Oculus Rift is a game-changing wearable virtual reality display. It was developed by Palmer Luckey, a guy who owns more head-mounted displays than anyone in the world, and someone who knows exactly what gamers want. Its Crystal Cove prototype won Best of Show at the CES earlier this year, which is pretty impressive given the other contenders. In fact, Oculus Rift is so effective that even NASA is using it to help control robots in space. So naturally I’m a bit dubious when I read about another virtual reality prototype that is supposedly “lightyears ahead” of Oculus Rift.
Valve, an entertainment and technology company that specializes in creating gaming platforms and games such as Half-Life and Portal, has developed its own virtual reality prototype that is garnering rave reviews. Like the Oculus Rift, Valve’s VR prototype has 1080p display, but reportedly doesn’t suffer from as much pixilation as the Rift. It’s also got motion-blur reduction and almost no latency. The award-winning Crystal Cove prototype of Oculus Rift uses a webcam to follow head movements, whereas Valve uses a headset camera that tracks QR codes on the walls. Users have likened Valve’s VR rig to a holodeck.
The only problem with Valve’s headset is that, as of now, they don’t plan to sell it. Arguably, they’ll be doing something even better — releasing a virtual reality platform that will enable other developers to make and share games, as well as a virtual reality interface. Because they’re not making the actual hardware, they’ll be relying on Oculus Rift. Such a collaboration seems to be in everyone’s best interest — that is, if the goal is to advance virtual reality technology. In fact, at their Steam Dev Days conference, Valve outlined some goals for the next year.
Right now, Valve believes that virtual reality is more about video games than an actual experience, but they hope to change that. They believe that the potential of virtual reality far exceeds any other interactive entertainment possibilities, and that now is the time to prove it. They’re working on enhancing the experience of the user, creating a real presence for whoever’s wearing the headset — that feeling of having teleported to somewhere else. “Most people find it to be kind of magical, and we think that once people have experienced presence, they’ll want it badly,” says Valve VR lead Michael Abrash.
Like all sufficiently advanced technology, I’m sure it is magical. I can’t help wondering how much reality will pale in comparison.