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Testing the Oculus Rift

November 20, 2014 1 comment
Me playing Microsoft Flight Simulator with the Oculus Rift

Me playing Microsoft Flight Simulator with the Oculus Rift

My college department purchased an Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headset recently and we are currently investigating how it can be used in our classes. Clearly it has use in video games, and there is quite a large range of games that support it.

Getting to grips with the system was clearly going to take some time, so I took the system home for the weekend. I left it for my teenage son to configure and after several hours of trying different settings he managed to get it working with a tech demo 3D scene. Later he managed to configure it to work with Minecraft, and after a long time spent in some online forums, got it working with Microsoft Flight Simulator.

The initial reaction from people is that it is ‘amazing’. Most people audibly gasp as they move around a virtual reality scene, and that was the reaction we had from most of the students who tried out the Oculus.

My son spent a long time figuring out how to configure it, trying different settings and messing with display settings on the computer. When I eventually tried setting it up on my own PC I managed to get it working within 20 minutes, mainly because I documented the settings I tried and took a methodical approach. I think different computers will have different setting requirements – display modes, resolutions, etc, so it is clear why Oculus Rift is still a ‘Development Kit’. It’s just not ready for the casual user who would want to plug and play. That said, there are many tech demos, games, ‘experiences’ and educational apps available for the Rift that showcase some of the possibilities of the technology.

Personally I want to be able to create content that uses┬áthe headset, and particularly educational content rather than games. Unreal Development Kit has support for Oculus Rift, so this is probably the tool I’m most likely to start with. It is primarily a game engine, but can be used to create simulations and educational environments. Oculus Rift might be the device that makes Virtual Reality mainstream.

The technology has been around for many years, and my first experience of VR was back in 1993 in Hong Kong. There was a Virtual Reality arcade near the ferry terminal in Kowloon that contained 2 different games, a dogfight flying simulation and a multi-player combat arena. Back then the headsets were much bulkier and heavier than the Oculus, and the graphics were much simpler (reminded me of the Dire Straits ‘Money for Nothing’ music video). The arcade was so popular that you had to have ID to gain entry and they recorded your details so you couldn’t sneak back in on the same day to have another go. I’m sure that if we offered a free go of the Oculus we’d be flooded with people wanting to try it (and we might take it along to our college open evenings to give prospective students a glimpse of the future). I’ll keep blogging about my experiences with the Oculus, so stay tuned if you have an interest in this technology.

Donald Clark demonstrating learning with the Oculus Rift:

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