By far the dominant theme at GDC 2016 has been virtual reality. If you’re not a hardware vendor directly creating VR products, then you’re explaining how your products are a good match for VR or make for a better VR experience. And if you’re a software developer, then you’re at a minimum toying with VR, if not outright designing games for it. If nothing else, it’s the session attendance figures that demonstrate just how important VR is at GDC: after Monday’s overflowing attendance of VR sessions as part of the show-within-a-show VRDC, GDC had to move all of the VRDC Tuesday sessions to double sized rooms to accommodate the crowds.

This madness is not without good reason. For both software and hardware vendors, VR represents new opportunities in an already strong gaming market. Software developers get to experiment with new gaming paradigms on the cutting edge of tech, and hardware vendors can look forward to selling the more powerful hardware needed to drive a smooth VR experience. Today VR is a wild frontier, full of risk and rewards, and after this week’s GDC that frontier will be getting a little more civilized as the first consumer VR headsets begin shipping.

VR is not a new idea – as our readers who were gaming in the 90s can recall with mixed feeling – but Oculus deserves the bulk of attention for bringing it back to the forefront and kicking off this wave of interest in and development of VR. Since their 2012 kickstarter they have developed the industry’s blueprint for VR hardware, combining fast refreshing OLED displays with modern sensors that can both quickly and accurately track headset movement. Oculus has iterated on headsets several times now, continually refining the display, optics, head tracking, and more, as they work to bring a retail quality headset to market. And now later this month those efforts will begin to pay off as they ship their first retail headsets to eager backers and first-time buyers.

This brings us to today’s article, my hands-on session with the final, retail version of the Oculus Rift. As part of their GDC festivities, Oculus held a lengthy press demo to give us a chance to try out the retail hardware with a number of games being prepared for the headset, to demonstrate not only the hardware but the games and experiences that it will be driving. A full review of the Rift will be coming later, but for today I wanted to discuss my impressions of the retail hardware and the various titles I had a chance to try.

The Oculus Rift Hardware
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  • ikjadoon - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - link

    Oh, wow, I'm already like 3x more excited for these reviews now! :D That's awesome.

    In a way, I hope VR's focus on motion latency pushes "backward" into normal monitors. I've been using low-persistence / strobed backlight mode on my ASUS VG248QE and it's like playing on a CRT.

    I have no idea why ULMB (or strobed backlights in general) aren't the next holy grail of gaming monitors.
  • Madpacket - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - link

    Because ULMB is still a worse experience than traditional CRTs (brightness is gimped even on the best units and they still have worse input latency than non ULMB LED displays). High refresh rates and Freesync displays is easily the best new technology to come to monitors and could be carried over to VR to reduce 4K requirements.
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - link

    And just to add to this now that I'm a laptop, we can't provide everything on your wish list. But we will absolutely be taking a look at motion to photon latency.
  • nagi603 - Friday, March 18, 2016 - link

    Because strobed (PWM) lighting gives headaches to many many people.
  • jmke - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - link

    Good to hear Project Cars is being worked on, with a steering wheel and buttkicker in a cupseat this game makes for one the most immersive VR experiences I enjoy at home.
  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - link

    This is now, in my lifetime, the third time that companies have tried to push VR.

    Just another reason to try and get you back into the cycle of spending $$$ on crap you simply do not need. Hopefully it's better this time.
  • inighthawki - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - link

    But didn't you know: The third time's the charm!
  • Notmyusualid - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - link

    Just this evening - I tried the Gear VR.

    Inside of it was a Galaxy S6 Edge.

    To tell you the truth, I expected very little, but it on my head, and was blown away.

    I was 'in' a psychiatric hospital, more reminiscent of a horror film, and it was incredible.

    I tried to buy one (3,500 THB) on the spot, but he said only S6 (I have S5) and later were compatible, which I confirmed on some whatever website out of view of the salesman in case he was mistaken.

    I must say though, was it the gaps between the pixels he referred to I was seeing? As it wasn't a perfect image. But even on the Gear VR, I felt like there were no latency issues either.

    This will bring a whole new dimension to gaming. And yes I was slagging off this tech on this site some months ago, I admit it.
  • coolhardware - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - link

    Agreed, GearVR is a very sick package to get a good VR experience without being tethered to anything. Sorry to hear that S5 was a no go, but with S6, S7 (Edge to) and Note 5 compatibility it covers a lot of users!

    After getting a Nexus 6P, I actually kept my S6 just for the VR experience

    I'm hoping the retail Oculus is significantly better than the Oculus DK2. Because if choosing between the DK2 and Gear VR, I would pick the Gear VR.
  • Death666Angel - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - link

    "Because if choosing between the DK2 and Gear VR, I would pick the Gear VR."
    Can you elaborate why? Just because of the freedom from a PC? :)

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