Hey you guys – virtual reality is actually really good!

ByJohn Barker
VR headsets

This weekend I got the chance to try out the virtual reality headset Oculus Rift. I’d heard a great deal about it before, of course. Some of the broadbandchoices team had previously given it a go and walked away impressed, and we’ve previously written about Samsung’s own Oculus-supported headset.

And of course, it's hard to go for long without some games journalist effusively spouting about how VR is the future, and these new headsets will change the world.

Now, I'd be the first to admit to being a cynical fella, so all that buzz around Oculus Rift, and VR in general, had me naturally sceptical. It can't be that good, right? Still, I joined the unsettlingly long queue at Eurogamer Expo in London this weekend to try it out.

And you know what? Virtual Reality is the future and headsets like the Rift will change the world.

In a VR demo, everyone around can hear you scream. Unfortunately.

If you haven't read much about the new wave of virtual reality devices, such as Oculus Rift and Sony's Project Morpheus, they're actually fairly simple to explain. You put the headset over your, er, head and you see 3D images while it tracks your head movement, so if you turn your head left, you turn your head left in the game you're playing too.

The game I played was Alien Isolation. Essentially, the short demo trapped me in a dank, claustrophobic space station, where I was being stalked by HR Giger's terrifying movie beast. With no way to fight back, I was forced to tread carefully, hiding in lockers and behind desks to avoid the monster. Inevitably I failed, and my brains became the xenomorph's all-you-can-eat buffet, but… wow, what an experience.

It gave one of the most convincing senses of actually inhabiting a physical space I've ever experienced in games, and combined with a good set of headphones and excellent sound, also one of the tensest.

Man using VR headset

Still collating

However, the demo also revealed a few kinks in Oculus Rift that need to be worked out before it's ready to go mainstream. The visual quality isn't great for a start - it could really do with HD screens, because the picture as it stands is distractingly blurry.

The headset's also a little bulky and ostentatious. Naturally, that'll lead to resistance from those who will feel like a pillock wearing it. If that sounds like you, hopefully you'll be able to get past that, because the rewards are worth it.

Finally, it's not the most social of concepts, VR. It's hard to imagine lots of people in the same room playing a VR game together, as once that headset's on, you're lost to the world. Still the possibilities for online interaction are endless - why spend money going to the cinema when you could go to a virtual cinema with your friends online, where you could watch a film, talk about it, and interact as if you were actually with each other. Without the hassle of having to actually meet. The possibilities really get the imagination racing.

So it's fair to say I enjoyed my first experience of VR. Despite it being a relatively 'old' idea, Oculus Rift makes it feel fresh and exciting, and I can't wait to try out Samsung's version of virtual reality, the Gear VR, when it hits the shelves within the next few months.

Topics: Hardware Reviews

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