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The Oculus Rift is an upcoming virtual reality head-mounted display.  It is being developed by Oculus VR, who have raised $91 million of which $2.4 million was raised with crowdfunding via Kickstarter.  The company was founded by Palmer Luckey and Scaleform co-founders Brendan Iribe and Michael Antonov, as well as Nate Mitchell.  id Software co-founder John Carmack was later hired as its Chief Technology Officer.

On December 12, 2013, Marc Andreessen joined the company’s board when his firm Andreessen Horowitz led the $75 million Series B venturing fund.

The consumer version of the product is expected (but not confirmed) to become available in late 2014 or early 2015.

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As a head-mounted display (HMD) designer at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, Palmer Luckey earned a reputation for having the largest personal collection of HMDs in the world, and is a longtime moderator in Meant to be Seen (MTBS) 3D’s discussion forums.

Through MTBS’ forums, Palmer developed the idea of creating a new head mounted display that was both more effective than what is currently on the market, and inexpensive for gamers.  Coincidentally, John Carmack had been doing his own research and stumbled upon Palmer’s developments.  After sampling an early unit, Carmack favored Luckey’s prototype and just before the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), id Software announced that their future updated version of Doom 3, which would be known as BFG Edition, which would be compatible with head mounted display units.  During the convention, Carmack introduced a duct taped head mounted display based on Palmer’s Oculus Rift prototype, which ran Carmack’s own software.  The unit featured a high speed Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) and a 5.6-inch LCD display, visible via dual lenses that were positioned over the eyes to provide a 90 degrees horizontal and 110 degrees vertical stereoscopic 3D perspective.

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Following the presentation of the Oculus Rift prototype at E3 in June 2012, on August 1, 2012, the company announced a Kickstarter campaign to further develop the product.  Within four hours of the announcement, Oculus secured its intended amount of $250,000, and in less than 36 hours, the campaign had surpassed $1 million in funding, eventually ending with $2,437,429.

The Oculus developer kit was an initial version financed by a Kickstarter campaign.  The campaign sought to get the initial Oculus Rift into the hands of developers to begin integration of the device into their games.

In August 2012, Oculus announced that the “dev kit” version of the Oculus Rift would be given as a reward to backers who pledge $300 or more on Kickstarter, with an expected shipping date set for December 2012.  There was also a limited run of 100 unassembled Rift prototype kits for pledges over $275 that would ship a month earlier.  Both versions were intended to include Doom 3 BFG Edition, but Rift support in the game was not ready, so to make up for it they included a choice of discount vouchers for either Steam or the Oculus store.  Dev kit preorders were made available for $300 on their website starting on September 26, 2012.  These kits sold at a rate of 4-5 per minute for the first day, before slowing down throughout the week.  These preorders were expected to be delivered in “May 2013,” but started arriving around March 30.  Currently Oculus is accepting new developer kit orders on their website with a ship date in 3-5 business days.

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A consumer-oriented version of the Rift is in development, which will be aimed at a general market and feature improved components.  Improved head tracking, positional tracking, 1080p resolution, and wireless operation are some of the features under consideration for the consumer Rift.  In June 2013, a 1080p version of the Rift was show at E3.  At Consumer Electronics Show (CES), in January 2014, an updated prototype codenamed “Crystal Cove” was unveiled, which uses a special low-persistence of vision organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display and includes a new motion tracking system that uses an external camera which tracks infrared dots located in the headset.  The new motion tracking system would allow the system to detect actions such as leaning or crouching, which should help alleviate sickness experienced by users when the software didn’t respond to these actions.

The Oculus Rift has been endorsed by a number of notable game industry figures such as John Carmack, the co-founder of id Software and lead programmer on Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake, Gabe Newell, the co-founder and CEO of Valve, Cliff Bleszinski, designer at Epic Games on the Unreal series and Gears of War, Michael Abrash, Quake developer and author, Tim Sweeney, founder of Epic Games and developer on ZZT and the Unreal engine, Chris Roberts, the creator of the Wing Commander series and Star Citizen, Markus “Notch” Persson, the lead designer and former lead developer of Minecraft, David Helgason, the CEO of Unity Technologies and the developer of the Unity Game Engine, Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios, Masahiro Sakurai, the director of the Kirby series, the Super Smash Bros. series, and Kid Icarus: Uprising, Dean Hall, the designer of the ARMA 2 mod DayZ, and CCP Games who created the game Eve Online.

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The Oculus Rift is one of the most promising devices currently being developed, not only within the gaming industry, but for the entertainment industry as a whole.  There are honestly so many possibilities that can be achieved through the Oculus Rift.  Just imagine basically being in your favorite film or video game.  Getting 360 degree views on anything that has been created within the film or gaming world.  If they can achieve everything that they claim, the Oculus Rift will be the next step that will bridge the gap between reality and virtual reality.  I can’t wait to see where this technology will lead!

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