Virtual reality has been making a bit of a comeback recently, but not just for gaming.
Oculus Rift - the much-discussed super sensitive goggles that put you into a 3D environment - has the potential to let you wander about without actually navigating the physical world. Using high-end technology at an affordable price tag, the Oculus Rift opens the door to a wide range of experiences. And software developers have been keen to capatalise.
You can use the Oculus Rift to shoot at attackers in video games... or you could use it to soar above the tallest skyscrapers, view your explosive brain activity in real-time as you think, swim around with dangerous sharks and whales, or even climb the great ice wall in Game of Thrones. Virtual reality doesn't have to be limited to gamers, and thankfully it isn't.
There are tonnes of spectacular experiences that work with the Oculus Rift headset at this very moment, and Pocket-lint has detailed some of the best ones below. Enjoy.
What is the Oculus Rift?
A company called Oculus VR developed the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that allows players to step inside games or apps and completely immerse themselves in a virtual world. A Kickstarter campaign financed the initial version of Oculus Rift in 2012.
Facebook announced in March it had agreed to buy Oculus VR for more than $2 billion in cash and stock. The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of 2014. Despite the buyout, Oculus VR will maintain its headquarters in California and continue development of the Oculus Rift.
Also in March, Oculus VR started accepting pre-orders for the second iteration of its Oculus Rift development kit. The newer kit features several upgrades over the first development kit, such as a higher-resolution, low-persistence OLED display and higher refresh rate, among other things.
A consumer version of the Oculus Rift is in development. The company has not announced a release date, though it showed off a 1080p version of the Oculus Rift at E3 in June. The headset went by the prototype codename Crystal Cove and featured a new motion tracking system.
The idea is that the final version of Oculus Rift will deliver a high-end virtual reality experience at an affordable price. Not only will the headset be accessible but also comfortable and lightweight for anyone to use for hours on end.
What are Oculus Rift 'experiences'?
More than 170 games are compatible with the Oculus Rift, though many are only planned or confirmed for release. Apart from traditional apps and games optimised for Oculus Rift, there are several third-party projects in the works that use the Oculus Rift to create new or unique virtual reality experiences.
Here's a list of some of the most noteworthy experiences available right now (in no particular order):
Game of Thrones
HBO held a promotional exhibit at SXSW in March - called Ascend the Wall - that merged the television show Game of Thrones with the Oculus Rift headset.
More specifically, the exhibit placed people inside of a physical replica of the elevator that takes the Night’s Watch up the 700-foot ice wall featured in the Game of Thrones universe. Using the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, headphones, and several 4D elements (like environment shaking and fan-generated wind), SXSW attendees were able to scale the ice wall and look upon the area Beyond the Wall.
When asked if we could expect more Oculus Rift and Game of Thrones mashups in the future, HBO said it hadn't yet considered any plans.
This one is technically considered a game rather than an experience, but we thought it was so terrifying that we had to include it as an experience.
When we played through a decent chunk of the forthcoming new Alien-licensed game from Sega, we already proclaimed it one of the scariest experiences we've had in gaming. But playing Alien: Isolation on an Xbox One in a darkened (overheated) room is like skipping merrily through the Night Garden with Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy in comparison to the Oculus Rift prototype build we've put ourselves through.
The idea is simply to escape, which is achievable in the set three minutes. You absolutely must not die, which is achievable in far less than three minutes. We did neither. We managed to elude the creature for the whole three minutes in which case the demo ended. We were asked if we wanted to have another go, but genuinely felt too shaken up to go back inside the rig again.
The Oculus Rift can make you feel and do many things, but this one is probably the strangest: students at Zurich University of the Arts have developed Birdly, a machine for Oculus Rift that's supposed to make you feel as though you're flying...like a bird.
Birdly goes around your body, sort of like a flapping body suit, and measures your movements. Whatever move you make is translated into 3D simulation, and you can view your movements in real-time via the Oculus Rift. In addition to visual and aural sensations, Birdly taps into your physical and olfactory senses. As your speed in the simulation increases, for instances, a fan mounted in front of your face speedily blows gusts of air to mimic wind.
Birdly also exposes you to different smells as you pass over landscapes to create a fully immersive virtual reality experience. While all this sounds really fun, it also looks really ridiculous. Just watch the video above. We also can't help but wonder if anyone has experienced motion sickness with Birdly. Either way, it's still a cool experience.
Parrot announced in May two additions to its drone line-up - the smaller, more manoeuvrable Bepbop Drone and a controller accessory for iPad that adds the ability to control the drone from distances of up to 2km away. Both drones feature support for Oculus Rift.
The Bebop Drone includes a fish-eye lens and 14-megapixel sensor, boasting Full HD video, image stabilisation, and a wide-angle 180-degree view. While the Parrot Skycontroller has a HDMI socket where you can attach the Oculus Rift or another virtual reality headset to get a first-person view. What's more, says Parrot, movements of the head will adjust the camera's position and therefore viewpoint.
The Skycontroller can also be used with any smartphone or tablet running the Parrot software. The device sits on a special shelf and control is through two side-mounted joysticks. The person in the image above is piloting the drone using the controller in his hand and the Oculus Rift.
Digital production company Tool got a bunch of its developers together to dabble with Unity in order to create a tech demo for Oculus Rift they could be proud of. As they were all massive fans of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's South Park, it made sense for them to recreate the entire town and offer it as a free download for PC and Mac users to try our with their DevKits.
The map is based on the layout used for the South Park: The Stick of Truth videogame and as you explore you can hear some of the townsfolk say famous lines of dialogue. In addition, there's an Easter Egg hiding inside the church, so that's worth a visit.
The demo isn't officially licensed and is purely the brainchild of the Tool team. It might be worth downloading it sooner rather than later, therefore, before Comedy Central has something to say about it.
