Gadget review: Virtual adventures with Oculus Rift

The initial feedback: it’s a beautiful, wonderful device that immerses you, yet it still has ways to go.

A man tries out the Oculus Rift VR headset. Jae Hong / AP Photo
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The first consumer-ready Oculus Rift virtual reality headset was delivered to a real person late last month, and reviewers got their first taste. The initial feedback: it’s a beautiful, wonderful device that immerses you, yet it still has ways to go.

Oculus founder Palmer Luckey hand-delivered the first Rift to software developer Ross Martin in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 26, kicking off a new era in VR by putting the most powerful VR device yet into a consumer’s hands.

Expectations for a consumer version have been high. There’s a backlog of orders and if you order now, you can expect delivery in July. It’s not clear, though, how many units Oculus made for the first round – and whether there will ultimately be much demand beyond gamers and hard-core technologists.

Early reviews by journalists have been mixed.

Steven Tweedie of Business Insider was glowingly positive in his review of the Rift, relishing the greater presence he felt in both games and narrative stories.

“Everything feels like it means more: there’s a heightened connection to characters, both in games and short films, and the action carries weight,” he wrote. But he noted that its hefty price tag “is undoubtedly the biggest thing keeping more people from getting the chance to try virtual reality.”

Time's Lisa Eadicicco called the Rift "expensive, complicated, and totally wonderful." She added: "It's brilliant. It's fascinating. It's not perfect, but it's only getting started."

Several reviewers, including IGN’s Dan Stapleton, wrote that because the Rift doesn’t come with controllers that allow for separate actions by each hand, it will suffer compared with the HTC Vive, which will have such controllers included.

Oculus expects its “Touch” controllers to come out later this year.

Nathan Olivarez-Giles of The Wall Street Journal wasn't wowed by all the 30 games that were available at launch. And he wrote that nausea, a consistent complaint among VR headset users, was real.

“When I pushed myself to play Valkyrie for as long as 45 minutes nonstop, I took aspirin to fight off a headache.”

q&a dinosaurs and much more

More details about the Rift:

So what did that guy in Anchorage think of his Rift?

Martin, who had never tried VR before, spent a few hours on the gadget two days after receiving it. He watched a short movie, played a game and explored a virtual environment that included an up-close encounter with a Tyrannosaurus Rex. “I couldn’t stop saying, ‘Wow’,” the web developer said. But he felt a touch of nausea at times and that the resolution could be better. “If you’re a gamer, this is right up your alley,” he said. “You’re going to be able to forgive that.”

And who is after him in the queue?

Oculus said it was sending the Rift to its first Kickstarter backers, followed by those who ordered one in January for US$600 and $1,500-plus with a high-end personal computer included.

Really? It began on Kickstarter?

Oculus began crowdfunding through Kickstarter in August 2012, and was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion in 2014. The Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has said that he sees virtual reality as the next major computing platform.

What about the nausea?

VR headsets continue to cause problems with nausea for some users, even though the companies making them have been insisting they are on the precipice of solving this issue for the past few years. Oculus recently announced a new feature in its latest software for developers intended to reduce motion sickness.

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