From this week, it’s now possible to escape completely into the virtual as Oculus Rift rolls out in the UK.
Pull the Oculus headset over your head, flip the headphones down and no one will be able to bother you as you escape into a 360-degree, three-dimensional immersive game.
It’s £549 retail and it requires quite a powerful gaming PC to run, but that’s no surprise. This is a high-end piece of kit.
VR equipment is on a spectrum from basic smartphone add-ons to rocket-science level stuff, but Oculus is aiming to be the point at which the person on the street gets on board with the more impressive capabilities of the technology.
As an experience, it’s hard to knock Oculus. For the total virtual reality novice, even the sample clips are like another world: no matter how much commotion there is going on around you, there will be vertigo when you lean out over the edge of a skyscraper’s roof, and a flutter of panic when a T-rex comes stomping around the corner.
And there’s a difference between exploring a fantasy game world on a television as opposed to a headset.
Firstly, things are happening in every direction, which is immersive in a very real way. It’s not a case of pointing the camera in one direction or another – things will fly through your peripheral vision and make you spin around.
And if you want to get hands-on, you’ll be able to do that soon to. Oculus Touch controllers - a pair of handheld devices which follow the position of your hands, letting them interact with the VR environment - should be available in the next few months.
They come in at £190 per pair, which includes the improved camera system, required for tracking your movements.
Games will have to move beyond the wonder-and-marvel style inevitable in early virtual reality.
Google Cardboard, a cardboard headset you can place your phone into for a less impressive but also drastically less expensive (from £1) VR experience, is already boring because what’s good about it – wandering the skyline of Chicago, watching New York Times video in 360 degrees, going on a rollercoaster – has less impact the more you do it.
So will we see people on the bus in the near future battling hordes of virtual zombies in a VR headset? Probably not – Oculus and competitors like the HTC Vive are still tethered to the PC tower.
But this is the best chance so far to capture the public’s imagination, and that’s the first step. If you consider yourself an explorer, it might be time to explore the virtual worlds that have just opened up.
Will my computer run it?
Unless you bought it to play demanding PC games, probably not. It won’t work with Macs at all, and a new rig to run Oculus at its best will cost north of £1000 – but as a side benefit, it should be lightning quick to check your email on.
VR – the main players
HTC Vive – £770 (plus a gaming computer)
Oculus – £549 (plus a gaming computer)
Sony Playstation VR – £349 (plus a PS4)
Samsung Gear VR – £80 (plus a Samsung phone)
Google Cardboard – from £1 (plus a smartphone)
Oculus Rift is available at John Lewis and elsewhere for £549.