Oculus Rift demoed at CES, we try out the beta

Games are always about trying to immerse you into the action, but a new system called Oculus Rift is taking that to new extremes, bringing "virtual reality" even closer to "reality". Remember The Lawnmower Man? It's that. With bells on.

Demoed to pocket-lint at CES 2013 in Las Vegas, the Oculus Rift system is still very much in the early stages of development. It already has backing from a number of big industry gaming names, like John Carmack (Doom, Quake, etc), and immerses you in a game by forcing you to wear what is essentially a pair of high-tech ski goggles. These feature two in-built monitors and sport the processing power to read your head movements and act accordingly.

Move your head in real life and you move your head in the game, the company explained. That's the easy part. The hard part is getting the delay between your movement and what is replicated on screen to virtually zero, so that what you see and how you move is instantly replicated on the two screens inches away from your eyes.

In our quick play, Oculus has certainly achieved that. We played a simple cargo hold level of an unnamed game, running through corridors with fans moving, sparks flying - all of which had a perceived depth but, admittedly, no baddies to fend off or deal with.

Moving our head moved the action (you still have to manage direction and strafing with the gamepad) and it was a case of look and shoot rather than point and shoot. It's clever stuff, and totally immersive. Job done.

It takes a few minutes to get to grips with the new control system without completely turning your body around on the spot - we suspect an office chair will become the perfect gaming accessory here - and we found that when we tried, we instinctively reverted back to the toggle on the gamepad a couple of times to right ourselves. 

Where the Oculus Rift system really works is that it gives you the ability to peer around corners, by actually moving your head in a peering fashion. A strange sensation, given that we were sitting on a chair in a large ballroom in a Las Vegas hotel going nowhere.

The graphics shown in our demo were good, Unity and Unreal engine good, but by no means life-replacing. You still know you are playing a video game, albeit one that will be a little more tiring as you really have to concentrate on what's going on with your whole body rather than just your thumbs.

The Oculus Rift platform isn't the first virtual reality headset by a long shot, but what is so promising about this successful Kickstarter project is the speed, accuracy and realism of the tracking. There really is zero lag and that helps trick the brain into believing what you are seeing. The company plans to improve the tech specs of the device further before it hits the market.

At the moment, the prototype is made with off the shelf parts, but the company is planning better screens, faster processors and improved kit where it can, all for a £200 price point.

We played in the virtual world for only a couple of minutes, but taking the headset off, standing up and then stepping away did bring on a sense of disorientation. The same kind of feeling you get from stepping off a boat sometimes. That's promising, very promising indeed.

There is no word on when Oculus Rift will ship to consumers. However, with a budget of $2.5 million and backing from several developers and industry big-wigs, it's certainly one to watch.