Oculus unveils new Rift prototype with positional tracking and mysterious OLED display

Oculus unveiled a new prototype of the Rift virtual reality headset at CES today, complete with positional tracking and an OLED display that features low persistence for less motion blur and a more comfortable experience for players.

The new prototype has been dubbed "Crystal Cove."

The addition of positional tracking requires the use of a camera to track IR dots on the headset itself, although Oculus founder Palmer Luckey claims the extra hardware won’t significantly increase the final price of the unit.

"Cost has always been at the crux of the entire Oculus platform, if the hardware is not affordable, it might as well not exist. We made sure this is a low-cost solution without sacrificing any quality," Nate Mitchell, the VP of Product at Oculus, told Polygon. "This is a top-notch positional tracking system."

The positional tracking system will be included in the cost of the hardware, and will not be a separate purchase. This hardware will add an extra three degrees of movement to the hardware, allowing the player to move their head in 3D space.

One of the demos shown at CES will feature the player sitting across from a fantasy character in Unreal Engine 4, with a table that features a tower defense game resting between you. Positional tracking will allow the player to lean forward and study the board and details of the units. The extra three degrees of movements would also allow players to lean out a virtual window, for instance, in order to look around while still keeping their body in cover.

The most exciting thing is the hardest to describe

"Low persistence is really, really important. It’s probably the most important thing we’re showing. It doesn’t sound really exciting… but it’s incredible the difference low persistence makes," Luckey said. "You really have to see it. It’s mind-blowing."

Crystal Cove uses an OLED display running at a high refresh rate; pixels only remain lit for a fraction of each frame show to the player. "Basically, they blink," Mitchell explained.

"Our new OLED panel in the prototype switches in well under a millisecond, so it’s faster than any LCD monitor on the market … what we’re doing is we’re taking the image and flashing it on when it’s correct, and only keeping that on for a fraction of a millisecond and then turning it off and then going black until the next pulse," Luckey continued.

"It is not something that any OLED panel can do," he stated. He politely declined to offer any more details of the new display, including the resolution.

It doesn’t exactly sound sexy, and the importance of low persistence can be hard to grasp without digging into how displays work and how your eyes perceive the world, but the result will hopefully be a display that decreases motion blur and judder, making the virtual world feel much more realistic and comfortable for the viewer. Multiple people have spoken about the prototype in vague terms, but they all stress the added comfort and lack of nausea due to the new display.

"It effectively eliminates motion blur and judder. That means a more comfortable experience, it’s closer to how we perceive the real world. It makes the scene look more real, which increases immersion," Mitchell confirmed.

The two men stressed that they have more to show and announce in the near future, but declined to state whether the final retail version of the Rift will be coming this year.

"We have nothing to announce at this time, but I think 2014 really is going to be a big, big year for VR," Mitchell stated.

Polygon will have hands-on impressions of the Crystal Cove prototype as part of our ongoing CES coverage.

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