The second version of the Oculus Rift development kit is similar to the Crystal Cove prototype in terms of features, but the fit and finish is much closer to what we’re likely to see in the retail virtual reality headset.
Oculus showed the hardware to the press yesterday at the Game Developers Conference, and the hardware has grown in impressive ways since CES. The breakout box is gone, you now connect the headset to your computer using a single cable that includes an HDMI and USB connection, and the exposed infra-red lights have been hidden behind the black plastic.
The system will go "on sale" today, for $350 along with the external camera that allows for positional tracking, with an estimated ship date of July of this year. The weight has increased a bit since the first version of the dev kit was released, but Oculus’ Nate Mitchell claimed this was due to the quick turnaround on the newest version of the hardware; they re-used the plastic molds of the original kit, and should be able to shave weight off the final project.
"We slipped a little bit in the opposite direction," he said, describing the original plan to remove weight from the hardware as it moves forward. "We’ll get there."
The display in the development kit 2 is a low-persistence OLED panel that runs at 960 by 1080 per eye. That display came into the development kit with an assist from Valve, in fact. "We were investigating low persistence, in a different sense, on LCDS, and Valve had succeeded in getting low persistence going in OLED," Mitchell stated. "As soon as you saw it, you were like oh god, this changes everything. They were a big help in the regard."
There will be an added USB port and power connection so developers will be able to connect, and power, external hardware such as a front-facing camera or other peripherals. Mitchell claimed that this version of the development kit was enough to give developers all the features necessary to create the final versions of their launch games, but there still may be some features added to the final version of the hardware.
I asked point blank about the inclusion of a built-in, front-facing camera. He paused, and smiled. "No announcements yet," he said.
He was also unwilling to discuss the inclusion of games from AAA publishers or developers, other than to say that more announcements about games would be coming in the future. The retail version of the hardware will also launch alongside software that will make it easier to browse and launch content in virtual reality, and possibly even buy games directly from Oculus.
"How easy is it to plug in and dive into content, what content you’re actually playing, that’s one of the most crucial things that we’re working on now, and the software team continues to work on it," Mitchell said.
"It will ship with [the consumer version of the hardware.] It must ship with consumer. It will actually ship before consumer, because developers need time to learn it," Oculus founder Luckey stated. "The current solution is manageable for developers, but it would be nightmarish for consumers."
"I don’t want to pull a Molyneux here."
Right now you have to launch games in, and switching between virtual reality experiences requires you to take the helmet off and launch the programs from your desktop. The software experience Oculus is working on will allow you to stay inside the helmet to launch games, or to switch between them.
The extent of the software is still something of a secret. "It’s really big," Luckey continued. "I can’t talk about it too much yet. It’s a big project to build something like that. It can’t just be a web page or a store, it needs to be integrated for VR, and you have to figure out how to do that well. We have a lot of people working on it. It’s too early to say anything, I don’t want to pull a Molyneux here."
The hardware isn't done by any stretch. Mitchell and Luckey both claimed that the final retail version of the hardware will be a significant improvement from the development kit 2, the same way the Crystal Cove prototype was a significant step from the first development kit. Mitchell declined to comment on possible pricing or release dates of the retail hardware.
"With the consumer rift, we want to deliver on the dream," Mitchell said. "We think in the next five to ten years we're going to see massive advancements in VR across the board. But we know what the threshold looks like to achieve presence and comfort, and we want to deliver that with [the retail version.]"