Lowercase Rift

The news of the week is Facebook buying out the Oculus Rift, which is perhaps the least impressive technology to see other people use. I’ll be honest: I poured out a sip of bourbon in memoriam to independent development and the noble goal that was Kickstarter, which increasingly seems to be an nightmare engine fueled by hubris and wanton optimism.

Actually, none of that last sentence is true. Well, other than the Kickstarter bit.

I did release a heavy sigh at the news, but in the scheme of things it might not be so bad. There are a couple ways of looking at it. For example, this penultimate paragraph from Penny Arcade represents a rather inspiring take:

Before yesterday, The Oculus Rift was technofetish gear.  It ceased to be so in an instant.  If you want to know how you get to the future described in books, any of the futures, it happens when technology has broad social meaning.  I’m not going to tell you it’s not fucking weird.  I’m as surprised as anybody.  I don’t like the idea of a fully three dimensional banner ad anymore than you do.  But do you want to live in a society where telepresence and virtual reality are…  normalized?  This is how that happens.  I used the shitty, old Rift, and I thought I was underwater.  Think of every corner they had to cut because they were trying to make this thing in the finite realm of men.  Now imagine the corners restored, and the corner cutting machine in ruins.

Perhaps you’re not an optimist. In which case, actually consider the alternate realities:

> Just promise me there will be no specific Facebook tech tie-ins.

I promise.

Why would we want to sell to someone like MS or Apple? So they can tear the company apart and use the pieces to build out their own vision of virtual reality, one that fits whatever current strategy they have? Not a chance.

Now, as the scathing Reddit posts below that point out, had Microsoft bought out the Rift he could have just swapped the names around: “Sell to someone like Facebook or Apple?” It really seems to be no difference… except for two things. One, I don’t want Microsoft or Apple to have sole control over the Rift. Apple’s version would likely not be PC compatible and Microsoft would likely bundle it into every Xbtwo purchase. It might “just” be a monitor on your face (the size of a small book) right now, but shit man, it’s 2014 and I still can’t take screenshots of PS3 games without hundred-dollar hardware to trick the DRM or whatever. And two? Sony has VR, Google has pseudo-VR, and now even goddamn Facebook has VR. It’s only a matter of time before the ghost of Steve Jobs releases the iEyes and whoever is running Microsoft releases a more expensive, lower resolution version that requires a constant internet connection.

Competition, people – it’s a good thing.

Having said all that, I don’t really have a dog in this fight. In fact, I barely care about VR at all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool conceptually. The frugal side of my nature is excited at the prospect of basically one $300 headset replacing all the monitors and TVs in my house. But that’s when pesky reality starts popping up. I already wear glasses and it’s hard enough finding earphones I can comfortably wear for more than an hour.

But the VR problems are deeper and more systemic to me, in much the same way as console MMOs. For example, can you see the keyboard with these goggles on? Some people can type without looking, but essentially pulling yourself out of whatever just to remember where the ‘B’ key is will be annoying. Controllers don’t really get around this issue, especially considering how much more limiting the lack of buttons will be (imagine trying to play WoW with an Xbox controller). Then I wonder: do I really want to be craning my neck around for 2+ hours? And to what end? Unless you go full nerd, the practical application will be the equivalent of the Lean key in most games; you are still aiming with your mouse/gamepad, not your face.

I’m sure the immersion is all there and maybe that’s enough. From where I’m sitting though, all I’m hearing is “touchscreen monitor,” like I want to be playing games in (more literal) zombie posture all day. No thanks. For me, the Oculus and other headsets are basically conceptual means of being able to play games fully reclined on a Lay-Z Boy or laying down. Actually, nevermind, no access to keyboard/mouse that way. So, err… yeah.

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Posted on March 27, 2014, in Commentary and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. My sole use case for something like this is a portable movie theatre… if they can get THAT part right, I’ll be in the market at some point. I don’t want/need VR, I won’t be gaming on it, I just want a 120″ high-res screen that I can carry around with me.

    • I had thought about that, but I still have real-world hang-ups about it. For example: you’re going to need a straw to drink anything during your movie; you’re not going to be able to eat much aside from popcorn, for that matter; it’s a theater experience that you can’t actually share with anyone. Indeed, regarding the latter, it seems like by the time the Oculus is out we’ll have some super-cheap high-res (3D even) projectors that will blow most of it out of the water. There was one on Kotaku Deals article the other day that was $600.

      VR will be the future eventually, sure. But I’m almost thinking that Google Glass is more realistic than an Oculus in every house.

      • Sure, it’s not as good as going to a theatre, maybe, but it’ll be a heck of a lot more convenient.

        Think of everyone who has a tablet primarily as a media device… either watching videos or gaming. Far as I can tell that type of VR headset has the potential to be a much better version of that. Imagine the headset for someone who spends a lot of time on a plane, train or bus. Imagine the headset for someone who only has 1 TV in the house and 4 people with much different tastes in entertainment.

        And yeah, home theatre/video projectors are an interest of mine… I actually have a setup at home although I don’t use it much, it’s an old XGA projector that pales in comparison to my plasma TV, it’s just bigger, not better. These days you can get a great 1080p projector for well under $1K… it’s ridiculous. But it has a lot of considerations… you need decent room lighting control to get a good image (more ambient light = washed-out image and horrible black levels), you need to put the projector somewhere (mounted and semi-permanent or on a table and taking up space), you need a screen (or a suitable wall), you (most likely) need to run cables, you need a sound system…

        None of those are really considerations with a VR headset… they’re personal, sure, but they’re only intended to be personal, if you wanted to have other people involved you’d do something else. It wouldn’t replace my TV, it would supplement it in situations where the TV isn’t an option.

        And think about it… imagine a kid in the back seat of a car for a multi-hour drive to the cottage… sure, you can hook him up with a tablet or seat-back DVD player or something like that but that’s a small screen and there will still be a ton of distractions. Slap a VR headset on the kid and you may not hear a peep the entire drive… immersion isn’t necessarily only a benefit to the one wearing the headset. :)

        Far as I know, Glass is just an overlay… I wouldn’t watch a movie on that even if I could. I want the visual experience of being in a dark room with a big-ass screen out yonder. I’m not even sure if the Oculus specifically can do that but I think it’s possible, or could at least lead to a product that can.