During AMD's APU13 developer summit, there were two demo stations for testing the Oculus Rift headset. This would be my third time testing Oculus VR's device, the first having been at CES 2013 in January in a test behind closed doors, and the second behind closed doors again while testing the Virtuix Omni "treadmill" platform in June. In both instances I was dazzled by what I saw, and that feeling still hadn't worn off by the time I was thrust into a virtual environment at AMD APU13.
I know I've said this a number of times before, but Oculus Rift is an industry disrupting device much like 3DFX's Voodoo card and id Software's Quake brought true 3D to gaming in the mid-90s. You don't really get this until the device is planted on your face and you're chasing butterflies around in a virtual environment, or hiding behind a stationary train avoiding bullets fired from a nearby enemy.
As Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe said in his keynote speech this week, virtual reality is here. Of course, we still can't see our hands, so using Oculus Rift feels like a carnival ride of sorts: you can move around using a gamepad, but you feel as if you're sitting down, steering a car but you also have the capability of looking around freely, including whatever is over your shoulder. Regardless, it's an incredible first step into the future of gaming.
During his keynote, Iribe mentioned blurring when you turn your head. I never once noticed the problem until after he pointed it out. Curious, I went to the booth and discovered exactly what he's talking about: there's a motion blur when turning your head after a certain speed. Yet given what Oculus Rift brings to the gamer, this is a minor setback. I also noticed a weird sensation if I actually shifted in my seat while moving within the virtual world: good thing I hadn't eaten!
As the Virtuix Omni showed back at E3 2013, the visuals are only part of the immersion. The Omni actually allowed me to physically walk around in the environment by tracking my steps with a Kinect sensor. For the demo at AMD's event, I was thrown into an environment with the aid of AMD's TrueAudio technology, which accelerates audio thanks to an embedded chip on the GPU or APU die. The audio portion was incredible, rendering a church bell in the distance, a water founding splashing behind me, and so on. Granted, I spent my time chasing butterflies, the audio made me forget the real world around me.
The second Oculus Rift demo was actually the HD version. This model was much slimmer than the older unit used at the TrueAudio demo, and I ended up going back and forth to see both the physical difference, and how both look in-game. In the older standard version, you can definitely see the pixels. Eventually you forget about them as immersion takes control of your brain, but in the HD version that pixelated effect is eliminated. Of course, the HD demo was a darkened theater so it was hard to pinpoint any abnormalities save for some blurriness in the Man of Steel trailer playing on the big screen.
Still, you really can't complain about small issues with emerging, industry disrupting technology. I know I've used that phrase a lot, but it's true: Oculus Rift is disruptive tech and will change the face of gaming much like 3DFX did back in the 90s. I'm actually honored to watch the technology grow as it has since January, and hopefully we'll see a retail product in the early part of next year. Believe me when I say that it will change everything, that 2014 will indeed go down in the gaming history books.