What if you could buy a device that would instantly shut off the world around you and teleport you to your very own movie theater? Sounds too good to be true, right? It isn't.
The Oculus Rift is a new virtual reality system that's poised to start a frenzy within the video game industry thanks to its affordable cost and cutting-edge technology that combines a high resolution, head-mounted display with glasses-free 3D, low-latency processing, and a realistic, 360-degree head-tracking field of view. In simple terms, basically you put on a pair of ski-mask-inspired goggles with two tiny monitors for lenses and sensors that mirror your own movements; tilt your head in the real world, it tilts in the virtual world, and so on.
The hardware units are still being refined for mass production, but right now early adopters and software pioneers can buy development kits directly for the company to start experimenting on their own for a cool $300. The results have been pretty funny to watch (one team made a program that simulates getting your head chopped off with a guillotine), but they've been mostly confined to the video game world. A Korean team called UXground recently released an early version of VR Cinema 3D, which looks like an unreal way to watch new movies.
VR Cinema 3D places the viewer right inside a full, stadium-seating-equipped movie theater. You can choose where you want to sit. You can walk around. It's like a holodeck for movie theaters. And while it may sound strange to sit at home and watch things in a virtual movie theater instead of in, say, a home theater setup, Ben Kuchera at the Penny Arcade Report explains just how satisfying this new experience can be:
There's also the fact that no light was spilling from the headset, nor from my headphones. My wife could be in the room with me, or she could be watching something else on the television, and I'd still feel like I'm in a huge room by myself, watching my own movie on a giant screen. Hell, you could lock me in a closet at that point and it wouldn't feel claustrophobic. This is the sort of thing that could help people pass the time on ultra long flights without making them feel boxed in. I felt alone, surrounded by space, but to everyone else I was just sitting in a very small space.
Context is everything when it comes to entertainment, and when I watch a movie in my home it feels a certain way. Having such a well-designed illusion giving me the feeling of being in a theater, the movie felt like an event. It held my attention in a way a movie wouldn’t if I had been sitting in my chair, checking my e-mail or writing at the same time. I felt focused, closed off and pleasantly alone.
And that simulation of a virtual space is the game changer that that makes this more than just watching something on a large screen, as some "virtual theater' displays have done in the past. Sure, it sounds isolating, but there's certainly nothing stopping anyone from developing a networked version of this that would allow for more people to be in the theater with you (you could have a movie date night with a loved one halfway around the world). Obviously this will never be exactly the same as seeing a movie on opening night in a real movie theater with a real audience, but it sounds like it has the potential to really make a long flight a whole lot more bearable for movie lovers.
Here's a video of the software in use. The reason it has that double-bubble effect is because this is how it looks on a desktop: wearing the headset merges the two separate images into one seamless 3D experience.
And for a video of people actually reacting to the Oculus Rift, check this out. Be warned, it's got some salty language -- apparently it's hard to wear the Rift for the first time and not drop some F bombs.