Virtual reality headset for video gamers: A matter of perception

Feb 21 2013, 10:45 IST
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SummaryVirtual reality is one of many inventions that never seemed to make the leap from science fiction to mass-market product.

in the Oculus Rift are the same components found inside smartphones and tablets, including the headset’s 7-inch display and its sensors for detecting head movements.

Because those parts are already being pumped out in enormous volumes in factories in China, Oculus can create a product that is likely to end up costing consumers something between $200 to $300.

Elements of the Oculus headset are based on the virtual reality research by USC, which has freely released headset designs for others to use.

Still, most venture capitalists would rather finance a hot-dog stand than a high-risk virtual reality start-up. Oculus instead used the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to harness the enthusiasm of virtual reality fans and to take orders so it would not produce too many headsets. It raised $2.4 million on Kickstarter and received orders for 10,000 headsets.

The first ones, which Oculus says will begin shipping next month, are still rough around the edges and are primarily aimed at game developers.

Oculus is mum on when it will ship a version for consumers, hinting that its target is next year.

If the company is successful, it will have a lot to do with Palmer Luckey, the 20-year-old founder of the company, who seems to have wandered out of a casting call for unconventional, young technology entrepreneurs. He pads around his office in bare feet, munching on cookies. He refuses a chair during a meeting, preferring to sit cross-legged on the floor.

Luckey was a home-schooled teenager living with his parents in Long Beach, Calif., when he began collecting virtual reality headsets, a habit he financed by fixing broken iPhones and Nintendo DS’s in his garage and reselling them at a profit. Luckey estimates he spent $32,000 on headsets in one year alone, about 45 of which he now has in his own collection.

While he was passionate about virtual reality, Luckey realised that none of the headsets he bought offered the kind of immersive experience he wanted from the technology. He began tinkering with headset designs of his own.

“If there had been a perfect headset, I wouldn’t have gotten into virtual reality,” Luckey said.

People who put the headset on were amazed by how the game world surrounded them. It has a 110-degree field of view, far more expansive than the 40 degrees of many virtual reality headsets.

Michael Abrash, a programmer at the game developer Valve Corporation, who

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