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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  • Dribble - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - link

    Gear VR is much more limited then a rift - it's just got a phone processor and just uses the phone accelerometer so doesn't really know where you are, just what direction you are facing. However it is 10x slicker then the rift - the whole experience (ui, apps, etc) has been tuned nicely and it just works. It helps that there are no wires, no pc required, no controller, nothing extra.

    The rift feels like demo gear in comparison but is capable of more but you get a whole slew of downsides - being cabled by a thick cable to a massive desktop pc for a start isn't great. then you have to keep going between the pc interface and the rift. You need an xbox controller which you can't see obviously when you put the headset on. The ui isn't sorted in the same way, and it involves you running stuff on your pc, then putting rift on, then taking it off, fiddling with stuff, putting it on again, etc. The software for the rift hasn't undergone the same quality control as the gear.

    For all that the rift is capable of much more then the gear. Neither is comfortable to wear for prolonged periods - too much weight sitting out in front of your head, both will make you feel sick if you in any way felt sick in 3D films. Basically if you are serious about VR and are happy to fight with all the issues buy a rift, if you want a gadget that just works and to show off and have a bit of fun with, buy a gear.
  • Virusx86 - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - link

    GearVR has its own built in sensors as the phones accel/gyro are not accurate or fast enough.

    Also every time you say Rift I think you mean DK2. The Rift has an Oculus Home app as a launch pad (almost identical to the GearVR) and also a slot in the face-foam so you can see down to your controller if you need to.
  • Sven Viking - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - link

    > Because if choosing between the DK2 and Gear VR, I would pick the Gear VR.

    I feel the same way -- and, yes, the retail Rift is considerably better than Gear VR. (It still has the advantage of being portable and cordless, though.)

    Gear VR actually still has a higher resolution, but the Rift's considerably less noticeable Screen Door Effect, higher refresh rate, and ability to render fancier graphics slightly oversampled (GearVR slightly under-samples except for the cinema screen and 360 photos) make up for it.
  • Notmyusualid - Sunday, March 20, 2016 - link

    "Screen Door Effect" - that is what I was trying to say! That was a big down side.

    But it sounds like you could have more fun at a party with the Gear VR, as it is so portable...

    Try seaching out some of the reactions on well-known online video site to see what I'm on about.
  • erikr - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - link

    No word about Doom 3 BFG? I thought it would the ultimate game voor the Rift and free with the Rift. Dont read about it anywhere
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - link

    The pack-in games for the Rift are Lucky's Tale and EVE: Valkyrie. The latter of which was not on display at this event (but it's at their booth as a multiplayer setup).
  • Sven Viking - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - link

    Doom 3 BFG was planned before John Carmack left id software and, some time later directly following the Facebook acquisition, ZeniMax (who owns id software) decided to sue him, Palmer Luckey, and Oculus. The lawsuits are still ongoing, which makes things kind of awkward between the two companies.
  • Dug - Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - link

    I got the impression from this post, that Ryan didn't seem real impressed.

    My question, money aside, is it something that provides a good experience to actually get?
    Meaning, is it something you would use each day?

    I'm really considering this or the HTC. Mainly the HTC due to tie in with Steam and the controllers already being available. Software will be the make or break for these, I just don't see the "killer" game yet. I think the room space provided by the HTC will go by the wayside, much like standing up and using wii remotes. Most people got tired of that and want to experience VR sitting down.
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - link

    On the contrary, I was impressed and thoroughly enjoyed it.

    I just wanted to set reasonable expectations on the display; it's a good compromise to get a headset out the door in 2016, but in the long run it's going to be a few generations until pixel densities will be high enough to make pixels indiscernible on a display this close to your face.
  • DrawtheLine70 - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - link

    Have you had an opportunity to use PSVR yet? From my understanding, it's the pentile display on the rift that aren't doing it any favors for SDE. The PSVR uses a more traditional display that, from what I've read, has less SDE than the Rift despite having a lower resolution (something to do with sub pixels from my understanding). I wish I could try them all in person before buying one.

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