those can be removed if users have their own. There will also be a dial to adjust the distance between the unit’s lenses.

A range of games will be available for the Rift at launch. Three titles were demoed on Thursday: “Eve Valkyrie,” a pilot dogfighting game set in outer space; “Chronos,” an RPG set in a fantasy world that looked similar to the “Legend of Zelda”; and “Edge of Nowhere,” a first person action adventure game.

Other available games will include “VR Sports Challenge,” a football, baseball and hockey simulator; “Lucky’s Tale,” an exploratory adventure game; and “Esper,” which will give players telekinetic powers.

Oculus is working with other developers and publishers including Playful and Harmonix to create more games.

A polished user interface for the Rift was also revealed. The main dashboard, called Oculus Home, will let users access their games and also buy them from an online store directly from Rift. The software will also let users see which of their friends are playing on Rift, and let them join their games.

Oculus Home will be accessible via the Rift and also from users’ desktop computers.

Oculus owner Facebook has positioned virtual reality not just as a gaming technology, but as a new platform for communicating and connecting with friends and family. But Thursday’s event was focused squarely on gaming.

Oculus is confident that the timing is right for Rift. “This isn’t science fiction,” said Oculus founder Palmer Luckey. “It’s reality, and it’s happening today.”

Still, no firm launch date was announced, nor was a price. The company has previously estimated that the total price of Rift would be in the US$1,500 range, factoring in a Rift-compatible computer, which the company does not sell.

The company will begin taking pre-orders later this year.

Next week, attendees of the E3 gaming conference in Los Angeles will be able to try out the latest version of Rift. Later on Thursday, people will be able to register for an E3 demo of the Rift through the Oculus mobile app.

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Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.