What is Oculus Rift?

Lynn Wright / 28 April 2016

Virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift are spearheading a new generation of entertainment devices that aim to immerse you in a virtual world.

Virtual reality (VR) has stepped out of the realm of science fiction movies, with consumer VR headsets, such as the Oculus Rift, being snapped up by those eager to experience what’s being billed as the next generation of digital entertainment.

What is the Oculus Rift headset?

Developed by Oculus, which is owned by social media giant Facebook, the Rift headset offers a new way to interact with a virtual reality world.

The Oculus Rift is a head-mounted display that’s worn on the face like sci-fi ski goggles. It features lenses, high-resolution mobile-phone-size screens and head-tracking technology that shuts out the physical world and displays a virtual reality environment. 

As you move your head, your view within the Oculus Rift headset of the digital landscape shifts, fooling your brain into believing you’re actually present, creating a virtual reality.

The Oculus Rift headset includes two OLED displays, each with a 1080-x-1200 resolution that update 90 times a second, to create a high-quality 3D image that you can explore. It costs around £499, plus shipping costs – and the high demand means that orders placed now will not ship until August.

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What VR headsets are available?

The Oculus Rift isn’t the only VR headset to go on sale this year, with both HTC and Sony releasing virtual-reality headsets. 

Sony's PlayStation VR headset will go on sale in October for £349 and work with Sony’s PlayStation 4. Available now, the HTC Vive costs £689. 

Unlike Sony’s PlayStation VR headset, both the Rift and Vive need a powerful PC to create the virtual worlds.

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What does the Oculus Rift do?

Oculus Rift aims to immerse you in a believable virtual environment. The view is digitally created in 3D and it instantly updates as you look around the virtual world. 

There are lots of uses for virtual reality, though digital entertainment such as EVE: Valkyrie – a space combat game – make up the bulk of the content initially available.

But Oculus Rift is also about experiencing new worlds. Nasa has created its Mars 2030 virtual-reality application that lets you walk on the surface of Mars, or you can virtually scale a mountain in Everest

Other VR experiences include being able to soar as an eagle over Paris, and take an educational tour through the bloodstream of the human body, seeing up close how cells work.

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Do I need an Oculus Rift?

If you’ve a fast PC and want to experience the latest in computer entertainment, a VR headset is worth trying. 

If you can wait until June, Sony is setting up PlayStation VR demo units in UK Game stores for people to test out.

An alternative is Google Cardboard. Available for a few pounds, Google Cardboard is a cheap way to try VR. 

The cardboard headset houses your smartphone and there are numerous free and cheap VR apps that you can download on iPhone and Android smartphones, effectively turning your smartphone into a VR headset without the price tag.

For more tips and useful information, browse our technology articles.

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