Ocu­lus Rift

Palmer Luckey’s long-held vi­sion for VR is no longer a dream. How does the re­al­ity hold up?


Af­ter sev­eral years of en­thu­si­as­tic, if pro­fes­sion­ally de­tached, ex­pe­ri­ences with vir­tual re­al­ity, it has fi­nally hap­pened. We’re sat be­hind a desk in a plush win­ter lodge hav­ing just man­aged to foil a poi­son-gas at­tack. An elk’s head sits mounted above the roar­ing fire­place, and we re­cline to light a cel­e­bra­tory cigar. In the process, an in­trigu­ing panel catches our eye. It’s just out of reach so we at­tempt to steady our­selves on the desk in or­der to reach across, and nearly fall face first into the floor as our arm passes through the de­cid­edly un­sup­port­ive poly­gons. Later, as we re­move the se­cond-gen­er­a­tion Touch con­trollers from our hands, we also try to take off a vir­tual hat – snagged a lit­tle ear­lier from a hat­stand while pon­der­ing a puz­zle – be­fore tend­ing to the Rift head­set it­self. Jesse Schell’s vir­tual spy sim­u­la­tor I Ex­pect You To Die may be car­toon­ish and camp, but that hasn’t pre­vented it – with the help of Ocu­lus’s con­sumer-ready tech­nol­ogy – from achiev­ing vir­tual re­al­ity’s holy grail: pres­ence.

In fact, it hap­pens sev­eral times dur­ing the time we spend with the fi­nalised Rift hard­ware: an in­escapable sense of ver­tigo while cling­ing to a rock face; re­coil­ing from an ob­ject or char­ac­ter that looks like it’s go­ing to col­lide with us; and even ac­cept­ing as our own an in-game re­flec­tion that per­fectly tracks our head move­ments. Rift has come a long way since those first nau­sea-mak­ing, pix­elly DK1-en­abled steps around a Tus­can villa. And it says much that we spend hours en­sconced in the retail head­set with very few in­stances of dis­com­fort. Even when they do oc­cur, it’s down to the game rather than the hard­ware it­self.

The head­set is sleek and pleas­antly weighted (it’s hard to tell if it has shed many grams since Cres­cent Bay, but its sub­stance feels well dis­trib­uted), and easy to put on. A com­fort­able plas­tic cra­dle sup­ports the de­vice at the back of your head while three ad­justable Vel­cro straps, one on each side and one on top, make it easy to fi­nesse the fit with­out hav­ing to con­tin­u­ally re­move and re­place the head­set. The in­te­grated head­phones pivot back and forth to ac­com­mo­date var­i­ously shaped heads, and can even be swung out for those mo­ments when you want hear what’s go­ing on out­side of the vir­tual space – a sur­pris­ingly use­ful con­sid­er­a­tion. A small slider un­der­neath the screen hous­ing, mean­while, ad­justs for in­ter­pupil­lary dis­tance (ie, how far apart

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