30 May 2013

Virtual reality is back in HD. And this is way more important than just gaming.

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Oculus Rift Oculus Rift Oculus VR/RedShark

Index

All eyes are on bigger displays, from projectors to the 4K tidal wave on the horizon, but what if the next revolution is something that's already here?

There's war brewing in the battle to dominate our viewing habits. It's exciting (as our 4K coverage from NAB has proven), it's confusing (as developers and platform-holders struggle to find their niche and identify the new frontier) and it's, ultimately, going to lead to the biggest living-room land-grab since the CRT-to-1080p HD revolution.

The truth is that this paradigm shift is much bigger than the days of CRT versus HD and makes that old spat of HD DVD versus Blu Ray look like a minor skirmish. This time, not only is the hardware changing but our entire way of consuming media has already undergone massive disruption. Consumer tastes are mutating thanks in large part to the friction-free nature of services like NetFlix, and platform-holders like Sony, with its streaming-focused PS4 announcement earlier this year, are doing their best to predict the direction - and cater to the tastes of - the migrating masses.

The living-room struggle

We've already seen major players in the living-room space struggle. Nintendo attempted to introduce a second-screen of its own into the living-room ecosystem with Wii U and all signs thus far point to a miscalculation: however ergonomic and appealing Nintendo's Wii U gamepad is, most consumers already have a second screen they're devoted to that does everything the gamepad can and more. It's only early days, of course, and Nintendo is the master of the slow-burn comeback, so don't count them down for the count just yet.

As the war over the second-screen continues, with PSVita taking up arms as it plays a stronger role in Sony's Playstation ecosystem alongside PS4, Oculus Rift is parachuting into all territories this month like a silent assassin. A head-mounted display built with Windows-based gaming in mind, Oculus Rift is a Kickstarter success story, sailing past its $250,000 dream figure towards $2.5 million and now very nearly a reality for retail consumption.

Positive

Early reports have all been extremely positive, the gaming press are convinced - enamoured even - by its ability to immerse you in the world of a firstperson game like Team Fortress 2 or Hawken with its development version's display projecting at a split 640x480 resolution per-eye (the consumer model is purported to be targeting a higher-fidelity 1080 display).

What very few people are talking about, however, is the Rift's potential to be a more general media viewer, a competitor for that second-screen space and the likes of Sony's HMZ personal viewer series, for example, but one with a more open gate to developers and programmers. Rift also poses a much stronger value proposition than the likes of the HMZ series, rumoured to be targeting a $300 price-tag for its retail debut compared to HMZ's £1000 ballpark. And then there's the fact that it can conjure stereo 3D with ease, offering a tantalising proposition for movie companies to uncover a new niche for all those post-production 3D conversion projects.

Though no plans have been announced for Rift as a more general piece of media delivery, you can't help think it's only a matter of time with that HDMI-ready input gazing out from those goggles.



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David Valjalo

Former writer for game industry bible Edge Magazine, David Valjalo has over a decade of experience writing about and working in the videogame industry, from retail to development and journalism. Educated in and feverishly passionate about film, David is a keen explorer of the overlaps between film and other visual mediums. Now a freelance writer and consultant on game design and production, his words have appeared in a range of major publications and outlets including T3 The Gadget Magazine, Rock Paper Shotgun, PC Gamer and Official PlayStation Magazine.

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