What if you could see inside your mind? Neuroscientists from UCSD and UCSF have developed software that works with the Oculus Rift to show a person’s brain reacting to stimuli in real time.
Second Life creator Philip Rosedale and a team of researchers at a company called High Fidelity unveiled a project that uses scientists' software. The project, called Glass Brain, debuted at SXSW earlier this year. It uses MRI scans and EEE electrodes to record brain activity. You can then observe the brain activity through the Oculus Rift.
Being able to neurologically demonstrate brain activity in 3D opens up a vast array of possibilities and implications not only in the technology field but also health. But, really, how awesome would it be to see your brain glowing and sparking away as you think?
Intrepid makers folk in Poland have created an Oculus Rift mod that will shift your perspective, literally. As an entry for the Intel Make It competition, the clever creators mounted two GoPros on a tall antenna carried in a backpack connected to Oculus Rift.
The result? Walking along with a view from several feet higher than usual. Since the cameras are pointed down the user's head can be seen from the heightened perspective – just like being in a third-person game. Imagine the augmented reality gaming possibilities for this. Your garden could be turned into a battle ground over-run with alien invaders you must escape. All it needs is some HUD data and health levels and it would feel decidedly game-like.
Since this was simply a competition entry we're not expecting it to appear anywhere soon but it's a great idea that will hopefully push AR gaming in new directions.
Would you like to see a completely rendered version of yourself right before your eyes? Oliver Kreylos, an Oculus Rift enthusiast and 3D expert, has combined three Kinects with an Oculus Rift to import a 3D representation of himself into virtual reality.
Video feeds from the Kinects (positioned in an equilateral triangle to correctly capture the subject), are combined and then fed into the Oculus Rift headset, generating a 3D version of the subject. In the video above, the subject is Kreylos, who can be seen sitting in a virtual office.
Although Kreylos' rendering in't perfect, it is the first time this particular effect has been tried in conjunction with the Oculus Rift. It'll be interesting to see how graphics improve as the technology also gets better.
Spanish group BeAnotherLab has used a Creative Commons technology called The Machine in order to discover what it would be like to swap genders.
Using Oculus Rift headsets, male and female volunteers ape each other's actions to effectively gain the impression of what it would be like to have the body of a person of the opposite sex. The project could also work with people of a the same sex, as each body is different so would still provide an interesting experience, but with gender swapping, there are many foreign elements to explore in first person.
BeAnotherLab has posted a video of its initial experiments (as seen above). Be warned that there is some mild nudity, so it's not really suitable for work.
When it comes to a fully immersive 3D environment like Oculus Rift it was only a matter of time before sex simulation got involved.
The Oculus sex bot uses a Novint Falcon, which is a grip-based controller bot, holding a Tenga - a Japanese masturbation device. The user simply gets comfortable inside the Tenga, slips on the Oculus Rift and let’s the virtual partner do the work. In this video above, it’s an Anime character that goes to work moving the virtual and real Tenga. But, obviously, this could be swapped out for anything the user wants.
It’s a bit slapdash right now but a future of these could really help to push sales of the Oculus Rift.
For those of you who want to ride a roller coaster in your living room, there's an Oculus Rift experience for that.
An Oculus developer with the handle Teddy0k has been working on an experience that creates a virtual roller coaster in your living room. The roller coaster simulator shrinks you down to the size of a mouse and zooms you around the room, taking you on a mock roller coaster ride. Simple yet fun.
But that's not all: the developer's experience relies on Unreal Engine 4 power. Check out the video below for a closer look.
Masters of Pie has created an Oculus Rift deep-sea diving demo to show off what can be done with the power of the 360-degree display. Pocket-lint went hands-on, and we have to say that it was surprising.
With headphones and the Oculus Rift firmly in place we were submerged in an aquatic world, looking up at our virtual boat floating above. There was a guide who told us where to look helping us catch sight of small coloured fish dashing by, near enough to touch – if they were real.
The experience opened our eyes to how much more immersive Oculus Rift can be in preference to TV. Despite our demo being less than high quality, in terms of CGI, it felt more emotionally effective than the highest resolution film or game seen on a flat screen.
An ambitious project from the University of Surrey aims to virtually send people to space using Oculus Rift and a space-worthy balloon.
The project started on Kickstarter earlier this year, and a £40 pledge secured you a "ride" to space. The idea is to send up a weather balloon to over 20km high equipped with 24 HD cameras. This will offer a 360-degree video that can be viewed with Oculus Rift as if the user were onboard the ascending vessel. After the flight special software will stitch the videos together to create the panoramic view of the space trip.
Lead researcher Dr Aaron Knoll from the University of Surrey said: "Ride to Space will give all aspiring astronauts the chance to be a virtual passenger, riding the balloon to space, and unlike other Galactic flights, it won’t cost the earth to be on board."
Unfortunately, the Kickstarter campaign wasn't successful. But the team is planning to launch another campaign incorporating all of the feedback it received.
As England rugby sponsor, O2 has created a fully immersive experience that lets Oculus Rift wearers virtually train with the England team.
The video above, called Wear the Rose, was filmed using nine GoPro Hero 3 cameras with custom-built gimbals strapped to players while training. After 160 hours of filming and 320 hours of development, the full 360-degree virtual participation was ready. The result is an Oculus Rift experience that lets users feel they're getting tackled by hooker Tom Youngs, or receiving a pass from fullback Mike Brown. But without the pain.
It's basically a prototype experience at the moment but shows the huge potential of Oculus Rift, both for gaming and for training simulators in the future.
That's it, for now.
If you know about any other Oculus Rift experience worth mentioning in this article, please let Pocket-lint know in the comments below. We plan to regularly update over time.