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24 hours in the Oculus Rift

It was my own fault. I ran out of debris when I cut left instead of right, and now there's nowhere for me to hide. Alarms are going off all through the cockpit, cracks have formed across the glass canopy, and I've just burned through my countermeasures. There's no way out of this, and just as I start rotating the ship to face my enemy head on, everything explodes. Glass flies inward toward me, and then all of the air in the cockpit is sucked out into space.

In the real world, I exhale deeply and my heart rate increases. It happens every time I die in Eve: Valkyrie, and it's the first of dozens of times my body has reacted physically to something I've seen in the Oculus Rift CV1.

VR hardware is nothing new, but this generation's efforts in head tracking, higher resolution displays, and pricing that works in some but probably not enough homes has created a compelling place to play. In many ways, the current rush in VR started in promises made when future owners clicked on the Oculus Rift Kickstarter for the first time. An immersive environment for games, compatibility with the Xbox One, and a whole new world for video experiences were at the top of the list, and even as far back as the first developer kit it was clear Rift was going to be something special. Two years and several revisions later — not to mention a separate mobile partnership with Samsung — it's clear the early vision for the hardware capabilities of the Oculus Rift has been realized.

The most important things for Oculus to have accomplished with the retail Rift are ease of use and a healthy selection of launch content. The former Oculus has mostly nailed. Out of the box, it couldn't be more clear what you're supposed to do with the Rift. Plug in the cables, follow the simple step-by-step instructions on the setup guide linked in the box, and put the headset on.

Oculus is a big fan of telling people you can put the headset on like a baseball cap, and for the most part that is true. If you wear glasses you're going to want to put the headset on eyes-first instead of the way the instructions tell you, and the fit is more than a little tight — weirdly less comfortable than using the Samsung Gear VR in fact — but it works. Once the headset is set on your head correctly, the eye adjustment tool is easy to use and effective. The headset sits on your head without resting on your nose, depending on the shape of your face. If you've got a slender nose, you'll find you can stare down your nose into the real world, which also causes a little bit of light bleed in virtual reality itself.

Playing a game is clearly the main event, and that part works amazingly well.

A few hours into use, and one thing that is clear about the design of this headset is a need for nearly constant cleaning. Dust on the lenses, skin particulates after letting someone else use it, and fingerprints everywhere will have you scrambling for alcohol wipes and microfiber cleaning cloths. Curiously, Oculus doesn't include anything in the package for cleaning. Most of the rubbery surfaces are easy enough to wipe out, but the IR-friendly cloth around the outer shell is going to collect anything and everything. The same is likely true of the velcro straps over time, though that's unlikely to be a problem unless you're constantly adjusting.

Similar to what we've seen with the Samsung Gear VR, Oculus has built a virtual environment with a friendly menu system to explore. The wall of content is broken out into a couple of simple groups, with large icons and text so you're not squinting to see what's going on. The virtual environment is currently a futuristic apartment, with you at the center on a large rug with books and a fireplace surrounding you. The content wall is filled with games, but few of them will be immediately familiar to most. Eve: Valkyrie and two other games are available immediately to install, but if you're looking for a big familiar name from traditional PC or console lineups you'll be disappointed. That's not to say there aren't plenty of interesting things here, they're just unfamiliar. What does seem to be missing are video apps. The Oculus-powered Gear VR has dozens to choose from, including Hulu and Netflix. It's possible these apps are delayed or require different licenses to work with the desktop hardware out of a browser, but it's strange to see them missing.

Eve: Valkyrie

Installing a new game through the Oculus environment is currently a little on the frustrating side. You hit the install button with your included Xbox One controller, and when it is finished you're told to remove the headset and complete a "final installation" on your monitor. This means removing the headset, clicking a single button on your PC, and putting the headset back on. With Eve: Valkyrie, this happened a second time after installation so you can link your Eve and Oculus accounts. This process feels unnecessary; rendering the desktop in VR for you to click that one button would be trivial, and would put significantly less work on the user. There's even a Virtual Desktop app you can install from Steam to do exactly this, but it's not available out of the box and installing third-party software requires navigating through Settings to enable the option.

Playing games is clearly the main event, and that part works amazingly well. Head tracking is incredibly smooth in every title we tried, but head positioning is a little more finicky. There's a button in the Oculus quick menu for re-positioning yourself in the game, and it is frequently used at the start of Eve: Valkyrie. Games that recommend standing or sitting state it clearly, and getting those two confused is a great way to fall down or become nauseated, but the overall experience is fantastic. Visually, Oculus has delivered.

Eve: Valkyrie

The level of immersion is exactly what we've come to expect from all the demos we've had so far with the developer hardware, but the inclusion of headphones is something new. The simple padding hides how capable these headphones are, as they look a little on the cheap side at first glance. Positioning them correctly over your ears is a great way to feel completely immersed with decent audio, but if you've got over-the-ear headphones you prefer you'll probably want to swap them out quickly.

