Blink, and you would’ve missed any mention of Virtual Reality at both Microsoft and Sony’s E3 press conferences this year. A weird move, considering both have differing by interested stakes in the future of this hardware and its immediate effect on the industry. Sony has Morpheus, Microsoft has a budding relationship with the Rift (as well as their own Hololens) and Oculus themselves are aiming for any sort of reach they can. And despite their laissez faire presence, all three have changed my perception on the importance of this technology.
I’ve already written at length about my extended experience with Sony’s own VR solution, Project Morpheus. The handful of demoes are got my hands on often lay on the side of tech demo rather than promising, future title, but almost all of them managed to achieve a sort of immersion that a regular TV can’t cannot hope to do. Whether it was physically picking up and shooting weapons in London Heist or testing the viscous threshold of my underwear with The Kitchen Morpheus was able to explore and transport me to worlds that it created – tricking my brain immediately as to where it actually was.
That, in essence, is what VR should do. It’s why I have very little issue with the fact that a lot of these new Very titles are actually over-the-shoulder third-person views rather than up close, first-person ones. VR doesn’t need to be about head controlled cameras or moving views (although many games right now use that too). It was the crux in The Kitchen and London Heist, as well as EVE: Valkyrie, but it wasn’t the reason why the former two were so exhilarating. The way Sony’s Morpheus’ allowed me to interact with its virtual worlds is what Sony has nailed down to the floor at the moment, and I can’t wait to see how they explore it further.
That said – a little framerate and resolution bump wouldn’t hurt before launch either. But only because Oculus Rift made me realise how far behind they were.
Long time frontrunners of VR technology, I really thought Oculus had fluffed their chance to get their necks out early and essentially lead the VR rollout. They were persistent on delivering the best virtual reality experience possible, because with a leap this big forward, first impressions are everything. And the retail version of the Rift, revealed just two weeks ago, makes a lot of noise.
I’ve used both the first and second prototypes of the Rift in the past, and both were clunky, heavy pieces of machinery that strapped to my face and left me feeling violently ill most of the time. There’s a reason Oculus wanted consumers not to buy their early attempts, and the retail version showed me why. It’s incredibly light on the head, comfortable to wear and complete immersive it’s it’s included audio solution and pristine head-tacking.
Tilt your head in any direction and the Rift’s intelligent engineering shifts the weight noticeably around, ensuring the the headset neither comes off or every feels uncomfortable. It’s a weird sensation at first, but a crucial one that I missed on the Morpheus I used only moments later. The resolution was crisp on the dual OLED displays, and the framerate never dipped enough for my brain to want to eject out of my skull (trust me, that happens without you even realising most of the time).
There’s just so much right with the time and effort Oculus seems to have poured into their Retail Rift, and I honestly left puzzled as to why the thing wasn’t on shelves yet. It seems, well, done, and it could just be a combined fact of manufacturing processes and a delay for strong launch software. Because right now, the Rift feels hardware completely. Better yet, it feels like the innovator Oculus promised all those years ago.
Nothing screams innovation, however, as loud as Microsoft’s Hololens. I wouldn’t blame you if this was the first time you’ve seen the augmented reality device, considering Microsoft have only shown it off at two events prior to this. The head-mounted visor holds all its computing internals on-board, able to function without a tether to a Windows 10 powered laptop. That in itself sounds incredible, but what it’s able to do goes far beyond where you think technology really is at.
I was able to experience the same demo Zoe did with the Hololens, so I’m not going to really knuckle down on the specifics of it all. The Hololens is very different to both the Morpheus and the Rift in one simple facet. While both of these VR headsets take you to their worlds, Hololens brings a world to you. So, for example, turning my head away from the Halo Briefing Room table didn’t now reflect the holograms onto another part of the room – because that would mean the Holograms don’t actually exist right? In fact, they do, and they were still there on the table I was no longer looking at. Out of sight, out of mind.
That’s the beauty of Hololens, and how its own brand of Augmented Reality is bridging the gap between our world and science fiction. Microsoft were very open about the purchase of Minecraft specifically for this headset, and right now it seems like the perfect title for it. Their wide field of view demo is nowhere near the smaller vision cone the headset actually allows you to see through (it’s still more than enough though), but being able to interact with a holographic projection with your hands and voice is, well, spellbinding.
I do, however, question how much Microsoft can do with it in the gaming sphere alone. Hololens is far from a gaming accessory, and the software giants have a far greater vision for their new toy in a broad scope of fields. I don’t expect it tube a competitor to the likes of Rift and Morpheus, because they’re trying to achieve different things. Hololens could easily be used to project Holographic representations of HUDs or in-game objects, but I’m anxious to see how far down the rabbit hole Microsoft really choose to go with it in a gaming sense.
But regardless of some minor reservations, the future looks incredibly bright for the introduction of Virtual Reality on all fronts. Sony has some hardware work to do while Oculus has more games to pursue, but both present digital media in more immersive, engrossing ways that previously were simply impossible. Microsoft’s Hololens might be angling at a different kind of revolution, but E3 was a fantastic showcase for all three on a personal level.
It’s almost then understandable why they were so quiet during conferences, because it’s incredibly difficult to try and convey what all three pieces of tech can do in a hands-off, impersonal why. That might be odd to think about, but rest assured that right now, there’s no better time for VR to be coming back.
Last Updated: June 22, 2015