Supercharged second-gen Oculus Rift developer kit offers high-res VR with head tracking

In the wake of Sony's Project Morpheus announcement Tuesday, VR forerunner Oculus Rift countered this morning with its own exciting news.

"Almost exactly one year after shipping the original dev kit, we're pleased to announce DK2," wrote Oculus in a blog post. The second generation Rift Dev Kit is now available for purchase, and will be demoable on the show floor at GDC (the Game Developers Conference) through Friday.

This news will likely be of more interest to Digital Arts readers than Sony's announcement, as the Oculus Rift connects to a PC making commercial experiential projects such as Specialmoves' sky-diving simulator for a recent Wired conference.

The second-gen Rift dev kit seemed imminent after Oculus halted sales of the original Dev Kit last month. The new model is based off the Crystal Cove prototype, which I previewed with launch title EVE: Valkyrie at DICE in February.

Dev Kit 2, like Crystal Cove, is a multi-faceted improvement on the original Rift, offering a low-persistence display, higher resolution, and positional head-tracking. The new screen is a huge upgrade from the pixelated display of the original, whose low resolution often resulted in a notorious "screen-door effect."

DK2's leap in visual quality stems not just from using a higher-res 960x1080p-per-eye resolution, but the low persistence OLED screen prevents screen judder and motion blur, making you less likely to get sick or dizzy while using the device.

You'll also receive Oculus's external camera, first introduced with Crystal Cove, which allows full positional tracking instead of the original's mere head-tracking. In other words, with the previous model you could turn your head in any direction, and it would rotate your view in-game. Now you can also lean forward, side-to-side, or away from the external camera and your view will follow along.

"Positional head tracking opens up all sort of new gameplay opportunities like peering around corners, leaning in to get a closer look at objects in the world, and kicking back on a virtual beach," wrote Oculus. Notably, I used it in the latest build of EVE: Valkyrie to lean forward and get a closer look at text in some cockpit displays.

Less vital, but still important: DK2 also updates the original's prone-to-drifting orientation tracking, and features a latency tester, a USB accessory port, and elimination of the original's control box.

The price? $350 (around £210), or $50 more than the original Oculus Rift developer kit. Again, this isn't the consumer version of the Rift--that's still in development. Oculus did say, however, that "the fundamental building blocks for great VR are there."

"All the content developed using DK2 will work with the consumer Rift," the post continued. Oculus expects the first DK2 units to ship in July. Wait, July? When-oh-when will the actual consumer version of the Rift finally launch? The waiting is excruciating.

Regardless, I'll get my hands on Oculus Rift's second-gen dev kit at GDC this week and return with impressions of both it and Sony's Project Morpheus. 

Perhaps surprisingly, Oculus's founder welcomed Sony's entry into the VR market.

"It's really cool to see other people entering the VR space," Palmer Luckey (above) said in an interview at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.

"We'll see when we know more about the price, weight, when it's shipping, stuff like that," he added, referring to the lack of details forthcoming from Sony.

The gadget Sony launched on Tuesday is a prototype that's been under development for three years at the Tokyo company, which intends to offer it to game developers at an unannounced later date.

Luckey's point, that Sony's entry into virtual reality will propel development in the space, could be correct. Conversations with a handful of developers who had tried one or both headsets at the event revealed they are all excited about building virtual reality into their games.

"I think it's the last big thing in gaming," Luckey said. "If you can have perfect virtual reality, and we're not perfect, but if you can get there, what other simulation could there be?

"That's super corny and lame to say, because people will make new games and new game play ideas, but in terms of hardware and hardware improvements, VR will eventually be the final step," he said.

The future of VR

Looking into the future, and closer to that point of perfect virtual reality, Oculus is working on developing a completely self-contained headset. Right now, the device needs to be connected to a powerful PC or console for its graphics, and that means a cable.

"Mobile is the long-term future of VR -- having mobile chipsets embedded into the headset itself -- but right now they're not powerful enough to provide the kind of experience that you want to have in VR," he said.

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