The transition from Oculus Rift Developer Kit to the now shipping CV1 version of this generation's first big VR headset has been a long and exciting process. There aren't many opportunities to watch a company and their first product grow and change over time, and that's exactly what we got with the Oculus Rift as it moved from Kickstarter to trend starter. Now that we've finally had some time with the retail version of this VR headset, it's a lot easier to appreciate the journey so far and at the same time feel excited about the accessories and software that are on the way for this headset.

Russell is a tech nerd who chases the best of everything, from phones to game consoles to laptops and everything glowing or beeping. He's the Managing Editor of gaming content for Mobile Nations and can be found contributing to all of the Mobile Nations sites. Reach out on Twitter!

14 Comments
  • Im sorry, but the Rift and others look ridiculous. HoloLens is a slick and sexy piece of hardware. The lease they could does add some curves and jazz -Mach 8 Solutions, LLC a software company.
    Http://mach8solutions.com
  • They all look ridiculous. But, when you are wearing them, you certainly can't see yourself (well, I suppose you could if you looked into a mirror while wearing the HoloLens). Looks are definately not the point of these machines. If I was going to buy a VR headset, comfort and features would be much more important than the way the device looks.
  • I agree with jeff here.  Additionally, I dont think there is a more rediculous picture than that one of the microsoft execs all wearing hololens units with their hands in front of their faces.   That picture seriously makes all the individuals in the pictures of people wearing vibes and rifts look like the coolest people ever.  And... I'm including that awful magazine cover of Lucky in that as well.
  • Touché, VR isn't for going out and about. AR is. -Mach 8 Solutions, LLC a software company.
    Http://mach8solutions.com
  • PS-VR is well designed as well.
  • HoloLens was launched as a way to provide digital help for growing businesses and individuals. Everyone's allowed to dream big, but sometimes those dreams need a little assistance. Hence HoloLens ridiculously awesome.
  • WPenvy...This isn't meant to be a fashion statement. It's meant to introduce people to a whole new platform with endless possibilities..especially when future iterations come out. Are you really that vain that you'd focus on how you look wearing something in your house versus the experience of using that item?
  • I played with the Oculus Rift for about an hour, a few days ago. It was nice, but nothing more. It still doesn't "feel" like a final product...
  • While all of these VR sets look like excellent devices I still see them as little more than a gimmick.  Yea, they will sell a ton but how many will constantly use them.  I have a feeling most people will still prefer to game on their large screen televisions as opposed to having to strap a bulky device to their faces.  Add to that the lack of couch co-op or even just the ability for others in the room to watch.  The computer requirements are an issue as well.  I see all of these VR sets being just like the Wii was.... insanely popular when it first came out and within a year or so becoming something that you only bring out when you have friends over so they can try it out.   I can't see many gamers using this for decent amounts of time (2+ hrs) on a regular basis.  Not to mention the fact that you can nearly buy both an PS4 and Xbox1 for the price of the headset alone without a computer to run it.
  • You're already wrong and it isn't even in the hands yet of most who preordered. Gamers having been pouring hours into it because of how well it was designed. Just about every review outlet has stated just how light it is despite the bulkiness....and you can have others watch on the PC screen. This far exceeds the Wii in terms of the experience. Its obvious you don't know because you haven't tried and are letting your own ignorance get in the way of something youd probably enjoy.
  • Can watch on the PC screen...  Yay!  "Hey guys! Instead of playing games on the flatscreen in the living room lets crowd around the PC so we can watch one of us at a time play this VR thing.  And I never mentioned weight did I?  I just said bulky.  And of course people are spending hours with it now.  Its brand new.  People spend hours with their brand new Wiis.  People spent hours with their brand new google glasses.  Thats what people do with brand new things.  Again like I said earlier, this is a gimmick item and for a while people will use it a lot but over time, I'm guessing less than a year as a whole not just on an individual level, the use will drop drastically.   Additionally, I never compared it to the Wii in terms of quality or experience, I simply stated that like the Wii it is a gimmick and that it will be popular for a while and then taper off quickly. You state I'm "already wrong" but what I stated is an opinon.  You might not like my opinion but it cant be wrong.  Its an opinion, and apparently in this case just different than yours.  Also are review outlets always the best places to base your arguement on?  How many of these same outlets gave recent (last year or so) games with tons and tons of launch problems, some even so bad that the game was borderline unplayable, 9-10 out of 10 reviews.  Games so bad that you can go to gamestop and get them for less than 20 bucks months after release but were recieving glowing reviews from reviewers just before launch. Might I be ignorant about the amazingness of VR?  Maybe.  But it looks like your fanboyism of VR is showing just the same.  
  • PS-VR is affordable and does couch co-op. Not all VR's are expensive and badly designed. That's why PS4 will be the biggest winner of this round.
  • Hate to say this, but if anything is going to make VR take off, it'll be the...um... "adult" experience...
  • lol keith you are so wrong on so many fronts. i hate the wii but this will never match the wii in numbers...ever. minimum requirements alone kill this immediately. it will need to be dumbed down before this takes off and can finally be mainstream.