Oculus Rift VR becomes reality with launch of first consumer headset

Oculus is shipping its first virtual reality Oculus Rift headsets to consumers who backed it on Kickstarter, marking a rite of passage for mainstream virtual reality.

Oculus Rift: consumer version of headset shipped from this week
Oculus Rift: consumer version of headset shipped from this week

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg described the launch as "another big milestone towards the future of computing". Oculus founder Palmer Luckey delivered a headset to the first customer in Alaska.


The headsets are now retailing for $599, after pre-orders for Oculus went live in January. But those consumers not already on Oculus Rift’s list could be in for a long wait, with a backlog in orders tailing into at least July.

While this week’s launch represents Facebook-owned Oculus' first consumer headset, developer kits have been available to buy since 2013, with technophiles among the early adopters; and virtual reality itself has existed on the fringes for several decades.

The Oculus Rift headsets are compatible with PCs, not Apple Macs, and will require a powerful gaming rig to run.

It will be interesting to see how VR develops in the hands (or strapped to the faces) of consumers, particularly in the videogame market, where its most obvious potential (and revenue) lies.

Of course, brands have not been shy about tapping into the new technology, using dev kits to let consumers experience aspects of their products and services via virtual reality; while others such as Domino’s have expressed a desire to use the tech in yet-to-be-revealed ways.

Here are a few brands that have embraced the medium to push engagment, with VR specialist Visualise behind much of the work below (Army, The Economist, Meantime and South African Tourism).

Brands in the virtual world

Army

Last year saw the Army let potential recruits virtually experience aspects of life in the Army Reserve, with people able to don headsets and take part in manoeuvres such as parachuting.

The Economist

Earlier this year, The Economist used VR and crowd-sourced imagery to resurrect some of the historical sites and ancient artefacts destroyed by Islamic State.

The business magazine hooked up with cultural preservation organisation Project Mosul to reconstruct exhibitions from Iraq’s Mosul Museum, including the tomb of Yahya Bin Al-Kassim, an incense table bearing the god Nirgul and a sculpture from the ancient city of Hatra.

Meantime

Beer brand Meantime used Samsung’s (Oculus-powered) Gear VR to headset to give consumers a virtual tour of its London brewery. The tour used 360-degree visuals, directional sound and pop-up graphics to add to the learning experience.

The VR initiative was targeted at people from the beer industry, as well as at beer and food festivals across the UK. A desktop-viewable version was also created.

Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer launched a series of pop-up ‘virtual reality hacks’ to allow consumers to experience its homeware range via an Oculus headset.

The retailers rolled out the VR showroom campaign at locations in London and Leeds, where shoppers could drag and drop items from the M&S Loft range to create their ‘ideal living space’.

O2 and England rugby

Rugby fans were able to ‘train’ with the England rugby squad in 2014, as the team prepared for last year’s Rugby World Cup, thanks to mobile brand and England Rugby sponsor O2 and M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment.

The experience was created using GoPro cameras, which captured 160 hours of video that enabled fans to turn their heads in ay direction and experience 360-degrees of perspective on the training ground.

South African Tourism

South African Tourism placed consumers within a few feet of great white sharks and sent them abseiling down Cape Town’s Table Mountain in a virtual representation of what they might experience on a holiday to South Africa.

Using Oculus Rift, the experience toured bars in London and Manchester and was created using HD video and binaural sound.

William Hill

Bookies William Hill used VR to target millennials, a consumer group who had little interest in horse racing.

William Hill innovation chief Jamie Hart said at the time: "One of the problems we’re seeing with horse racing is that [there's] a swing away to football, tennis and other sports. It isn’t really in touch with young people."

Using an Oculus Rift or cheaper mobile-enabled headset, Consumers were able to download and then experience the 18.10 race from 18 February last year at Kempton Park, allowing them to view the track recreated to scale, and place bets by looking at billboards featuring horses’ names.

Other VR players

Oculus Rift is not the only player in virtual reality. There are a handful on a list that is likely to grow longer as the technology embeds itself in the consumer psyche.

Samsung sells its Galaxy phone-compatible Gear VR headset, which is powered using Oculus technology, while Sony is preparing to launch its PlayStation VR in October, for £350, significantly less than Oculus Rift’s VR, although admittedly not as high-spec.

At the top of the heap (at least price- and spec-wise) is HTC’s Vive, which is around $200 more than Oculus and $400 more expensive than Sony’s.

At the bottom end, certainly price-wise, is Google’s Cardboard tech - VR brought to consumers for very little outlay - a few pounds for a cardboard mask containing lenses and magnets, which is used with a smartphone to produce an immersive if pretty rudimentary experience.

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