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Oculus Rift's resolution challenge and start up hardware hurdles

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Development of the Oculus Rift VR headset "is going really well," says Nate Mitchell, vice president of product at Oculus, but the developer must overcome a number of hardware-related challenges before the consumer-grade version of the kit is ready for market.

Oculus has been showing off a 1080p resolution version of the Rift headset for months. While an improvement over the currently available developer version of the Rift, with its lower resolution display, there's room to improve.

"Back in the lab we've got a bunch of stuff we're really excited about," Mitchell said in an interview with Polygon, "stuff we haven't revealed."

Some of the improvements in the works for Rift include positional tracking — being able to lean and track your position in space — and changes to industrial design, optics, ergonomics, "nose relief," simulator sickness and more. Some of those engineering updates will address how easily consumers can put the Rift on and take it off.

"There's a number of ways we think we can improve usability and user experience," Mitchell said. "How do we get it so that not only is it 'zero seconds to fun' to play the Rift, but also, when you want to take it off or grab a glass of water, how do we make it so you can do that quickly? There's a lot of different ways to tackle that.

"People will be happy with what we've come up with."

Mitchell says the consumer version, which is "months not years away," will run "at least 1080p." A 4K version is in the works, Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe recently revealed, but the size of Oculus as a hardware start up and its particular display panel needs make finding the right hardware difficult.

"The challenge is buying the panel," Mitchell explained. "Every panel's different and there's only so many — in the size that we need — in the world." The 1080p resolution panel used in the Rift's HD prototype — Mitchell said he couldn't comment about its actual size or manufacturer — is good, but it won't ship with the consumer version.

"We have a panel, multiple panels, we like much better," he said. "When we get a new panel, we evaluate a bunch of things, like power draw to what interfaces does it use? HDMI? MIPI? Color, brightness, contrast, pixel density, resolution." Pixel-switching times, which can cause blurry images in VR, is another consideration. The Rift dev kit has a 30 millisecond pixel-switching time, Mitchell said.

"If we move to an OLED panel, pixel-switching times would go down to about zero, because OLED tech just gives us that for free," he explained. "But we can't buy them at the size that we want because the only company that has them is Samsung. Hopefully, OLED tech will be caught up to by other manufacturers.

"We're not Microsoft, Apple or Samsung," he said. "We've sold 35,000 dev kits so far. Showing that number to a screen manufacturer, they're like 'OK, come talk to us when you're selling a million units.'

"Fortunately, we get to leverage all the research and development that cell phone companies are making and bring that into the Rift."